Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death (2006) - Bruce Dickinson's "The X-Factor" - 76% (27/09/14)
Imagine “The X-Factor” with a straighter live production and Bruce Dickinson on vocals and you get “A Matter of Life and Death” which includes mostly depressing and lengthy mid-tempo tracks about war and other sinister topics. As I am a person who likes to dive into darker territories, I adore the almost constantly bleak atmosphere on this release. One of the best examples on here is the dynamical “These Colours Don’t Run” with an incredibly vivid bass guitar and drum work as well as an epic bridge with sing along parts. It’s also worth mentioning the brutal yet majestic “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” that varies from extremely heavy riffs to almost psychedelic sounds and back again. “For the Greater Good of God” is more melodic and features decent orchestrations that give the track an elegant and mature touch.
Despite several great songs, the record also has its negative sides. Most people might disagree but I think that Blaze Bayley’s sinister, technically limited but incredibly emotional voice added a lot to the atmosphere on “The X-Factor”. Bruce Dickinson is definitely the better singer from a technical point of view but his theatrical high-pitched vocals don’t always fit to this kind of music and topic. The worst example is probably “The Longest Day” which is a song about D-Day which starts in a very bleak and promising way. Then, the high-pitched pre-chorus and chorus sound so happy that it feels inappropriate and odd to me. These vocals scrap the brilliant build-up in the introduction and verses. A darker and more grounded voice would have easily improved the final result.
Another issue is the song writing and the length of the album. Some tracks have really great calmer introductions that add to the atmosphere but in total, seven out of ten tracks have introductions that are stretched to almost three minutes in the worst cases. That’s how an initially interesting idea gets repeated to death and finally becomes very boring and predictable. Especially the second half of the release suffers from that. “The Legacy” is for example one of my least favourite songs of the band in general and I rarely manage to listen to it from the beginning to the end. It’s definitely the weakest album closer ever delivered by the band. The strange, numb and hypnotizing “Lord of Light” took several years to grow a little bit on me. Today, I think it’s a good average tune with a gripping atmosphere and some original ideas but it doesn’t always feel structured and could have been much better with more consistent and shorter song writing. Even a few shorter songs include unnecessary lengths. The power ballad “Out of the Shadows” is a nice melodic track and would have been an example for consistent song writing if the song had ended after three minutes and a half. Instead of doing so, the band added a boring instrumental bridge just to repeat the chorus one more time. I’m sorry but the last two minutes really ruined an otherwise interesting tune to me.
This is why the few shorter and actually consistent tracks stand positively out to me. “Different World” sounds a little bit too similar to “Rainmaker” and is only a good average opener but in the context of the entire album, this song feels really fresh and dynamical. “The Pilgrim” is even better with its oriental sounds that hark back to “The Nomad” six years earlier. I’ve always thought that “The Nomad” was artificially stretched and one of the less memorable tracks on its album and I really prefer the shorter and more energizing “The Pilgrim” where Bruce Dickinson’s joyous and skilled vocals probably fit best on the record as well.
In the end, “A Matter of Live and Death” is neither among Iron Maiden’s greatest nor among their worst releases. It’s a quite good average effort with a consistent atmosphere and vivid production on one side and a few overlong and repetitive tracks with too joyous vocals on the other. We still have to take into consideration that we are talking about Iron Maiden which is maybe the most influential heavy metal band in the world. Hands down, in almost any other band’s discography, this would be a career highlight but if we compare it to other efforts of the British legends, this album can’t entirely convince me. It’s surely a great and almost concept-like release for those who don’t like Blaze Bayley’s vocals but the general feeling and idea behind “The X-Factor” because this is pretty much what you get here.« こくまろみるく / Kokumaromilk - こくまろみるく / Kokumaromilk (2007) - A childish and schizophrenic genre potpourri - 67% (24/09/14)In Extremo - Bruchstücke (2013) - Hit and miss collection for die-hard fans - 52% (03/10/14) »
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