Episode 17 - A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
Featuring songs with themes of war and religion, life and birth, and light and shadow, this album sits in the middle (chronologically) of the modern lineup's releases, but is unique even among those for being a bit darker and heavier.
By the time A Matter of Life and Death debuted, the band had begun exploring more progressive sounds as a default, and the albums as well as the songs within were gradually lengthening, on average, with the average song length here in the seven to eight minute range. The album is one which many people who only listen to the 1980s Maiden may overlook, but it's one which many listeners consider an underlooked modern classic - in fact, when Maiden toured most recently on the Legacy of the Beast tour, which was intended to be a restrospective, sort of "best of all the band's history" tour, they broke out the track "For the Greater Good of God" from this record, subtly or not-so-subtly implying that the band, at least, consider it a "new" classic.
When the band initially toured in support of the album, they performed it front-to-back, to the simultaneous excitement and disappointment of the different types of fans, many who had seen the band plenty and were happy to see the new material in concert, but many of whom wanted to see more of the classics performed.
The album is certainly different than much of their work, and even compared with 2000's Brave New World comes off as both muddier and moodier. This isn't to say that the album is muddled or incapable of the speed we all know Iron Maiden to be capable of - there are plenty of great solos here, and when this album rips, it rips. but at the same time the band is experimenting with some things: adding an acoustic guitar low in the mix to a harmony here or there, writing a song specifically without a chorus, etc. Lyrically, as well, I think you can see a lot of thought and work has gone into constructing songs such as Brighter Than a Thousand Suns which deals with religion and atomic warfare.
Overall, this album took a couple of repeated listens for me to feel I'd fully digested it, but when it took hold, it took hold! Hopefully you, the listener, will enjoy it as well. To that end, as always, I'm providing some live picks for your viewing:
1. "For the Greater Good of God" Live at Donington '07 - This is one from the actual tour in support of the album, and it's one of the tracks that I find to be fairly representative of the album overall. There's a lot of tension and buildup leading to a really big chorus and instrumental section. The oft-repeated pre-chorus may discourage some new listeners, but to this Maiden fan, it's of no concern on this highlight track.
2. "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns" From the same show. Man, what a huge crowd! The Donington shows always look like they're so much fun! Anyway, I chose this one primarily because I think it's one of the most well-written songs on the album, and it demonstrates just how good Bruce's vocals still were into the 2000s.
As always, we hope you enjoy the music, and we hope you enjoy the episode, which is available in all the traditional podcast places, as well as streaming on this very page. Comment below, if you like, or on twitter or facebook. Stay heavy ✌