A Matter of Life and Death (Sanctuary)
by Martin Popoff
Wanted to let this one sink in a bit… It’s funny, looking back at the three Bruce albums so far. It’s taken years for people to decide Dance of Death wasn’t so hot and Brave New World was pretty good. Most people are putting this one up with Brave New World – actually, many above that – and I’m inclined to agree.
First off, a few complaints: Death twice for titles so close together, plus this is just long, and a cliché. Also, I’m not one for the long songs, and incredibly, seven of the ten start basically the same way. I can picture the band ambling into the room, Grateful Dead-style, each in turn plugging in and picking up. Maiden is going to do what Maiden does, but these are well above par riffs in their irascible, clacky style.
Immediately, “Different World” rocks with passion, and “These Colours Don’t Run” is poignant. The album’s first epic, “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” is a blustery, complicated doomy thing that steps outside the box, and Kevin Shirley has made these guitars burn clean. People are complaining about Bruce’s singing on this album, and most of that I put down to him simply being back in the mix. But then again, he seems to have an affectation at times, like he’s got to hit the highs using different muscles. “The Pilgrim” is a perfect example of pointless passages crammed in, making songs long for no reason. The intro is dull, a different speed, and wholly unrelated to the better stuff to come. Why? “The Longest Day” is prime moody epic Maiden, Nicko in the pocket, a bunch of shifts working and drawing the listener in. “Out of The Shadows” – again, what does that intro have to do with anything? – this one’s a standard steeply British Maiden ballad. Lead single, “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg,” is the greatest Maiden song since the Powerslave days. Its riff alternately reclines and menaces, and Bruce’s “mature” voice adds depth to its storminess. “For The Greater Good of God”: We’ve heard all of these melodies before. This one just adds to the canon, and it ain’t hard on the ears, even if it’s a tough slog. “Lord of Light” is quick-paced, with Nicko again being Nicko with those surging fills and brutish but Paice-steeped accents that stamp Maiden so unique. Shirley sure makes him crackle. “The Legacy” closes the album, its acoustic guitars talked about as one of the new tricks in Maiden’s idiosyncratic and hard-to-crack book. And man, this war tale is full of ambition all ’round: More acoustics massaged into the heavy bits, Floyd-like atmospherics achieved (note the Sabbath lick at 5:30). Very cool for a long one, on a record that coheres forebodingly around a war theme. Maiden is practically the only band that could write a soundtrack to something as old as World War I and make it an antique-y fit. That’s what this feels like (especially whilst staring at the grey and green cover art): An urgent, bleak, desperate passage through all manner of battlefield, world-weary introspection accompanying every muddy boot trudge. Bottom line is I keep playing it, and the learning of it, what’s around the next corner, makes A Matter of Life and Death all the more enjoyable, despite its bleak view of the world.