As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. We had Dance of Death earlier, and now it’s their 2006 epic, A Matter of Life and Death.
Background on A Matter of Life and Death
After the hugely successful Dance of Death and it’s corresponding world tour, Iron Maiden embarked on a tour called the Eddie Rips Up the World Tour. This was a tour that was focused entirely on the 1980-1983 era for the band. It was a successful tour that showed how the band can shift from era to era seamlessly. Nearing the end of 2005, the band went back into the tank (this pun will mean a lot more in a minute) to write some new material. It had been three years since the release of Dance of Death. In early 2006 they started recording the new album. This was the first Iron Maiden album to not be mastered in the studio. Everything you hear on the record is what they played or sang in the studio. What this means is that the album has a live sound to it. What you hear on stage is going to be as close as possible to the album.
They finished the album two months early according to Bruce Dickinson. It was the easiest time they’ve had writing and recording. The title wasn’t chosen until late in the recording, but their fourteenth album was A Matter of Life and Death. It’s Iron Maiden’s fourth album to not be named after a track on the record. An album that’s almost five minutes longer than it’s predecessor, would it be as much of a success? Let’s find out.
Track 1: Different World
Starting off with a quick rocker in “Different World”, it’s evident very quickly that Iron Maiden hasn’t lost a beat over the years. The second single released off the album, the low melodies sung by Bruce Dickinson are a tribute to Thin Lizzy. About someone who’s in a situation that they didn’t find themselves going into. You just have to take life day by day and if you find yourself in a situation or part of life that you don’t like, there’ll always be another day or a different world for you tomorrow. You just have to find it for yourself.
The Thin Lizzy tribute is heavy on this one, which adds to the greatness of the song. The vocals don’t sound a lot like other Maiden songs which is nice. It’s a touch that I didn’t notice before writing this review. It’s also a song that is unlike the rest on the album. “Different World” is a great song and a great start to this album.
Track 2: These Colours Don’t Run
A song about the hypocrisy of war and how soldiers are so celebrated at home before they go off to war. Then about the tragic loneliness that they’re given when they are fighting and die in a foreign land. People sail off to places to fight like their fathers and grandfathers did. Other than fighting off tyranny and oppression they’re given no thanks for their sacrifice other than unmarked graves. A powerful song that speaks truth about how we view soldiers as a whole in society, “These Colours Don’t Run” is a masterful work by the band.
Track 3: Brighter Than a Thousand Suns
A beautifully powerful song that compares the atomic bomb to that of man playing God. “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” is a lengthy track that speaks ill of the nuclear bomb and all that went along with it. It follows the track of the album using the themes of religion and war to move along. It’s not a song that offers up a bright and cheery future for man either. We’re the executioners and we’ll end up blowing ourselves away. Another great track leading off this album. Bruce Dickinson outdoes himself on this one.
Track 4: The Pilgrim
A track that was almost the title track for the album. It feels very much like a classic Iron Maiden song updated for the new era that they’re in. “The Pilgrim” speaks about the Mayflower voyage for those few that went from England to the New World. It could be interpreted a few ways, but it doesn’t speak well about the Church of England at that time. It was corrupt and selling off favors. This song features some of the heaviest drumming and riffs that the band has played up to this point. It’s a great song that separates two longer beasts on the track list.
Track 5: The Longest Day
Another song here that espouses the belief that war is some glorious thing. Echoing phrases similar to D-Day including: Operation Overlord, the beaches of Normandy, rushing the tide, and the boats and barbed wire. Set at points from the first person thoughts of a soldier rushing the cliffs at Normandy. It doesn’t hold back in the description of the violence, death, and bloodshed at that battle.
This album as a whole is heavier than any other in the catalog by Iron Maiden. “The Longest Day” takes that heaviness of guitar tones and lyrics to a new level. It doesn’t mess around with trying to veil the song in a layer of glory or use flowery language to describe Normandy. It just tells it like it was.
Track 6: Out of the Shadows
A song that compares your birth to being King for a day. It follows the life and death of a person and how that effects them. The song is more upbeat than the rest on the album. It offers a view into life/death, and reincarnation. We have to endure pain and suffering in life to reach the good parts or to get to a better life for ourselves. Unlike most of the album it offers a viewpoint of hope and happiness through suffering. It doesn’t sound like many other Iron Maiden songs, but it’s a good one that might be the weakest on this album though.
Track 7: The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
What very well could be the deepest and hardest to unpack Maiden song in their catalog, “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” tells you the story of a man who disappeared in the 70’s. It was the lead single for the album. The band went to great lengths to promote this song including making up a webpage done by Breeg’s “cousin” looking for him. The story goes that Breeg was born in 1939 and he could see visions of nightmares and the future in his dreams. He went on to work in paranormal divisions and disappeared in 1978. He would paint his last picture of a monster that looked very similar to Eddie.
It was a great way to promote the album and single because it went viral on the internet in 2006. Some might say that this song is about Eddie himself using an alias of Benjamin Breeg. The interpretations can go on and on, but it’s an amazingly heavy and powerful song on the album. Bruce Dickinson sings the hell out of it and Dave Murray absolutely shreds the guitar solo. Either way you interpret this one, it’s a classic of Iron Maiden and marketing.
Track 8: For the Greater Good of God
“For the Greater Good of God” condemns war and religion as a couple throughout human history. Religious institutions have brought on massive wars throughout the record of history. Iron Maiden isn’t afraid to condemn religious institutions that use their powers for evil. It’s not an attack on all religion, just the people that aim to use it for their own gain. This song shows that if there is a God, it would be one of love and that you should spread love and not hate. If you are going to do something in the name of God or your god or whatever, do it with the meaning of love and improvement of humanity.
Bruce Dickinson gives what could be his greatest performance of the reunion era here. The chorus being a particular highlight. This song might be the heaviest on the album from a guitar standpoint with Adrian Smith, Janick Gers, and Dave Murray chugging and blasting away on the track.
Track 9: Lord of Light
Now for one of the more hard to understand songs from this album. From what I can guess, it’s about Lucifer himself. Another name for him is the Lord of Light. The lyrics speak about Lucifer seeing humanity as salvageable. The song is sung from two different points of view. An anonymous onlooker and Lucifer. He speaks to God at the beginning of the song and then speaks to the audience at the end of it. The whole message of the song is that Lucifer doesn’t want humanity to become vengeful and angry like he is. Iron Maiden doesn’t portray Lucifer as a hero here though, more of a tragic figure that we can learn from.
It’s a hard song to unpack but one that is worth sitting down and listening to. Going on a deep dive into the lyrics helps build a greater appreciation for the song. Before this review, I just thought it was a cool song that spoke about some Lord of Light. Now I can see it has such a deeper, enriching meaning.
Track 10: The Legacy
If there’s another more powerful, heavy, intense, and foretelling song about humanity and it’s ability to destroy one another in the name of God or whatever else they can drum up. A song that I think everyone should hear especially in our political climate of today. Whether you believe this track is telling about the Church or governments, it’s one that provides a bleak outlook on it all. Our leaders use and abuse their power to gain more power. They use the common man as a fighting force for their agenda. Lies, deceit, promises of peace, and prophecies all tell us what we want to hear.
The song goes on to speak about these abuses of power and how everyone will eventually find out the reasons why they’re going to war and dying. It ties up all the themes of the record perfectly with almost a concept feel to it. Not so much as Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, but the themes of religion, war, and death prevailing over the entire album. Throughout human history those are themes that we share. It’s an excellent cap to one of their best records.
Final Thoughts and Score
A Matter of Life and Death is one of the finest albums that Iron Maiden has ever recorded. It’s their heaviest album ever and the length of the album allows them to build upon the themes of the record. The album contains everything you would want to hear in a Maiden album. It takes a lot for a band like Iron Maiden to outdo themselves, especially following the excellent Dance of Death, but A Matter of Life and Death does just that. It gets a 10/10 for being just as relevant to humanity as it was 13 years ago. The musicianship on the album is perfect in every way. Deciding to not master the album was a stroke of genius that gives it a thicker, heavier sound.
Following up on A Matter of Life and Death, Iron Maiden embarked on a world tour where they played the album in it’s entirety. Fans were torn on this because it meant there was less room on the set for classic songs. I feel like this was a great move for the band because this album really goes together. If you take bits and pieces of it, it doesn’t work as well. You need the whole album to complement each song going into the next. Next up for Maiden would be a four year break and their 2010 album, The Final Frontier.
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All images and audio courtesy of Iron Maiden.