Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Matter of Life and Death - Reviewed

A Matter of Life and DeathIron Maiden's A Matter of Life and Death finally hits stores in a few days, and the H-Man is here to give you a preview. Prepare for a wildly different review from (undoubtedly) all others you will encounter.

First, let me speak about the disc's mastering and production. As previously reported, A Matter of Life and Death was not mastered. Considering the lousy mastering job that was done on Dance of Death, this was undoubtedly the best decision the band could make. This is a much better sounding record than Dance of Death. The drums actually have snap to them and I can finally hear McBrain's ride cymbal again. No instruments are ever buried in the mix when all of them get going. The overall volume of the record is much lower than any record being produced these days, thus, I doubt there's any clipping going on. I can safely keep raising the volume and my ears don't get tired because of any harsh noises that shouldn't be in the mix.

The production, however, is pretty bland. It's great that we have dynamics back because they didn't go crazy on compression. But there's no dynamics to the music. What we get on 8 of 10 songs is 1 minute of slow, get loud for 6-8 minutes, end with 1 minute of quiet slow. When it's loud and fast (and it's almost never fast. Mid-tempo maybe), it just stays that way - pegged. Boring, and producer Kevin Shirley should've taken control and pushed them to think more about this.

I'm also rather disappointed with the guitar tone. I'm personally a fan of the chorused guitars that are found on Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, but I suppose it was too much to ask for their return (especially since I figure some fans find them way too "space-y"). I would like some crunch, however, and that seems to be lacking in the more nasal tone we have here.

The rhythm riff at about 3:10 in "These Colours Don't Run," for example, should really be jumping out at me, but it comes off as bland with no "oomph" (they're a bit overshadowed by the drums). The same is true when you compare the similar sounding riffs present in "Lord of Light" (at 6:15) with The Number of the Beast's "Hallowed Be Thy Name" (at 4:30). Never mind the fact that not only is "Hallowed" more sophisticated (due to all the single note runs which accent the ending of every power chord riff), but sound-wise it also has more power behind it. Quite simply, it rocks, whereas the one in "Light" does not (would it be so wrong for Maiden to tell Shirley, "Do you know how The Number of the Beast and Powerslave sound? Great: make this disc sound like those albums.").

But what about the songs themselves? Well, as time goes on, they bore me. Only "These Colours Don't Run," "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns," and "The Legacy" (which is truly unique) are cool enough that I desire to listen to them again. A lot of my disappointment is due to the the (already mentioned) 1 minute of slow, 6-8 minutes of mid-tempo, 1 minute of slow, done.

And where's the classic Iron Maiden triumph? All of these songs are so melancholy. What happened to the majesty of "Alexander the Great"? The fierce gallop of "Wasted Years?" The glory of the ending "Whoah-oh, oh-oh!" chorus of "The Wicker Man"? Bruce's singing just six years ago (on Brave New World) was better, their guitar tone has sounded smoother, and their riffs have been much cooler. They say this record only took a few months to make and it shows. There's no polish to make these songs explode off the page. There is nothing here that even comes close to the fire of the beginning of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", which begins with such a fury that it wakes you up no matter what you're doing.

I don't expect them to be able to pull off another The Number of the Beast or Powerslave, but give me something close to Brave New World (which really slays this new one). Granted there are a few blah songs after the halfway mark on that disc, but the other songs just grab me in a way that the songs on Life and Death do not. And it's not because it's "progressive". Hell, I love progressive: give me Rush's Hemispheres any day (and just wait for the power of Mastodon's Blood Mountain). The other reviews you'll read of this disc will talk about how it's a return to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, but they're insane if they think these new songs are anywhere on the same level as Seventh's. These tunes are long-winded and sport an unusual juxtapositioning of riffs that do not fit well together.

It's too bad, because I really liked this album the first time or two I listened to it, but then I just got tired and saw it for what it was: a three to four month experiment in self-indulgence where Shirley was too meek to tell them it needed tightening up.

But it's still Maiden, and the sound is a big step up from Dance of Death, so I give it three out of five stars.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

After some listening I can pretty much agree with your comments here. The overall volume of the record isn't super low, I can't imagine many kids complaining. However, for 2006, the sound is terrific! I was able to play it loud and enjoy it. The songwriting, as you say, is disapointing. The long songs feel very long indeed, a good sign they could have been tightened up. I'll almost certainly keep listening to and enjoying it as it is a good record, just zero fireworks...

2:26 PM  

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