Iron Maiden

Senjutsu

Written by: AP on 07/06/2022 15:32:02

With a career spanning 47 years, and due to vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s suffering a serious health scare in 2015, fans of Iron Maiden have gotten into the habit of celebrating each new record from them as potentially their last. Yet still they persist — and where other titans of heavy metal have long since reverted, or at least tried to revert back to a more old school style in their late career moves (Black Sabbath with “13”, Judas Priest with “Firepower”, and Metallica with “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct”), these British veterans have stubbornly continued to progress and evolve. Iron Maiden’s insistence on doing so may have alienated some of their more casual fans, who would prefer to just relive their biggest hits over and over again under new titles, but by and large, the band has thrilled their loyal following with the retro-futuristic sound of their later output. And their 17th and latest offering “Senjutsu” is no different, delivering another double opus of progressive and bombastic power metal precisely six years after the release of its predecessor, 2015’s “The Book of Souls”.

Perhaps as a relief to some, “Senjutsu” is 10 minutes shorter than the previous album, although it still clocks in a delectable 80 minutes of windswept and melancholy soundscapes. One might say it is Iron Maiden’s most elegiac work since the grim “A Matter of Life and Death” from 2006, which suits Dickinson’s aging voice well. He has dampened his soaring tenor into a gloomier style that works wonders in tracks like “Days of Future Past”, in which he ruminates on the end of the world, and “The Time Machine”, which delivers one of the few choruses on the record that can stand up to the band’s immortal anthems from their ‘80s golden era. Lead single “The Writing on the Wall”, which sees Dickinson recounting Belshazzar’s Feast from the Old Testament, meanwhile features the sort of guitar lead that seems destined for immortality, one crowds will be prone to hum along to at live shows in similar vein as to those in “Fear of the Dark” and “The Trooper”, and while the song arguably outstays its welcome, with Dickinson’s repeated howls of its title especially growing tedious toward the end, it does also expose some interesting country and blues touches that have not yet been heard on past ‘Maiden records.

Common to the three aforementioned tracks, and indeed the red thread through the entire record, is a focus on ambitious and intricate composition rather than easily remembered choruses. Steve Harris, the band’s only remaining founding member and primary songwriter, is an outspoken fan of Jethro Tull, and he is not shy about bringing that influence to the table in songs like “Lost in a Lost World”, which opens with the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar against sheets of melancholy synth and muted singing by Dickinson, has a distinctly folksy atmosphere that recurs throughout the rest of the album, bestowing upon the music a kind of heroic, medieval vibe that eventually culminates in the overblown depictions of ancient battlefields in “Death of the Celts” and the cinematic string arrangements in the penultimate track “The Parchment”. “Just remember that patience is no sin", bellows Dickinson some three minutes into that song, perhaps so as to warn listeners that there’s still another nine minutes of military march riffs and capering leads to follow, including the three guitarists Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers taking turns indulging in solos at times when most conventional heavy metal bands would be thinking about concluding the tune.

That piece sets the stage for the final track and unquestionable mantlepiece of the album, “Hell on Earth”, a genuine prog epic that skips seamlessly from one idea to another, coiling itself around an unforgettable, soaring guitar lead that harmonises beautifully with one of the most incisive and hair raising vocal performances to date from Dickinson. This song provides another masterclass in progressive songwriting, leaving acres of room for each musician to breathe their own ideas into the soundscape, including a poignant rhythm section by Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain. It is to “Senjutsu” what the title track is to “Fear of the Dark”, well and truly earning its position amongst the very best tracks that reside in Iron Maiden’s celebrated repertoire. It delivers an appropriately triumphant finale to an album short on misses and rich on hits of the proverbial kind, cementing the record as yet another example of the band’s unique synthesis of melody, grandeur, complexity and heaviness. Should “Senjutsu” turn out to be Iron Maiden’s final studio release… well, then the six musicians will have bowed out in style. And if not, is provides yet more ammunition for nominating them as one of the best, if not the best metal band still around.

8

Download: The Writing on the Wall, Days of Future Past, The Time Machine, The Parchment, Hell on Earth
For the fans of: Blind Guardian, Dio, Helloween, Queensrÿche
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Release date 03.09.2021
Parlophone Records

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