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Iron Maiden - Senjutsu (Album Review)

Friday, 10 September 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Having the artistic freedom to do whatever the hell you like can be a double edged sword.  At its best, ‘Senjutsu’ reflects how creative liberation has allowed Iron Maiden to evolve from fiery NWOBHM flag bearers into a bestial prog-metal outfit with an irrepressible flair for the epic. Alas, that privilege has also led to unchecked overindulgence, preventing some of their albums from being the masterpieces that, with a few obvious tweaks, they could have been.

Now, before Samurai Eddie swoops in to send us on our way with a flash of steel, let’s start with the positives. Venturing further into widescreen progressive territory, ‘Senjutsu’ is a bombastic behemoth that, over 80 minutes, unleashes a greater degree of variety and textural light and shade than its equally weighty predecessor ‘The Book of Souls.’

Writing on the Wall, which marches forth on an electrified Ritchie Blackmore renaissance riff, builds to a walloping communal hook before swashbuckling six-string harmonies sweep in and strike.

The Time Machine, meanwhile, rides a very different, devilish groove, its emphatic chorus and death-or-glory charge complemented by psychedelic exploration and stinging solos.  

Elsewhere, Stratego and Days of Future Past are powerhouse bangers high on straight-for-the jugular brevity and life affirming hooks, Darkest Hour’s massive balladry recalls Bruce Dickinson’s Tears of a Dragon, had it been recorded for ‘Fear Of The Dark’, and the heroic grandiosity of Death of the Celts unfurls ominous Pink Floyd ambience, swaying melodious vocal lines and tour de force instrumental twists.

Unlike ‘The Book of Souls’ there’s no outright filler here, just frustrating moments where poor decisions and lack of creative discipline tank the quality control. Lost In A Lost World is a prime example, selling short its ethereal opening, and stomping refrain, with meandering Maiden-by-numbers passages that needed a firm edit.  

Monumental drumming aside, the brooding title track is crying out for the band to flick the tempo switch and ratchet up intensity levels a la Afraid To Shoot Strangers. By trying to sustain its hypnotic mid-tempo atmosphere the song slumps into a prolonged ‘X Factor’ styled plod. Protracted pair The Parchment and Hell on Earth, which deliver many jaw dropping and evocative moments, are ultimately let down by the lack of crushing hooks needed to cement their identities. 

Then there’s the now typical muddy production. Kevin Shirley will once again be blamed, but records he’s produced for Joe Bonamassa, as well as Maiden’s ‘Brave New World’ and his mixing work for Dream Theater, all sound excellent. It seems that the Maiden camp favour this aesthetic, but pristine production would have enhanced the songs by accentuating their layered instrumental flourishes.  There’s a reason why the best crafted, and most iconic, prog albums usually go hand in hand with exceptional clarity.

Although it would be deeply unwelcome, Iron Maiden could use the external perspective of a John Kalodner figure. The tough love and sage notes that legendary A&R man gave to bands back in the day, including Maiden, would almost certainly have elevated this ambitious, often outstanding, record to classic status.

Iron Maiden Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat June 04 2022 - HYVINKAA Rockfest (Finland)
Sat June 11 2022 - DERBY Donington Park
Mon June 13 2022 - BELFAST Ormeau Park
Thu June 16 2022 - DESSEL Graspop Metal Meeting (Belgium)
Sat June 18 2022 - COPENHAGEN Copenhell (Denmark)
Mon June 20 2022 - PRAGUE Sinobo Stadium (Czech Republic)
Thu June 23 2022 - OSLO Tons Of Rock (Norway)
Sun June 26 2022 - PARIS PARIS LA DEFENSE ARENA (France)
Mon June 27 2022 - ANRNHEM Gelredome (Netherlands)
Sat July 02 2022 - COLOGNE Rhein Energie Stadium (Germany)
Mon July 04 2022 - BERLIN Waldbuehne (Germany)
Thu July 07 2022 - BOLOGNA Sonic Park (Italy)
Sun July 10 2022 - VIENNA Stadium Open Air (Austria)
Tue July 19 2022 - STUTTGART Cannstatter Wasen (Germany)
Wed July 20 2022 - BREMEN Buergerweide (Germany)
Fri July 22 2022 - GOTHENBURG Ullevi Stadium (Sweden)
Sun July 24 2022 - WARSAW PGE Narodowy (Poland)
Tue July 26 2022 - FRANKFURT Dutch Bank Park (Germany)
Fri July 29 2022 - BARCELONA Olympic Stadium (Spain)
Sat July 30 2022 - ZURICH Hallenstadion (Switzerland)
Sun July 31 2022 - LISBON Estadio Nacional (Portugal)

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