Since 1999, when longtime singer Bruce Dickinson returned to the fray after an eight-year absence, Iron Maiden have striven to write the ultimate metal album — one that was complex without being overindulgent and memorable without being predictable. Now, following 2000's ambitious but spotty Brave New World and 2003's titanic but overblown Dance of Death, Iron Maiden have achieved their goal with their new album, A Matter of Life and Death. And, compared to previous efforts, they barely even tried.
"We did the whole thing in just a shade under four months," said Dickinson of the LP, due September 5. "We don't get together to make records that much anymore, so when we finally did, we were really excited, and that excitement turned into this really productive period."
The band started writing in late 2005, and right away the machine clicked. There was a complete absence of the types of arguments that used to hamstring the bandmembers.
"In the past we may have been a bit more uptight, but we're all just seriously relaxed and chill about things now, so we're able to work well together and not get worked up," Dickinson said. "Ideas were just buzzing through the air, and everybody was listening to each other and feeding off the energy."
Iron Maiden rehearsed the new songs at home in early 2006, then entered Sarm West Studios in London with producer Kevin Shirley, who has worked on their last three records. But while they had booked three months, they were done in two.
"We haven't worked that fast since we did Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind in the early days, and back then we didn't have a choice," Dickinson said. "We were just having a great time, writing really good music, and then all of a sudden we were like, 'Wow, we're done!' "
Nothing about A Matter of Life and Death sounds rushed. Most of the songs are more than seven minutes long, and the album is packed with complex rhythms, sudden tempo shifts and acrobatic musicianship. Vocals soar from a whisper to a wail; keyboards swell through atmospheric interludes before being trampled by clattering drums and rabid bass lines. And buzzing guitars gallop, stop, saunter, then gallop some more.
"We are still getting to grips with the album ourselves, and we made it," Dickinson laughed. "It really is tremendously deep. There's a huge amount of stuff on it because we just didn't see any point in trying to make an album that was just like all the others. There's lots of bands making albums with five-minute pop-metal songs, so we thought, 'Let's do something really extraordinary.' "
Many of the songs address various aspects of war. "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns" chronicles life in the shadow of the atomic bomb, "The Longest Day" is about the World War II D-Day invasion, and "These Colours Don't Run" confronts patriotism in times of combat.
"There's a business of soldiering, and it has always run the same way, no matter what war we're talking about," Dickinson said. "It's guys whose fathers and grandfathers were soldiers, and some father is kissing his family goodbye and going off to war, and no one knows if he's going to come back in six months alive or in a body bag."
On the surface, Life and Death might seem political, but Dickinson said it's not.
"We make observations because we like to use our brains," he said. "But I think we shy away from political statements because that implies you're picking one side over the other. We try to look at the human side behind what's going on. One of the things that happens during wars is people get dehumanized. Whole nations become dehumanized. If you say, 'Mr. and Mrs. Hussein used to live in this house, but then a bomb landed on them by mistake and killed all their children,' you think, 'Oh, that's tragic.' But when you just reduce them and call them 'Iraqis,' it's easy to forget the human tragedy."
The band, whose last U.S. jaunt was a controversial stint on the 2005 Ozzfest (see "Iron Maiden Pelted With Eggs At Final Ozzfest Performance" and "Sharon Osbourne Admits Cutting Iron Maiden's Power, Says To 'Move On' "), will launch a comparatively brief North American tour that begins on October 4 in Hartford, Connecticut, and winds down October 21 in Irvine, California. Then the band will launch a lengthy European tour and may not return to North America before its next album.
"We have no interest in hitting dozens of cities in America, because let's be honest — there probably aren't enough Iron Maiden fans to justify an extensive tour on the scale we like to play. Do we think Iron Maiden could sell out a 20,000-seat arena in Iowa? Probably not. So we'll do these big shows on our terms indoors and then see what happens with the record."
Iron Maiden's North American tour dates, according the band's
- 10/4 - Hartford, CT @ New England Dodge Music Center
- 10/6 - Boston, MA @ Agganis Arena
- 10/7 - Camden, NJ @ Tweeter Center at the Waterfront
- 10/9 - Quebec City, QC @ Colisée Pepsi
- 10/10 - Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
- 10/12 - Uniondale, NY @ Nassau Coliseum
- 10/13 - East Rutherford, NJ @ Continental Airlines Arena
- 10/16 - Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
- 10/17 - Auburn Hills, MI @ Palace of Auburn Hills
- 10/18 - Rosemont, IL @ Allstate Arena
- 10/21 - Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater