There are approximately three angles on how one could possibly review an album by a band that has been around for over forty years and sold over one hundred million albums. One way to look at it is to compare it with the rest of the band´s catalog. The other way would be to compare it with other artists of the same size and status. Third way to review would be simply an evaluation of the album’s significance to music and its culture.
This review concentrates on the first view of handling the ponderous and awaited 17th studio album by Iron Maiden. It is mostly because each and every new album has always been more or less some sort of a gift from the band to its fans. Any other view would only be a little pretense.
“Senjutsu” starts with a long and epic eight minute song that is limited to a very low tempo rhythmic tom-tom comping. Somehow atmosphere surprises already in the start but not too much, as the Japanese samurai theme that is on the album cover can gladly be heard from the music at the very beginning. If the atmosphere of the title track would be compared to any other Iron Maiden song, it goes somewhat hand in hand with the epic and melody wise east oriental “The Nomad ” on the 2000´s “Brave New World ”. Gladly, it is not the whole truth as the associations come especially on the different guitar solo parts, that there are at least four different ones. Based on the song´s delivery itself and how the band sounds like, there can be heard a bit of more maturity in the music, as it has been throughout the whole Millenium on a new Maiden record. One aspect might also be the variation of guitar sounds used in the solos, which can be heard a bit throughout the whole “Senjutsu” album. One way to describe the title track is “charming” I´d say.
Song released as the second single is also the second track on the album that mangles in style. “Stratego” is a shorter track which is why it was a good choice for a single but it doesn’t represent the album too much. Except for the album’s theme of a samurai Eddie – of course. The album title refers to gathering and sensing natural energy in use of “tactics and strategy”, which makes “Stratego” a great second track. It has a lot to sing along with, and if one would like to compare it to any earlier Iron Maiden song, “El Dorado” (“The Final Frontier”, 2010) comes to mind, only to have a lot better taste in the mood.
Letters that stand for “T.W.O.T.W” were a real mystery during the beginning of the summer of 2021, mostly known by the fans of Iron Maiden. Fascinating aspects of the whole mysteriousness was how the band wanted to tell something without really telling too much (or even anything). The letters on the tour poster were discovered by some fans, and more water to the mill came along with the “Belshazzar’s Feast” posters appearing anywhere that had something to do with Iron Maiden whether it was Bruce Dickinson on television, or band’s manager Rod Smallwood hanging around at a festival. “The Writing On The Wall” has itself some nice folk rock type of riffs with an acoustic intro and – once again – a sing along chorus, and melodies that could be stuck to the subliminal consciousness for a lifetime, but definitely being the one that gathers the fans across the nations to sing the words together when touring starts again. “The Writing On The Wall” was released in the middle of July and is perhaps the best first single from an Iron Maiden album in over two decades.
The fourth track “Lost In A Lost World” is a prowess from the band to show how to invent themselves again. With the exception of the intro/verse having some very Pink Floydish elements in Dickinson’s singing melody and the vocal harmonies or delay effect in use the song is quite an epic with its seven minute length. It is the epic side of Iron Maiden once again with all the rhythm changes before a chorus, for example. There can be some “echoes” heard in the riffs from the 1983 and epic tale on the “Piece Of Mind” album called “To Tame A Land”, but as much as that “Lost In A Lost World” could be the new era “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”. “Lost In A Lost World” is the song on the “Senjutsu” that is making music consumers smile. The song timing almost ten minutes as a whole is frankly brilliant but at the same time pleasant, tender and emotional without crumbling to too many clichés. There is, in fact, some of that ahead, too.
“The Days Of Future Past” starts with a mystical ambience coming from tingling guitars but changes quite fast in to another tempo with a hard rocking riff of which’s style is quite familiar to Iron Maiden. Almost as quick the intro changes to the riff the song goes to the verse and so on to the chorus. One understands almost immediately that “The Days Of Future Past” isn’t a very long song. In fact, it is the shortest on the album clocking 4:04. The song is a very certain and sleek Iron Maiden tune reminding a bit of straight-forward type of songs from the past such as “The Fallen Angel” (Brave New World, 2000) or “Rainmaker ” (Dance Of Death, 2003). “The Days Of Future Past” has a great chorus that might stuck in one’s mind for days but at the same time it isn’t really delivering anything new from the band. Not a bad song, though, as the atmosphere of the mystical intro remains until the end.
The very simply named “The Time Machine” has got several hooks and great melodies in its entirety of seven plus minutes. It contains one of the best choruses Iron Maiden has ever composed. The question might be: how can an over forty-year-old band make so good melodies on its seventeenth studio album? And, well, the answer might concentrate on the construction of the song, and how it is arranged. Some parts usually sound better than another but this time “The Time Machine” manages to do it even better, and the chorus sounds very delightful having Dickinson singing the lead and the stems with the skill that only he has. The song is at its best when listened to in the dusk of the evening as the teller in the lyrics has something to do with a long lived life. There is also some funny moments with folky melodies on “The Time Machine” and I am quite certain that an Iron Maiden fan can do nothing but love this song.
Ladies, lads and gentlemen. We have a power ballad on an Iron Maiden album. And should we say ”once again”? “The Darkest Hour” has got a very heavy atmosphere being perhaps the slowest song on the album. A tune that reminds of “Children Of The Damned” (The Number Of The Beast, 1982) and/or “Wasting Love” (Fear Of The Dark, 1992) when it comes to the style of playing. “The Darkest Hour” surprises a bit, at first. Then it surprises a little bit more by showing that it is sounding better and better by each playthrough. A very natural part of the whole album with some parts (especially because of the solo guitar sound perhaps by Adrian Smith) probably closest to the 1980´s heavy metal.
The tune on the album that is epic, ambitious and might even give some good laughs is “Death Of The Celts”. The laughs are not because of the lyrical theme but some of the musical ones. “Death Of The Celts” has got some very technical playing in its parts but also some ideas that sound like used by Iron Maiden earlier as it comes to melodies or riffs here and there. And the icing on the cake is its arrangement that sounds nothing but Steve Harris’ previous doings. It is something that other fans might buy straight away, but isn’t there anything else that drives to making a song other than an old idea? Without saying “Death Of The Celts” would have fitted better on previous albums like “Piece Of Mind”, “Virtual XI” and even “Dance Of Death”. There is really as much “Paschendale” and “The Clansman” on this one.
Towards the end the album goes further in the command of Steve Harris´ compositions that could not necessarily be ignored, as his style in composing and arranging is somewhat very distinctive. This might be also the blessing of the album for several reasons. One is that Steve Harris might after all exceed himself after “Death Of The Celts” to show what he is made of as a composer. The other reason is that the fans who like Harris’ style in composing alone get themselves another twenty minutes of ear candy in counter to the first half of the album that has participation from the other members, as well. (Only drummer Nicko McBrain and guitarist Dave Murray have not participated in the writing process of “Senjutsu”.)
“The Parchment ” is an epic song with over twelve minutes of music, but it doesn’t really feel that long when listened to, which is always a good sign. The tune is melody wise a bit oriental or “east oriented” as was the beginning of the album with a friendly nod towards Japanese culture. As did the fourth track “Lost In A Lost World” “The Parchment” has similar references in its riffs to the classic Iron Maiden song “To Tame A Land”, which can not go unnoticed. Although both songs stand on their own feet being one of the best on the “Senjutsu”.
“Hell On Earth” is the type of a song that ends an Iron Maiden album that has been done previously, for sure, but with the exception that it does sound very fresh. One particular reason for that is the fact that it has some great hopeful sounding melodies that keep their phase. The other aspect that surprises is that there is no singing in the first three minutes, which, at first, made me think “is it really an instrumental song?” All of the three guitar players (Janick Gers, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray) are using their very talent on “Hell On Earth” by vibing out the solos with passion and know-how (like they do on the whole album). Dickinson is singing with rarely heard more tender vibe at times as he does on some other tracks too on “Senjutsu”, which might be – as the band has stated on interviews that there is surprises included – one of the main subjects that surprises some people. The structure and feel of “Hell On Earth” resembles to “The Thin Line Between Love And Hate” (which is the final track on “Brave New World”) with its major melodies and lyrics more or less about the state of the society and the world.
The most pleasing thing about “Senjutsu” is that even the most engaged fans of Iron Maiden can get a lot out of the album just by listening to it only a couple of times. That feeling is for myself almost the same as it was at the time of “A Matter Of Life And Death”. Only time will tell in what kind of a status “Senjutsu” lands on the band’s back catalogue. But the certainty is that it is a very good and adventurous performance from an old heavy metal institution that has a lot to listen to. I dare to say that “Senjutsu” goes to at least on Top-3 in the Iron Maiden albums released in the 2000’s. And it will be one of the best albums of 2021.
1. Senjutsu (Smith/Harris) 8:20
2. Stratego (Gers/Harris) 4:59
3. The Writing On The Wall (Smith/Dickinson) 6:13
4. Lost In A Lost World (Harris) 9:31
5. Days Of Future Past (Smith/Dickinson) 4:03
6. The Time Machine (Gers/Harris) 7:09
7. Darkest Hour (Smith/Dickinson) 7:20
8. Death Of The Celts (Harris) 10:20
9. The Parchment (Harris) 12:39
10. Hell On Earth (Harris) 11:19