Three long years have passed since the great “Dance Of Death” and so it is time for MAIDEN’s 14th studio album and their 3rd since the return of Smith/Dickinson. And oh did the Metal and MAIDEN community anxiously await this album. Weeks and weeks of endless talking about the spare hints that were given: song-titles, writing credits, artwork, song and album length etc. And in the meanwhile my obsession with the true Metal legends has grown even more, to the point of not being able to sleep before the album came out.
Let me start by saying that the artwork for “A Matter Of Life And Death” is stellar and completely makes you forget the abomination of “Dance Of Death”. Even though Eddie isn’t too big on the picture the whole atmosphere fits perfectly with the dark mood and theme of the album. “Different World” then kicks off this longest-ever MAIDEN album in a typical up-beat fashion, much like what you would expect from an opener. The chorus however is different and it is probably the most accessible chorus the band ever did, very surprising. “These Colours Don’t Run” is the first war song that would work very well live and like many others starts with calm guitar and bass parts. Contrary to what many feared this doesn’t make the album boring or predictable but only enhances the atmosphere, this is mainly due to the fact that there’s plenty of variety in the intros and outros. Only the beginning of “Breeg” is a bit too long, but that is compensated by a mighty riff and great mid-tempo rhythms.
The first real epic is “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” and is one the album’s best tracks. The time key is very different from standard MAIDEN which is best noticed on the very cool guitar intro. Throughout the song there are fantastic breaks that will make you think of Bruce’s solo albums. “The Pilgrim” has one of the best opening riffs of the band ever before changing into a song with great Egyptian melodies; it’ll make you forget about “The Nomad” easily. “The Longest Day” is epic number two and is precisely the kind of song that modern day MAIDEN excels at. The intro is long but builds suspense in a brilliant way thanks to Bruce. After that it is simply a brilliant war-epic, not quite in the same league as “Paschendale”, but still fantastic. About half way there are again brilliant harmonies using the typical MAIDEN chord-progression that is otherwise pretty seldom used on “AMOLAD”. Instead this album sees more dark riffs and rhythms like previously seen on “The X Factor” and “Fear Of The Dark”, the presence of an excelling Adrian Smith however makes it all work perfectly. The “FOTD”-vibe is also noticeable on the brilliant semi-acoustic “Out Of Shadows”, another highlight.
“For The Greater Good Of God” then is the song that most people feared most as it is nearly 10 minutes long and completely written by Harris. It proved however to be a stellar song with an outstanding guitar melody during the chorus as well as very impressive instrumental section overall. Perhaps even better though is “The Legacy” that probably has the best vocals by Bruce in many, many years. Next to that there is a fantastic folk-y intro and a very surprising and technical guitar section. It is without a doubt a classic album closer.
Once more MAIDEN have bettered their last effort, even though “AMOLAD” doesn’t contain an instant classic the consistency has rarely been higher. Furthermore Steve Harris’ bass playing sounds fresher with more galloping. The band also makes much better use of the three guitarists with a very full sound and some amazing soloing (“Lord Of Light”), Adrian Smith’s influence is very noticeable which is always a good thing. And not unimportant either, Kevin Shirley finally managed to deliver a good production. In particular the drum sound is good, as well as the fat guitar sound. Bruce’s vocals are often brilliant but sometimes a bit buried in the sound. Someone like Birch would’ve made this album a modern classic.
IRON MAIDEN has always been the ultimate Metal band and “A Matter Of Life And Death” only adds to their legend. I do really wish that the band will keep going for many more years; if THE STONES and AC/DC can do it I expect nothing less from the Irons.
Finally some rating explanation: I figured I couldn’t keep giving 10/10’s so I rate this album 9,5 on the IRON MAIDEN scale, in that light you should see “DOD” as a 9/10. Let it be clear however that MAIDEN is a class of its own and that an endless row of 10’s for their albums is certainly justifiable, one just has too find a way to show the difference between albums. UP THE IRONS. (Online September 2, 2006)