REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (2021)

IRON MAIDEN – Senjutsu (2021 Parlophone)

Out of the wild blue yonder, Iron Maiden have returned with a new album to allow us to temporarily escape from our pandemic woes.  Once again, it is a 2 CD monster, boasting 82 minutes of music.  With only 10 songs, you can do the math and figure out that most are long-bombers.  The tunes recall all sorts of flavours of Iron Maiden, from Seventh Son to Virtual XI and the Dickinson reunion era.  New influences emerge as well, on this beefy but steadfast Maiden album.  Maiden turned a corner on The X Factor, incorporating quieter atmospheric sections with the riffing, and Senjustu utilizes this technique on many of the tunes.  Senjutsu might be the most Blaze-era-like of the Dickinson albums.

This time Maiden have gone for a Samurai motif with the album artwork, and this is reflected in the opening title track “Senjutsu” (Smith/Harris).  Only the second time, after The Final Frontier, that Maiden have opened with a title track.  It actually has a similar vibe at first to that opener, with stomping drums (which tie into the lyrics).  Nicko McBrain is a superstar on this album.  Then Bruce Dickinson heralds his own return with an exotic melody and still powerful lungs.  Range be damned, he goes for it on every song.  “Senjutsu” is a varied track that relies mostly on a pounding rhythm and is a little different from typical Maiden.

Onto a short 5:00 firecracker, “Stratego” (Gers/Harris) is like a Brave New World song.  To the point, steady gallop, heavy on melody.  Heavy keyboard backing, which is consistent on Senjutsu.  An album highlight if only because there are so few short songs, but strong regardless.

First single “The Writing On the Wall” (Smith/Dickinson) opens with a western motif, a new side to Iron Maiden.  It’s a little drawn out for a single, and takes a few listens to digest.  You could almost say it’s closer to Led Maiden.  In the latter half, Adrian Smith rips out one of those solos that is almost a song unto itself.

Long bomber “Lost In A Lost World” (Harris) unfortunately recalls Spinal Tap’s “Clam Caravan” at the outset.  At the 2:00 mark it drops the Tap and gets to the riff, which is a kicker.  The song meanders a bit, perhaps a little too much, recalling some the Blaze-era’s musical excesses.

“Days of Future Past” (Smith/Dickinson) sounds like reunion-era Maiden, hooky and wailing.  It’s the shortest tune at only four minutes and wastes no time getting to the point.  The effective Smith riff forms the bones of the song, in the tradition of something like “Wicker Man”.

The closer on disc one is called “The Time Machine” (Gers/Harris) and is not based on the movie, nor is it typical Iron Maiden, at least until the gallop returns.  The vocal melody is quite different and keyboards are prominent.  This track could work really well live for those times they want to get the crowd bouncing.

The sound of seagulls and crashing ocean set the stage for “Darkest Hour” (Smith/Dickinson).  Dark, understated, and brilliantly performed by Bruce.  Summoning all the panache he can muster.  The chorus goes full power, and Smith’s solo is something else, a mini composition.  Then Dave Murray comes in with a complementary one, as good as any the duo did in the 80s.

Senjutsu might be defined by its closing trio of songs, all in excess of 10 minutes and all written by Steve Harris.  Indeosyncratic Harris songs, and if you know Iron Maiden then you know what to expect.  Bass intros, soft keyboards, gentle guitar and bashing riffs!

“Death of the Celts” sounds like a sequel to “The Clansman” from Virtual XI (both songs written by Harris).  It lacks the unforgettable cry of “freedom!” but instead has a glorious long instrumental section, and some incredible guitar solo work from Janick Gers, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith in a single row.

A different kind of dark bass intro brings us “The Parchment”, then WHAM!  A riff blasts you in the face.  It’s a little exotic and a lot Iron Maiden.  Think “To Tame a Land” without the Kwisatz Haderach.  Of the Steve epics on this album, “The Parchment” might be the most perfect.  It is definitely the longest.  A big part of its being is a series of great Janick guitar solos, but also a sense of tension.

Finally, “Hell On Earth” is a remarkable closer, as the music goes on and on for a while before Bruce starts singing.  But that music is awesome — textured, powerful, and memorable.  Then Bruce delivers a melody a little left of center, and the song becomes another Maiden classic to be enjoyed years from now, every single time.  So much packed into 11 minutes.  The Maiden March, some wicked Murray soloing, riffs and more.  The total package.  It fades out, and that’s the album.

Janick Gers really shines on this album, as his solos repeatedly jump out of the speakers on tracks like “Stratego”, “The Parchment” and “Death of the Celts”.  Sadly there are no Dave Murray co-writes this time.  Dickinson continues to impress, as he staves off the ravages of time better than many of his contemporaries.  Nicko is a relentless machine, and Adrian and Steve turn in performances as good as the ones they are famous for.

Senjustu, the surprise album that we didn’t see coming, is Iron Maiden doing what they do.  There are a few twists and turns, but this is the album we would have expected from them if we knew they were making one!  There are fans who miss the old days and wish Maiden would put out an old fashioned heavy metal album one more time.  They tried that once with No Prayer for the Dying and it didn’t work.  Maiden have been a metal band with a foot in progressive rock for a long time now, and they show no interest in abandoning this direction.  Long songs with Maidenesque writing and structure is what you will get.  And most of us will just be grateful for it.

4.5/5 stars

30 comments

  1. Glad you mentioned the Blaze era, its all I can hear on this one, but I thought I was going a bit mad. Good to know it is in there.

    The other album it really reminds me of (only listened once so far, just bought it this morning) is A Matter Of Life And Death.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually I am glad you heard the Blaze as well. I was worried I was going to get roasted over that comment.

      Well time to go pick up my two new Metallica German CD singles for Sandman :)

      Like

  2. One thing I noticed in their recent videos is that Bruce has developed a noticeable lisp. I hope he is in good health, I know he has fought Covid recently too. Keep on keeping on Bruce!

    Like

    1. Think they either took a part of his tongue as part of his cancer treatment. Or it was impacted as a result. I’ve noticed it too. Quite common I think, for mouth/throat cancer survivors.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great call on the No Prayer album trying to bring back the glory days and it falling short. (still a great album though) So people need to relax as that era of the band is not coming back. Funny you mention the Blaze stuff as that may be a revisit at some point as I may get the X factor on vinyl at some point. Some point that is lol
    Great writeup and I will get around to some words on it some point maybe within the next year as you and Mr. Books are way too quick in digesting these kinds of records. lol.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Maiden is phenomenal so much music to sink you’re teeth into which I what I love about there albums since Bruce and Adrian returned. Today I’m still on the Maiden kick lol

        Like

  4. Eh! Sorry, I listened to it and their music just doesn’t do it for me. The songs are too long, nothing catchy about it and I don’t have the patience for an album of this length. Way too long and honestly, it all sounded the same. Now, it was background music while I was working, but still nothing stood out that caught my attention and made me stop and listen. I don’t know if I’ll ever come around on them.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Who knows, maybe one day. I did on Priest because when I listened to Firepower when it came out, I actually liked it. Plus their songs are normally shorter, more melodic and catchier. I’m a simpleton, that is all I want in my music.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I just ordered this album on Amazon today and I can’t wait for it to arrive! I would’ve bought this album anyways because the album cover is awesome. Once I stopped worrying about how the heck they’ll manage to play these tracks live, I got into Maiden’s longer tracks.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Well don’t forget a lot of classical pieces are an hour long. That’s why the CD was invented in the first place, so you can have a classical piece uninterrupted by a side change. Long songs are good for your brain. Challenging your listening is good for growth.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Great writeup Mike and damn pleased you dig it!

    And you’re not alone either, XFactor/Blaze era-isms are all over this release and glad for it too dark Maiden is the best Maiden and Lost In A Lost World is actually a personal fave for all those reasons, was almost expecting Bayley vocals but then boy oh boy does Bruce kill it and then some with that brilliant vocal melody.

    I’d go so far to say this may well be my second fave post-reunion album behind BNW.

    Both Maiden and Blaze releasing some of their finest work this late in their careers is insane. Had hoped to read your thoughts on this year’s War Within Me Mike, think Blaze has also nailed it on this one certainly worth your time if you’ve not heard it already!?

    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s my take on reunion era Maiden:

      1. A Matter of Life and Death
      2. Book of Souls
      3. Brave New World
      4. Senjutsu
      5. The Final Frontier
      6. Dance of Death

      As for Blaze, I need to catch up on his recent stuff. The most recent one I own is Blood & Belief. Too much stuff to buy, am I right Wardy?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Honestly, I haven’t listened to it, yet. I am kinda afraid of the potential outcome for me, givin’ the reviews I have read, and my past experiences with modern Maiden albums…

    Maybe I’ll need to do some revisiting first, beforehand.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I, for one, welcome our Iron Maiden overlords and gratefully accept this offering! So many great tunes. I’m still absorbing it, and I’ve lost count of how many spins it’s had since my Release Day review. And man, this artwork is some of my favourite ever.

    Liked by 2 people

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s