Album Review

Iron Maiden – Senjutsu: Album Review

Senjutsu is Iron Maiden’s 17th studio album. Strap yourself in…this really is a trip.

Released: 3rd September 2021

Label: Parlophone / BMG (USA)

Format: CD / Deluxe Boxset / Vinyl / Digital

Whenever Iron Maiden release a new album it is an event. A global one. Pictures showing Eddie plastered everywhere from Crash Records in Leeds to Times Square in NYC demonstrate the far reaching pull of one of the greatest bands on the planet. Each time it comes around, there is a furore and excitement amongst fans that you won’t find with many more bands.

Prior to the release of Senjutsu, The Writing On The Wall and Stratego were released as tasters; the former was teased for weeks at Download Festival and in Bruce Dickinson’s TV appearances amongst others. When the glorious animated video was released, forums exploded and social media lit up. There were people that want Iron Maiden to churn out records like Powerslave and Number Of The Beast over and over and there are people who love the proggier direction of the past 20 years or so. Many, like me, love both. I, personally, am thankful that such a band is still making music…and what glorious music it is.

Clocking in at 82 minutes and containing ten tracks, Senjutsu is Iron Maiden’s tightest album in years with a glut of high points and very little to pick holes in. Again, it is a double album, like Book Of Souls. When the dust had settled on Book Of Souls I felt it was a very good record but a tad long and there are a few tracks on there that could have been B-sides (if such a thing exists anymore). When I saw the running time of the new album I was a little apprehensive but Senjutsu is a record that absolutely delivers with not a second wasted. There is no fat to trim here.

Senjutsu, the title track, opens the record. It’s a Smith/Harris composition that is moody and atmospheric and sees Nicko McBrain taking centre stage on the drums; something he does throughout Senjutsu. Bruce Dickinson sounds like he has fire in his belly and you can feel every word he sings such is his conviction. This is chest beating Iron Maiden of the highest order and it only takes a minute to get there. It sets the tone perfectly for the treats that are instore.

The aforementioned lead tracks follow the title track. Stratego is a classic galloping track which allows Steve Harris’ unique bass sound to pour. Throughout Senjutsu, there aren’t too many huge chorus moments, and whilst Stratego doesn’t have them explicitly, it is a rousing song that is undeniably Maiden. And along with Janick Gers, they kept it to a concise five minutes or so.

If Stratego retains Maiden’s identity, The Writing On The Wall sees the band stepping out into more unfamiliar territory. A Cajun influenced opening sets the scene for the piece recounting Belshazzar’s Feast. As the song kicks into life there is a real folk feel to it; it harkens back to Fairport Convention’s Matty Groves in some respects. Lower in the mix is a little bit of mandolin as part of the tapestry. As a lead single, this was a bold choice but Iron Maiden have never been afraid of being bold. Plus, it showed just how good the band sounded and how much they’re missed when they’re not around.

Days Of Future Past is the shortest track on Senjutsu; at around four minutes it rips. The solos are massive and again, the vocals are great. This could be a staple of Maiden’s live set; the quieter moment in the middle could give Bruce chance to interact with the crowd like he used to do during From Here To Eternity in 1992/93.

The Time Machine borrows a little from the opening of The Talisman from 2010’s The Final Frontier. Whilst using the aforementioned style of opening, Iron Maiden do not lazily lift as the song progresses. Before the playful jig like melody (a la Dance Of Death) there is a little breakdown that harkens back to the early 80’s. It’s a song that looks back as much as it peers into the future. A wonderful juxtaposition.

In all of Iron Maiden’s time as a band, they’ve never completely gone for ballads. Infinite Dreams nearly went there and Wasting Love still got quite heavy. Journeyman brought out the acoustic guitars and Coming Home was rousing but that’s about it where Maiden’s more mellow output is concerned. On Senjutsu, we get Darkest Hour; a title that Adrian Smith conceived and slots into the bracket with Maiden’s previous balladry.

There is a Led Zeppelin feel to the song and the ambient sounds of waves lapping the shore irrevocably conjure up images of World War Two. The song recalls the actions of Winston Churchill, someone who has history with Iron Maiden (see Live After Death/Flight 666/Nights Of The Dead). It would be no surprise if Maiden fans become a little hazy eyed should the band perform this one live. It will certainly be a lighters in the air…sorry…phones with the torch on in the air moment.

Iron Maiden announce new album, Senjutsu: "The songs are very varied, and  some of them are quite long" — Kerrang!
Iron Maiden.
Picture: John McMurtie

Anyone that knows anything about Iron Maiden will know that the bands leader is Steve Harris. On Senjutsu, Steve Harris has four solo composition credits. In total, this accounts for over half of the albums’ runtime. Lost In A Lost World uses playful vocal wizardry in its trippy opening and Death Of The Celts evokes sounds of The Clansman from 1998’s much maligned Virtual XI. However, the pièce de résistance on Senjutsu comes in the form of the closing two tracks; The Parchment and Hell On Earth.

The Parchment is the longest track on Senjutsu at just over twelve minutes; it harkens back to 1995’s X-Factor in its style. There are moment where you feel that Blaze Bayley could have sung this very well but they way Bruce Dickinson gradually builds his vocal power and strength throughout is something to amaze. His final salvo is spine tingling as he reaches for the heavens. Has Bruce ever sounded better?

Well, the quick answer to the previous question is yes. In the next track! Hell On Earth is Iron Maiden’s best album closer since Somewhere In Time. There is a venom in the vocals and again Steve Harris will have you conjuring up images in your mind for days. It’s lyrically dark and musically devastating; it’s also one of the finest songs to come from the pen of Steve Harris. It enters the hall of fame with other greats such as Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Alexander The Great, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, The Red & The Black and Sign Of The Cross.

It goes without saying that Iron Maiden’s holy triumvirate of guitarists, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, are on fire throughout the album. Their soloing never fails to amaze and the rhythms they keep alongside Steve Harris and Nick McBrain constantly excite. It is nigh on impossible to pick out the best parts as each one adds unique flavour to their respected musical dish.

Iron Maiden are truly a band for the ages; my apprehension around running times evaporated as Senjutsu washed over me in all it’s pomp and circumstance. It will take its place in the top ranked Iron Maiden albums of all time…it is that good. And there isn’t a climbing monkey in sight…thankfully; Maiden have dodged cringeworthy lyrics and taken the shade a little darker. Senjutsu is a triumph and only adds to a divine dynasty.

Marvel at Hell On Earth from Senjutsu; the closing track of Iron Maiden’s 17th album.

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