As bands go, you can’t get more reliable than Iron Maiden. For over four decades, this behemoth of theatricality and thunderous riffs has - bar a brief wobble in the 90s - delivered time and time again. All Maiden albums need specific components to be deemed a success. Band leader Harris' galloping bass lines, Nicko's octopus drumming, Bruce howling epic tales of adventure, and enough interlocking guitars to choke a horse - oh and not let’s forget Eddie. ‘Senjutsu’ ticks all these boxes with aplomb while throwing in some musical growth a band on their 17th studio release has no business achieving.
Once more working with producer Kevin Shirley, who’s overseen all albums since 2000’s ship-righting ‘Brave New World,’ this new chapter also sees Maiden dropping their second double album, following previous release ‘The Book of Souls.’ While some fans may decry the group’s proggier moments on the past few albums, it’s clear that Maiden has matured into more nuanced and grandiose songwriting and, in doing so, have helped keep their creativity and passion alight. For those who can’t get on board, ‘Powerslave’ is still readily available.
When a double album is boasting only ten tracks, you know those are going to be some chunky runtimes, the final three numbers clocking in at over ten minutes apiece. Luckily for us, ‘Senjutsu’ is one of Maiden’s darkest and most muscular releases, which helps balance out the smattering of synths and self-indulgence. Kicking off with the titular song, it’s clear that one of England’s most beloved outfits isn’t ready to roll over a die just yet - quite the opposite. Nicko’s drums menacingly anchor a classically anthemic opener, but instead of being peppered with spitfire guitars, the band locks into a somber groove with seriously apocalyptic overtones. It’s their best opening shot since ‘The Wicker Man.’
Lead single 'The Writing On The Wall' is another welcome surprise, Maiden throwing a curveball with an Americana flavored melody that builds to another biblical epic. Be it age or Dickinson's recovery from cancer in 2015; the vocalist sounds hoarser, somewhat mellowed, which only adds to world-weary tales of Holywood, Babylon, and the dusty trail. Fans of the classic Harris’ bass attack will find plenty to love on ‘Lost In A Lost World, ’ Maiden’s three guitars masterfully weaving around finger-work that makes you want to charge into battle. Classic stuff.
‘Death Of The Celts’ will give the frontman plenty of time for some flag-waving, each member taking their time showcasing their respective talents, the solos, in particular, coming in hot enough to scorch your eyebrows. It’s thrilling stuff that will reward repeat listens, rather than give you a quick fix like ‘The Trooper’ always will. While it must be said that Maiden has created more memorable fare in places, the album never lulls disappointingly, all 82 minutes propelled by a sense of urgency so often missing in recent material from their peers - hell, even many of their acolytes.
On paper, an overblown piece inspired by feudal Japan made by a load of Brits in their 60s shouldn't be rocking so hard in 2021 - but that's Iron Maiden for you. They persevere, they entertain the masses and have well-earned the mantel of legends. Trend and time can’t touch them, and with ‘Senjutsu’ they’ve produced one of their best albums of the past 20 years.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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