REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

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With a band as legendary as IRON MAIDEN, it can be pretty hard to review a new release objectively, especially considering “Senjustu” – out on September 3rd, 2021, via Parlophone and Warner Music – is the first album the band has released in 6 years almost to the date (as The Book of Souls was released on September 4th, 2015). With such a hefty legacy to review, we decided to bring in not one, not two, but five long-time IRON MAIDEN fans to delve into this new release!

Bear: My immediate first impression is that I like “Senjustsu” instantly better than The Book of Souls,” which I had enjoyed, though very few songs stuck with me and made it to my long-term playlists; it was a good but perhaps lukewarm release for the band, especially for one so long in play-time. With that said, on first listen, “Senjustu” felt like a breath of fresh air that we haven’t seen the likes of since “A Matter of Life and Death,” with riffing that throws back to the ’90s. The album took me quite a few runs to digest – while I immediately accepted everything, the stand-out tracks took some time to grasp me. However, it was instantly easy to just put the album on and enjoy without real focus. While Bruce Dickinson feels like he’s toying with a lower, throatier sound (perhaps as a result of the cancer, or simply age), but he doesn’t hold back one bit and this album also features some of the band’s most traditional riffing sound, which is hard to turn your nose up at.

Laureline: IRON MAIDEN is perhaps one of the only bands in the world that has food delivery services like Wolt in Finland delivering the pre-ordered albums to fans’ doorsteps to enjoy the album at two minutes to midnight. I would have probably used this service if not for the fact that the delivery guy regularly rings the wrong doorbell and I’m somehow unsure if my neighbor would appreciate being woken up for IRON MAIDEN. I’m not a one-spin reviewer and this was definitely an album that needed that little bit of extra effort before it would warm up to me. Even the best of singers, when they get older, can’t seem to hit the soaring high notes of the past (think Ian Gillan of DEEP PURPLE); on this album, Dickinson‘s approach and vocal performance feel a little bit different than the hot and heavy tracks of the past, yet there is something beautiful and about his lower sound as well. Additionally, it feels like the band was influenced by different music genres this time around, aiming for a more rock feel even though there are often elements of blues to be found, and in some songs it goes even as far as southern rock. For long-time IRON MAIDEN-fans, it comes as no surprise that the production of this record is again, unfortunately, a little bit of a disaster – I just wish these songs would get the production they so deserve, as it would probably make them stand out more and maybe even wouldn’t take so many listens to grasp.

Simo: You’ve always got to be suspicious when a band as old as IRON MAIDEN releases something new, because there’s a lot of old material to compare it to. I try to have an open mind, but it felt like I didn’t really need it. Like Bear said, nothing stood out too quickly, but we were all humming the slowly-and-surely more familiar The Writing on the Wall right after the album wrapped up, and we all felt like listening again as soon as possible to learn the songs better. While it’s not perfect and probably won’t go down in history in their top five best albums, there are a lot of strong riffs and generally great musicianship that remind us why this band is so legendary to begin with.

Marc: As a fan of IRON MAIDEN, I am absolutely cut from the cloth of the old-school. That said, I have liked and sometimes loved everything they have put out from all the eras. I tend not to compare those different vocal eras in terms of what’s “best,” because I see them all as different beasts with different approaches to song building. When I heard “The Writing on the Wall,” I felt like I did when I heard “Wicker Man” or “Wildest Dreams” for the first time. The energy was there, the fire was there. There’s something new in the riffing style, but it’s still quintessentially MAIDEN. I was hooked and I knew this album was going to be something special, even if “Stratego,” the second single, didn’t quite grab me.

Vincent: Unlike my fellow journalists, there’s no easy way for me to summarize how disappointed I was in this album. So instead, I wrote a whole article, since my thoughts didn’t quite fit in with those of everyone else.

There seem to be two distinct camps with this album. Clearly, Steve Harris has had an opportunity to flex his Epic-Song muscles on more than just one track. Three of the songs on the second disc are 10-minute Harris epics. The other camp draws heavily from the Bruce solo era -style – no surprises there, as Bruce and Adrian have always written well together. Notably, there are no collaborations between Harris and Dickinson, which may well explain this slight divide.

The album starts with the title track, which is as much of an intro as it is a banger of an opener. While “The Final Frontier” choked on its 4-minute-long intro and “The Book of Souls” skipped an intro altogether, “Senjustu” is a strong, mid-tempo song that takes a bit of time to remind you why exactly you love every single member of this band, not just as a whole, but also as individuals. Bruce Dickinson‘s voice is certainly not what it once was, but it feels as though he’s learned some tricks in order to work around this and his sound might even feel a little more healthy in some senses, if he no longer can really call himself an air raid siren. As well… damn there’s some fine vocal layering in there! Even the outro feels like a nod to the “Fear of the Dark” era. “Stratego” has a clear Janick Gers vibe to it and was one of the most divisive among us, winning points for its rhythmic galloping guitars, which are very classic MAIDEN, but losing as many for its extremely muddy mix.

IRON MAIDEN were pretty cheeky about the release of this album, teasing fans with a countdown on most of their social medias, etc., a mere month or two before the release. The first single, “The Writing on the Wall,” and its accompanying music video were live-released on YouTube. The song opens with some guitar play that sounds just like the IRON MAIDEN we all know and love. The riff evens out before Bruce joins in and immediately sweeps us all away with a classic MAIDEN vocal melody. We already mentioned that this song is so good to sing along to, easily worming its way into your ear and making a cozy home there for days or weeks at a time.

It becomes clear after a few songs that IRON MAIDEN have accepted that speed is no longer their forte and have accepted this more or less with grace, as there aren’t any real shredders on “Senjutsu.” While nothing lags or sags, there is also nothing that is trying to overcompensate for age here. They know what they can and can’t do and have decided to take what they do best, and do it as best as they can. That all said then, man is the soloing great! It’s not unlike the band’s predecessors in DEEP PURPLE, who have accepted their fate and mostly focus on the more progressive but slower side of the music that is still within their individual capacities, yet maintains their overall incredible musical quality.

“Lost in a Lost World” starts off quite slowly and takes its time to open up, but does so thanks to its intriguing darkness and Steve Harris‘ legendarily great bass chops. The intro could easily have fit into one of Bruce‘s solo albums, like “The Chemical Wedding” or “A Tyranny of Souls,” though the riffing feels more akin to the “Fear of the Dark” era. The track starts slow, but in its 9-minute run-time, picking up after the 2-minute mark, it travels through a variety of speeds. It’s not a stand-out track for Bruce, but the guitars more than make up for it in certain moments throughout. However, Bruce shows us the best of his operatic style in “Days of Future Past,” which has a truly epic chorus and perhaps the best vocal performance on the album. This mid-length song has a punchier rhythm and a more driven feel as it kicks forward into that wonderful chorus that we can’t wait to (hopefully) hear live someday.

“The Time Machine” starts off with a beautiful, mysterious guitar melody, to which Bruce Dickinson joins with a good dose of emotion. There’s a bit of a short break after this intro, after which the song takes off and turns into a nice mid-paced track that rounds out the first part of the album beautifully. Midway through, the signature guitars and pounding drums begin again and we’re off to one of the better tracks of the album. Later on the riffs get a little bit of a folky taste to them, spicing up the track. It’s a bit of a sonic adventure, but an enjoyable one at that.

We enter the album’s second half with “Darkest Hour,” which opens on the sounds of the sea and gulls as the guitars join in. There’s a hint of the ’90s Bruce vocal style that we mentioned – there’s a deep and rich sound in his voice, complimented by some strong guitar-work. Some of us even heard a hint of DIRE STRAITS in the solo, while others thought this piece was akin to Bruce‘s solo track, “Son of a Gun.”

With a title like “Death of the Celts,” you might expect a dramatic, folky, epic, “The Clansman”-esque sort of track. The song doesn’t have much of a Celtic feel to it, but the intro is soft, stripped-down and bass-led, after which gentle drumming sets in, so it still feels appropriate to a degree. The vocals are able to sweep listeners away with their intricacies, including that light folky vibe. The track picks up speed as it progresses, but don’t expect any lightning-fast performances here; rather, something more akin to a feisty cheekiness. This one seems to be pretty divisive for listeners and us as well, as some of us found it a big long and dragging, while others enjoyed the intricacies of the mid-tempo layering of sounds.

The next Bayley-era Harris epic is “The Parchment,” which has a somewhat long intro and follows up the storytelling aspects of the prior track neatly. Based on the same principles, this track also slays listeners with lots of guitar wizardry. Close to the end, the galloping riffs take the spotlight, ending the track with a blast. Was it a long wait? Yes, 12 minutes is quite long, however, it does somehow work and I can imagine this might be a wicked live track. Following in a similar gloomy pattern, “Hell on Earth” is a pretty natural closer for “Senjutsu.” While instrumentation gallops forward underneath, a beautiful chorus erupts after the 5-minute mark – perhaps even the most epic and hooky sets of lines on the entire album. It’s not the best epic or closer that MAIDEN have ever released, so some may feel that the album fizzles out, yet there’s something fitting about this track nevertheless.

If you’ve missed IRON MAIDEN‘s classic riffing styles for any reason, this album is a tasty blast from the past on the musical front, with many nods to their past sounds and styles, yet keeping the instrumentation fresh and the vocals strong. Unfortunately, MAIDEN‘s production on albums like “The Final Frontier” had been truly cringeworthy and “Senjutsu” follows suit in that sense as well. On the whole, the album has a feel of renewal and inspiration, despite both feeling and not feeling like the MAIDEN we know. The stylish riffing, incredible drums, bouncy bass, and powerful (if aged) vocals all throw back to what we know and love. While the album is not flawless (as Vincent notes in his report), there is plenty to enjoy and to grow on listeners with every listen.

Compiled by Bear Wiseman
Contributions from Bear W., Laureline T., Marc D., Simo K., and Vincent P.

Tracklist

Disc 1

  1. Senjustsu
  2. Stratego
  3. The Writing on the Wall
  4. Lost in a Lost World
  5. Days of Future Past
  6. The Time Machine

Disc 2

  1. Darkest Hour
  2. Death of the Celts
  3. The Parchment
  4. Hell on Earth

Lineup

Bruce Dickinson – vocals

Steve Harris – bass, keyboards

Adrian Smith – guitar

Dave Murray – guitar

Janick Gers – guitar

Nicko McBrain – drums

Label

Parlophone / Warner Music

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