IRON MAIDEN — Senjutsu (review)

IRON MAIDEN — Senjutsu album cover Album · 2021 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
I approached Iron Maiden’s seventeenth full-length album Senjutsu in the same way as I approach all new releases from glorious bands of the past: with a mixture of hopeful excitement and reluctant dread that the new album won’t be anywhere near the glory days of years past. In this sense, Senjutsu turned out to be a pleasant surprise, showing that, even though they are no longer the reckoning force of 40 years ago, Iron Maiden are still a relevant voice in today’s metal landscape. This conclusion is even more surprising if one considers that I have not been impressed by any of the recent releases by the band, including the oft venerated Book of Souls.

So what’s Senjutsu’s secret? In two words: strong songwriting. Yes, it’s that simple. Forty-one years on after they have started their recording career, Iron Maiden can still write memorable heavy metal tunes that are both fun and arousing. The songwriting formula hasn’t changed much over the years: a powerful combination of galloping bass grooves, twin guitar leads and riffs, tight drumming, blazing guitar solos and Bruce Dickinson’s soaring dramatic vocals that often double the main guitar melody. Fast songs alternate to epic, brooding mid-tempos (giving off strong X Factor vibes) and ballads, creating a varied tracklist that keeps things fresh and entertaining. Structurally, the songs are not too complex, despite the lengthy duration of some of them. There are extended solos and instrumental sections, and the lengthier songs feature multiple parts, but it is all very accessible and memorable, only tiptoeing on the line that crosses into progressive metal.

So far nothing new under the sun as far as any standard Iron Maiden album is concerned. The difference compared to the band’s most recent records is that Senjutsu contains a handful of truly inspired songs, with memorable instrumental sections and great vocal melodies. Most of these tracks can be found on Disc 2 of this 81+ minute long double album. “Darkest Hour” is a sublime ballad infused with pathos and drama thanks to Dickinson’s fantastic vocal performance. The emotional solo in the second half of the song is another unmissable moment of the track, and a true highlight of the whole record as well. “The Parchment” is probably the best song off Senjutsu It is a strongly progressive piece, with some daring tempo changes, a spectacular instrumental section, and a fabulous doomsday verse that sends chills down my spine every single time (strong Seventh Son of a Seventh Son vibes here!), showing that Maiden can still bite when they want to. Album closer “Hell on Earth” is another strong contender for best track of the album, twisting between delicate acoustic arpeggios and epic galloping guitar riffs. Disc 1 is slightly more average, but there are some glorious moments there too, like the title-track, a very catchy and easy-listening track that shows how consummate Maiden are as songwriters.

Senjutsu also introduces a couple of unexpected sonic twists, like the surprising bluesy guitars of “The Writing on the Wall” or the vaguely 1970s, Floydian intro of “Lost in a Lost World”. There is nothing that truly innovates or changes the musical direction the band have been following over the past 40 years, but it is nevertheless refreshing to see that Maiden have not lost the appetite for subtle sonic experiments, seventeen albums into their discography.

The rest of the material is slightly less impressive, with tracks like “Days of Future Past”, “”The Time Machine” and even the slow winding “Death of the Celts” coming across a somewhat too derivative and flat. This is probably the main gripe I have with the album: if instead of releasing a double disc of over 81 minutes, Maiden had applied a little more quality control and reduced the material to five or six songs for half the length of the LP, this could have been one of the strongest albums the band has released since the 1990s. Nevertheless, Senjutsu stands tall in the band’s recent discography and represents a true return to form for Iron Maiden.
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