Iron Maiden

A Matter of Life and Death

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2003's Dance of Death marked the triumphant return of old-school Iron Maiden. Gone were the murky, over-produced set pieces that clogged 2000's Brave New World and in their place fell blistering slabs of Piece of Mind-era metal. That trend continues with their 14th full-length album, Matter of Life and Death, a more elaborate and meandering experience than Dance of Death, but a rewarding one for fans willing to indulge the group's occasional excess. At over 70 minutes, Matter of Life and Death is closer to 1988's woefully underrated Seventh Son of a Seventh Son than it is to Piece of Mind, but with far less keyboard tickling. Recorded live in the studio, epics like "Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg," "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns," and the brutal "Longest Day" -- the whole record is a loosely-knit song cycle with war at its core -- exhume prog rock complexity and discipline yet manage to bristle with the kind of small-club intensity usually reserved for acts half their age. At just over four minutes, opener "Different World" -- a near twin of Dance of Death's "Wildest Dreams" -- is the only cut that screams single, but it's also the most misplaced. On a record that positions beloved avatar Eddy on top of a tank with a machine gun leading a weary troop of skeletal soldiers to their doom, any act of brevity, no matter how expertly crafted, sticks out like a saxophone solo. [Matter of Life and Death is also available with a bonus DVD that includes videos, live performances, and rehearsal footage.]

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