IRON MAIDEN with BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE at the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Monday (October 16). $39.50-$67.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Guitarist Janick Gers doesn't think Iron Maiden is a metal band, which seems kind of like the Queen of England denying she's a monarch or John Cleese saying, "Wot? Monty Python? Comedy? Absolutely not!" Iron Maiden is one of the most definitive metal bands in history.
"I've never thought of us as a metal band, and I never think about metal," says Gers. "Bruce [Dickinson] will go on about us being a metal band, and maybe people see us that way, but I think there's more to us than that."
"Oh," I say, looking down at my notes and crossing off all the questions pertaining to metal. Luckily, the guitarist is on the phone from the north of England and can't see me.
"If people want to call it heavy metal, that's fine with me," he goes on, "but I don't think of it that way."
To put things in perspective, Gers explains that he doesn't think of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Black Sabbath as metal either.
Whatever. I can't argue with him, because he's in Iron Maiden and I'm not, but secretly I think he's wrong.
Still kicking after all these years, they've lived through grunge, the age of irony and the departure and return of prodigal vocalist Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith. Now, Maiden's latest offering, A Matter Of Life And Death, is garnering critical accolades and selling better than their two previous efforts. It's certified platinum in Finland (!?). Sign o' the times or a truly excellent album? A bit of both, prolly.
The world may indeed be ready to embrace Maiden-style metal (sorry, Janick) dramatics once again, and not in an ironic Darkness kind of way but in a truly respectful way. They had a wildly successful stint on Ozzfest 2005, which, unfortunately, went a little awry when scary lady Sharon Osbourne got mad and sabotaged their final set, but they don't talk about that any more.
At the same time, A Matter Of Life And Death is really quite fantastic. It rocks, noodles, wails, crashes, soars, trills, meanders, gallops and chugs in magnificently grandiose fashion.
The cover art features Maiden's mascot, Eddie, sitting atop a tank leading a troop of skeleton soldiers, and the songs tackle subjects like war, the paranormal and religion.
"I think of this record as more progressive. The lyrics are subtle and moving, and the music has a powerful progressive thing, an orchestral feel and thematic melodies all the way through," says Gers. Another word that might be used to describe this record is "epic." Songs average 7.916 minutes in length. (Yes, I calculated.)
"For a band our age, we took a few chances," Gers admits, "but we have the musicianship to expand songs to what we feel is the right length. If we feel a song needs to be eight minutes long, it's gonna be eight minutes long."
That's the freedom that comes with seniority. As always, these songs were recorded live in one room and are free from click tracks (tracks wih a metronome beat setting the tempo), computer tightening and other forms of manipulation. Gers frowns on the overuse of technology so prevalent in music today.
"I hear albums now and they sound unbelievable - everything's piled on top of everything else, and they're produced to the hilt. Then you see the band live and it sounds like any other band, because it can't have what the record has. Everything's done to a click track and there's no air. It doesn't breathe.
"Adrian is using a guitar synth on this album, which is great. It adds a bit of sparkle. But what I don't like are all the processed sounds. You press the Jimmy Page button and end up with a supposed Jimmy Page sound.
"But you know, Jimmy page didn't have a button to be Jimmy Page, and that's what made it exciting."