When every superlative known to man has already been used a hundred times over, it’s difficult to find something to say about Iron Maiden that hasn’t already been said. Every lyric, song, album and music video has been rated and evaluated to within an inch of its life. Business dealings and interviews are scrutinized in microscopic detail, and the minutiae of every record cover examined and dissected like a hairy art project. The moment anything regarding the band is released, the global hive mind that is Maiden’s information-hungry fan base not only know about it but have already expressed their opinion.
At its best, this unique fellowship of fans is passionate, unbelievably supportive and fiercely loyal. Conversely, it can also be a bunch of individuals arguing with terminal intensity over the band’s best albums, preferred era, or even what does or what doesn’t constitute being “Maiden”. One thing is certain though. New album, Senjutsu (Parlophone Records, BMG) proves beyond a shadow of doubt that these debates will be continuing for a long time to come.
The band’s second successive double album, disc one gets underway with the thunderous title track. Methodical and serious, the song is a bold statement of intent driven by ominous war drums and massive riffs, frontman Bruce Dickinson revelling in melodies and hooks that other bands would kill for. ‘Stratego’ follows and so does the warm and fuzzy feeling that accompanies the return of the classic Maiden gallop. Subtle, but effective keyboards act as the perfect foil for Bruce’s voice and the cut soon joins the ranks of songs that truly come into their own within the context of an album.
A dusty acoustic guitar followed by a jaunty country riff, initial single ‘The Writing On The Wall’ is unlike anything the band have delivered before yet somehow still sounds uniquely Maiden. Opinion may be divided now, but come tour time and another massive sing-along is all, but guaranteed. The dark strumming of ‘Lost in a Lost World’ is complemented by a Wardruna-esque choral backing and another one of those guitar melodies you swear you’ve heard before but haven’t. At a mere four minutes in length, ‘Days of Future Past’ is the baby of the album, but stands as a perfectly executed burst of old vs new energy sure to get fists punching the air in rapturous unison. Co-written by founder member Steve Harris and guitarist Janick Gers, ‘The Time Machine’ possesses a buoyant folk vibe and even more irresistible guitar melodies.
After Disc 2 opens with the lyrically emotive and powerful slow-burn of ‘Darkest Hour’, it’s time for Harris to step up and assume control for the rest of the album. The first of the bass player’s climactic trio of epics, ‘Death of the Celts’ is a predictably huge affair, beginning in familiar style before blasting back to the past with some mid-eighties nostalgia, and a nod to Thin Lizzy. The Middle Eastern flavour of twelve minute monster ‘The Parchment’ sounds like a mix of the most bombastic moments from Piece of Mind, Powerslave and Somewhere in Time before anthemic closer ‘Hell on Earth’ arrives with a ‘Where the Wild Wind Blows’ air of familiarity as it takes us on one last gallop to the finishing line.
A double album with a running time of over eighty minutes, it’s no surprise that Senjutsu contains a certain amount of flab, but make no mistake – this is still an absolutely killer record. Just don’t expect to be able to digest it all straight away. There’s simply too much to absorb in just a couple of spins. Some tracks will take their time to get under your skin while others hit with wonderful immediacy.
Bruce’s mid-range still sounds as fierce as ever, his voice only ever showing understandable signs of strain when reaching for some higher notes. Six string legends Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers continue their nimble-fingered ménage à trois while Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain keep the Maiden machine rolling as Kevin Shirley delivers another trademark production job.
Raising eyebrows one moment and producing beaming smiles the next, Senjutsu is yet another triumph from a band still unafraid to take risks and make music purely on their own terms. Up the Irons indeed.
Buy the album here: https://ironmaiden.lnk.to/Senjutsu
9 / 10