Iron Maiden – Senjutsu
Released: September 3, 2021
Bruce Dickinson // Vocals
Steve Harris // Bass, Vocals
Dave Murray // Guitar
Adrian Smith // Guitar, Vocals
Nicko McBrain // Drums
Janick Gers // Guitar
He stands across from me with a menacing scowl beneath his helmet. He has taken many guises over the decades: pharaoh, clairvoyant, trooper, demon slayer, zombie, alien, soldier, grim reaper, Aztec warrior. Now he swings a katana, armored as a samurai, glowing eyes threatening to corrupt young souls yet again. The icon of heavy metal – Edward T. Head – mascot of the band named after a medieval torture chamber: the band they call Iron Maiden. They have returned to a world gripped by pandemic, in sore need of the anthemic metal for which they are celebrated. I have been tasked with reviewing their latest opus and thus I present my adventure into Senjutsu.
It is with great fanfare we welcome back the sextet with their 17th studio album – the samurai themed Senjutsu. Translating loosely to ‘tactics and strategy’, the album again presents Eddie as a warrior, this time of Japanese origin, and has the band back onto a full frontal assault. Like their previous album, The Book of Souls, it is a long one – double CD or triple vinyl in the physical formats. The album was recorded in 2019, in the midst of the greatest hits Legacy of the Beast tour. However Iron Maiden fans have long given up on the band releasing a tight collection in the vein of Killers or Piece of Mind, their prog instincts outweighing the desire to write short, catchy bangers like ‘The Trooper’ or ‘Run to the Hills’. Every Iron Maiden record is now an event: the singles, the videos and the art work all coming together to gather the masses across the world. Without further adieu let’s delve in track by track and see what lies in the belly of the beast.
The beating of war drums sound the warning, as Bruce Dickinson announces the coming battle. It’s an intense mid tempo track, with a tough Adrian Smith riff and some great drum fills from Nicko McBrain. The solos hit their target perfectly. The middle section has layers of Bruce’s vocals, as his words appear to echo through time. Bruce departs as the band jam the riff again and the guitarists duel over it. Definitely not the typical Maiden opener, the challenge has been issued – things will be different this time.
Here’s the galloping riff we know and love. At only 5 minutes, it is straight down to business, with Bruce asking the audience what they are looking for. A very traditional Iron Maiden single, with a huge hook, the Harris bass work and synth adding a bit of ear candy. The guitar playing along with the vocal melody on the second verse is damn sweet. Likely to be a force on the live stage.
- ‘The Writing on the Wall’
The first single and an epic Maiden track that doesn’t outlast its welcome. The slow, western influenced intro is a great opening to what is a real gunslinging song. Musically it doesn’t sound like classic Iron Maiden, and that is totally a good thing. It is progressive in a different way to songs like ‘The Book of Souls’ or ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’, with a great rock riff on the verses and a dramatic performance from Bruce. The bridge has an underlying celtic or folk influence, which is really cool. Listen closely and there is some great interplay between guitarists on the chorus too. Killer trading of solos. A stand out.
- ‘Lost In A Lost World’
Starts as a slower ballad, with an echo effect on Bruce’s vocals expressing his regret at having lost his youth. The second section ups the ante with a driving riff that will burrow into your skull, it only because it is repeated a lot. The guitar solo harmony is brilliant, classic Iron Maiden, and the solos in total run for several minutes. Unmistakably a Steve Harris composition, down to the 9 minute length, reminds me a lot of Dance of Death or some of the songs on The Final Frontier.
- ‘Days of Future Past’
Another Smith composition and another war song by Dickinson. Gets into that groove Smith loves, much more uptempo, really bringing great balance to the first disc. A massive chorus that will excite fans of their 80s material. Another song begging to be unleashed live.
- ‘The Time Machine’
Janick Gers gets his licks in here, a haunting riff that builds to faster verses, as Bruce’s ability to modulate elevates the song to fist raising riot. Harris’ lyrics are a bit of a mouthful, but wait… the gallop is back with guitar harmony. Then I’m struck down by the palm muted heavy section before the solos. It’s no ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ but it’s not bad.
- ‘Darkest Hour’
A shift again in strategy on disc 2 – the sounds of rolling waves introduces a Smith solo. Dickinson emerges to recount the beach battles of World War II, flying the flag for metal. Slower, darker but packs a real punch thanks to the tight arrangement. The solos are much more bluesy than anticipated, and the variety is a welcome change. Indeed, I’m fully engrossed by Senjutsu at this point, while at home my kids go hungry without their father. I will conquer Eddie and return to them soon.
We end with a trilogy of Harris epics. This is where the battle might be won or lost. Tell my family I love them.
- ‘Death Of The Celts’
So many twists and turns. An almost snarling Dickinson delivery of Harris’ poetry. The very long instrumental section, with trading solo and prominent bass, is wild, unpredictable and thrilling. Just needed a chorus for the crowd to chant back at them.
- ‘The Parchment’
Synths and acoustic guitars kick this one off. Standard Maiden riffs and solo. At 12 minutes there is a lot of storytelling here but realistically it could have been a few minutes shorter. I have to take a seat as the guitarists continue to trade solos, the wizardry is incredible but I am weary and can only nod along when Dickinson returns. Eddie’s blade hovers over me, ready to strike. I am not done though, the band erupts into a gallop to close the song and I am on my feet again, devil horns extended.
- ‘Hell On Earth’
Having been revived by the closing section of ‘The Parchment’, I am ready to face ‘Hell on Earth’. It commenced with a slow, haunting scale. It is both serene and apocalyptic. McBrain’s snare breaks the demonic lullaby and it’s time for a head banging good riff. The first chorus hits 5 minutes in and it is glorious. I don’t feel weighed down by the 11 minute run time, and I feel Eddie embrace me like an old friend. We will drink to the legacy of the beast tonight.
I am victorious. Senjutsu is an epic and triumphant return for the lads. But the truth is I sold my soul to Iron Maiden long ago, though I found The Book of Souls a difficult repeat listen due to the length of the middle tracks. Senjutsu is better balanced and the Smith tracks on Disc 1 really lift the album with some interesting songwriting. It is nice to have Harris back with his focused epics, and having them near the end makes getting to them less of an adventure. Some editing could have seen this be a one disc affair, but as it is, this is a terrific Maiden album.
Until we battle again my friends, I await your return to this shores.
Iron Maiden – Senjutsu tracklisting
3. The Writing On The Wall
4. Lost In A Lost World
5. Days Of Future Past
6. The Time Machine
7. Darkest Hour
8. Death Of The Celts
9. The Parchment
10. Hell On Earth