Review: A Matter Of Life And Death (2006)

This is it. With A Matter Of Life And Death, Iron Maiden took everything one step further and created a filler-free record that rivalled the very best they had ever made.

A Matter Of Life And Death
Produced by Kevin Shirley, co-produced by Steve Harris
Released 25 August 2006

The millennium era line-up of Iron Maiden was well settled by the end of 2005, having released two strong albums, Brave New World (2000) and Dance Of Death (2003), and treated their audience to setlists and stage productions of a greater variety than any fan could have hoped for just a few years earlier.

But far from falling into the sense of complacency that had originally pushed both Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson out of the band in the early 1990s, Maiden relished their new-found strength and unity and drove their creativity further with their third post-reunion album, A Matter Of Life And Death. Written in late 2005 into early 2006, and then recorded at London’s SARM Studios, the new Maiden record sounded less polished than its immediate predecessors while clearly being the most cohesive album they had done since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son all the way back in 1988.

Iron Maiden feeling confidently creative in 2006: Adrian Smith, Janick Gers, Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson, Nicko McBrain, Dave Murray.

Opener Different World is a delicious slice of Maiden-interpreted Thin Lizzy, draped in attractive vocal and guitar harmonies, an uptempo first track that easily outclasses the previous record’s comparably dull Wildest Dreams. Immediately following this opening salvo, Maiden display their experimental intents on the triumphant These Colours Don’t Run and the moody and epic Brighter Than A Thousand Suns.

While the album is not really a concept album in the sense that people usually think of them, it is certainly the closest Maiden have come since Seventh Son, the subjects of war and religion interwoven into multiple abstract and specific essays on the humanity and will to live that wages battle with destructive forces throughout history.

And like their 1988 masterpiece, a striking feature of A Matter Of Life And Death is the proclivity for co-writing: Guitarist Adrian Smith is a prominent author of these first three tunes, writing in conjunction with one or both of bassist Steve Harris and singer Bruce Dickinson. Seventh Son and the earlier Piece Of Mind (1983) were marked by this type of collaboration, and they are arguably the best two Maiden records of all time. A Matter Of Life And Death sets out to give them a serious challenge for that title.

Guitarist Janick Gers keeps up his tradition of delivering classy material, first with the short and direct rocker The Pilgrim, and later with the long and sinister album closer The Legacy, a track that very nearly lent the album its title. Both are co-written with Harris, who only delivers one tune solely written by himself. The song in question is the album’s ultimate highlight, the fantastically melodic and soaring For The Greater Good Of God.

Guitarist Dave Murray also co-writes with Harris to come up with the weird but somehow enduringly appealing first single from the album, the mysterious tale of The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg. In the mid-paced groove of this song there is a hint of future Maiden compositions, and a great plus of this style is the breathing space it affords Dickinson to punctuate and dramatize his projections to great effect.

Producer Kevin Shirley holds back on the orchestral enhancements that had played a key part on the previous two albums, but subtle synthesizer textures are added when needed. If the album sounds rougher than Maiden had done in a while, the sheer quality of songwriting and performances carries the day and underlines the confidence of modern-day Maiden.

A couple of tracks sit a little below the rest in terms of inventiveness, namely Out Of The Shadows and Lord Of Light, but when singled out like this they still provide evidence of how much higher Maiden’s bar is now set than it had been back in the 1990s. And even with all the great tracks already mentioned here, the band still have fuel left in their battle tank to cook up the hyper-catchy D-day drama of The Longest Day, another first-class collaboration of Smith/Harris/Dickinson.

Bruce sings about life and death in the shadow of old news on Maiden’s stubbornly current A Matter Of Life And Death tour in 2006.

The front cover illustration by first-time Maiden artist Tim Bradstreet, depicting Eddie in command of a skeleton army, provided the basis for a war-themed stage set. In this setting Maiden would perform the album in its entirety on tour, a first and only time in their career. It speaks volumes about the band’s confidence in their new material, and also points to the fact that they would then cycle into a massive retro type of set when their current new music had run its course, as documented on the brilliant Flight 666 (2009) concert album and video.

Click here for an in-depth discussion of Maiden’s second golden age in the period from 2005 to 2014, when they truly reconquered the world.

Iron Maiden would struggle greatly to match the power of this album when they recorded their follow-up The Final Frontier in 2010. In retrospect it is clear that in 2006 they put down a benchmark: A Matter Of Life And Death is the first filler-free Iron Maiden album since the 1980s, melodic and rhythmic flourishes throughout completely side-stepping the tendency for tedious repetition that had dogged them in the 1990s. The sense of creative surplus had not been this clearly in evidence since their classic era. It might be impossible to compare anything to the brilliance of this band’s 1980s output, but caution be damned:

This album is Iron Maiden’s ultimate modern masterpiece.

Christer’s verdict: 6/6

6/6 Masterpiece
5/6 Great
4/6 Good
3/6 OK
2/6 Disappointing
1/6 Crap

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19 thoughts on “Review: A Matter Of Life And Death (2006)

  1. Welcome back Christer! Hope you and yours are well. Couldn’t agree more on this review , highlight of their second act for me, with Senjutsu a close second. I reckon it’s not far off Seventh Son for my favourite Maiden album actually. What a glorious statement this was – the dark and brooding nature of many of the songs and the muddy production* suited my mood of most of 2006 perfectly. This was the moment it became clear for me that Maiden were serious pushing on as a creative force. Jeez we are lucky to have them!

    *at least that’s what it sounds like to me! Aware there are more technically minded listeners on this thread who can provide a better analysis 🙂

    • I agree completely. Senjutsu is probably my second favorite of the post-reunion records, but I’m astounded by how well Matter holds up sixteen years later. Nice to talk again, Dave!

  2. Oh, how I feel like being contrarian man, today. I only went through the whole album twice, a few years ago, but when I was younger, I remember being very much into The Longest Day and The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg, Then I saw Maiden in ’18. Loved every song on the show, until they reached For The Greater Good Of God. After that tune, I thought “That’s it!? That’s what many was hyped about?”. That is also the feeling I have with AMOLAD. Absolutely the worst Maiden record that I’ve ever heard. Which sucks, because there’s a lot of promising ideas here, but the mind-numbing excessive repetition and the seventh quiet intros of the seventh quiet intros ruins any chances that I’m willing to put up with. The only track that I seem to enjoy is The Legacy, but even then, I don’t listen to it without skipping the 3 minute intro.

    • You are probably in the minority regarding AMOLAD. It’s a fantastic album, by far the best of the reunion albums. But that’s what’s great about Maiden. Every fan has their favorites and interpretation of what is good. Maiden has been able to have unique sounding albums that have different feels evoking different emotions. Even though much of the song structures remain the same, the mood of each album is quite different. This is especially true for the 80’s albums. SIT is so different from NOTB and even Powerslave.

  3. Oh yes, AMOLAD is fantastic. Maiden playing it in its entirety was my very first Maiden Show aswell, so that adds to the nostalgia, I guess. But it is such an impressive and bold record – incredible. The weakest track for me is “Different World” and I absolutely love “Lord Of Light”. The best of the post-1999 Maiden and easily on par with any record from the 80s.

  4. Nice to have you back, Christer! 🙂 I’d give AMOLAD 1/6. I cannot articulate why. I took an immediate dislike to it on release and subsequent listens have not altered my opinion. Almost* everything about it, especially the production, grates. Never have I had such a negative and sustained reaction to a Maiden album. Oddly, I quite like TBOS, and TFF has some stand out tracks. I’m indifferent to Senjustu (it lumbers along monotonously), but the merest thought of AMOLAD makes me scowl.

    *It does have good cover. 😉

  5. AMOLAD is a 5 out 6 for me, but a top 5 in the Maiden discography. SSOASS (6), NOTB (6), POM ((5), Powerslave (5), AMOLAD (5). That’s my top 5 in that order. It is easily the best of the reunion era. All songs are good to great, with the weakest being Different World and Out of the shadows. The gem for me is Lord of Light. Their current Days of Future Past is a bit of redux of it, but not nearly as successful. I also love BTATS, The Longest Day, Reincarnation of B. Breeg, and The Legacy.

  6. If I listen to individual tracks on this album then I love them to bits but when I listen to the album from beginning to end then I struggle to get through it. When they played the whole album live I absolutely loved it . It’s there one album I don’t listen to very much now.

  7. Impressive cover art work.

    There is not doubt that A Matter of Life and Death vies for the top spot in the post-reunion era. The only remaining question is, Is it better than Senjutsu? I am leaning more toward Senjutsu at this time, but it is still too early for me to form a final verdict.

    Anyway, A Matter of Life and Death is eerie and profound. A really, really great album. I would not call it a masterpiece (that term is reserved for the immortally amazing Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, with Piece of Mind and Powerslave being mortal and close incarnations thereof), but it is a very strong and timeless album. In addition to the usual mentions from the album, I find “Brighter Than a Thousand Sons” a bit boring and weak. Among my top favorites are the grim and dramatic “These Colours Don’t Run,” the truly symphonic “For the Greater Good of God,” and the haunting and brilliant masterpiece of a closer (Janick’s best ever), “The Legacy,” one of Maiden’s best post-reunion songs ever written.

  8. Great news in the announced Future Past tour. Finally SIT gets a spotlight. From the promotional video it looks 5 songs from Senjutsu and 5 from SIT (the score in the ad has Samurai 5 and Cyborg 5). Hopefully we get some deep cuts from SIT (Alexander the Great?). My guess is Senjutsu, Stratego, TWOTW, Days of Future Past, and Hell on Earth from Senjutsu. And Wasted Years, Heaven Can Wait, Stranger in a Strange Land, Sea of Madness, and finally Alexander the Great. Along with the usual The Trooper, FOTD, and Iron Maiden. Thoughts?

    • Anything but HCW and Alexander the Great: the feeblest song on SiT and the most overrated track of the classic era. Tbf, Alexander is decent instrumentally, but those awkward “and then Alex did this” lyrics lifted from Lane Fox’s book… I’d love to hear Caught, Loneliness and Deja-Vu but I doubt the band would play them. Nicko and Bruce would be knackered! 😉 Stranger fits well with the Senjutsu material tempo-wise, and I wonder if Wasted Years will be played at the slightly more sedate pace of the recent Smith/ Kotzen shows? Whatever they play, it’s bound to be an *epic* spectacle. 🙂

      • I agree, at this point I don’t think Bruce and Nicko could play CSIT as it’s intended. I also am not a fan of HCW, but they are playing for the audience sing along part. I disagree about ATG. Many of Maiden lyrics when it comes to history or books are directly taken from original prose. See ROTAM.

  9. I think this album is their only one where the tracks one by one is stronger than the whole album as one piece. Lack of energy is what comes to mind. It just keeps hitting on without ever lifting off. The opening track is ment to be an uptempo song, but does nothing for me. I give 5/6 to the tracks. But only 2/6 as an album. A sleeping pill.

    • It is a dark plodding murky album. Almost like slogging through a marsh. But it’s feeling and mood fits the theme. I love it.

      • I think The X-Factor is dark and plodding, whereas A Matter of Life and Death is more dramatic and orchestral. Case in point, “These Colours Don’t Run.”

    • The opening track is very British sounding, which is what gives it its beauty. I think it adds to the album, rather than subtract from it.

  10. I recently went an Iron Maiden concert in south dakota. I am 16. Simply put it was the most fun thing I’ve ever done, the instruments where the best part tho, bruce didn’t sound so great. I just wish they had played more hit songs.

    • Hey Brayden! Great to hear that you enjoyed the Maiden concert. I was close to your age (14) the first time I saw Maiden, on the Fear Of The Dark tour, and I will never forget it. 🙂

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