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.