Iron Maiden - Senjutsu
Parlophone
Heavy/Progressive Metal
Disc 1: 6 songs (40:15 ) Disc 2: 4 songs (41:38)
Release year: 2021
Iron Maiden
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

How does one even begin to review an Iron Maiden album, not least their seventeenth full-length in almost a 50 year career? They've more than achieved the level of a band that simply exists as a cultural worldwide phenomenon, giants, one of the biggest bands of metal if not in rock as a whole. Searching the Twitter trending topics on Friday's release day and seeing so many fans from all over the globe celebrate a new Maiden album was genuinely heart-warming, the excitement and thrill of fans coming across regardless of language barriers. People don't just listen to Iron Maiden, they love them, finding delight in everything from those (above expectations!) Trooper beers to a Bruce Dickinson speaking tour, getting the inside track on everything from the singer's childhood to warm-up techniques and the possibility of a new solo album (- the latter held up by the Biden administration's continuing unscientific European ban ...)

In any case, the new Iron Maiden album has arrived after being recorded in early 2019 in Paris, and all that fanship will be hard-tested on early exposure to Senjutsu (Japanese for 'tactics'). It's the second double-album in a row after the bloated The Book of Souls, and features no fewer than seven out of ten songs at over seven minutes, with three ten-minute plus epics penned by Steve Harris in a row to finish the listen. Brave even to press play, let alone listen to the 80+ minute monster enough times to enjoy the music...! Patience is required, not least with getting used to the murky, cluttered mix which at times gives the (simplistic if not un-atmospheric) keyboards equal footing with Bruce's vocals, and the songwriting, blessedly free of repetitive choruses for the most part but oddly lacking in hooks and requiring serious time investment to get to grips with.

On top of that, this is the least fun Iron Maiden album to date. It's even grimmer than A Matter of Life and Death and The X-Factor, stuffed full of lyrics about desperation, death, and the coming end, with no hint of a cracked smile anywhere. The opening title track sets a dreary scene, all beating war drums and ominous doomy tones, Bruce's unmistakeable tones coming through wonderfully for a man who survived mouth cancer and a hip replacement. We have to talk about how strained he sounds at moments, particularly when trying those high tones that made him compared to an air raid siren once; his lower tones are still compelling and gripping however, and he really should adjust accordingly. His vocals fight to be heard in the mix here, yet he comes through and elevates the prog/doom metal even on early listens when it's hard to believe the band decided to open their opus mammothus with such a restrained, unshowy trudge of a song. It grows on you, across listens, but the early signs aren't great.

Placing the two singles next to each other after that is also a questionable decision. Stratego works better overall with galloping energy and close to the best vocal performance on the album even if the production seems especially poor, and although The Writing on the Wall has an interestingly southern-fried feel which is very fresh for Maiden, it goes on a little too long and suffers from a clumsy chorus. And then, another questionable decision, placing the three oddest songs together to close out the first disc, starting with the band's worst in years, Lost in a Lost World. It moves from a lengthy folky opening with distorted Dickenson vocals and acoustic guitar through very much the most Maiden-by-numbers sort of territory, repetitive and with a poor repeat-the-title chorus. Expertly played with a solid solo, of course, but never close to being worthy of Maiden album status - it shouldn't have been a five minute song, let alone a nine minute one, and isn't so much a questionable decision as just plain a bad choice.

Fortunately, things quickly improve with Days of Future Past, a killer four-minute piece that manages both great atmospheric keyboard use and great riffs, feeling different from the usual Maiden territory while sticking to a melodic 80s vibe thanks to those verses and an enormous epic chorus. Why can't Iron Maiden write albums full of short, sharp songs like this any more?! The following The Time Machine isn't terrible in fairness, perhaps the most progressive piece on the album with its various twists and turns, showing Janick Gers off as an underrated writer for the band even if as a whole the acoustic opening and closing to the song do drag the energy down. Still, speaking of dragging things down! Darkest Hour, a Churchill-focused ballad, is surely full of meaning to writers Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson, but a dreary dirge that feels like a lesser Tears of the Dragon should have been first on the chopping block were the band served by a producer worth his salt.

Of course, then we wouldn't have had three ten-minute-plus closing tracks, which is where fans of the band will fall even deeper in love and the haters will throw their toys far, far from the pram. Say, how about another epic about doomed Scots with Death of the Celts, an inferior echo of The Clansman with a repetitive instrumental jam and entirely lacking a chorus? Not your thing? What about the twelve minute The Parchment, moving from sub-Powerslave-esque melodies through around six guitar solos? In its defence, Bruce sounds fantastic throughout, the synths are a little more restrained but hugely effective, and the triple-guitar lineup actually feels earned for once. It is unmistakably a highlight on this particular record, even if it pales a little in comparison to album closer Hell on Earth, however, something like a more cheerful When the Wild Wind Blows and quite power metal in its verses. Bruce gets plenty of vocal workouts and is even allowed to rasp a little, the synths work well, the melodies flow together better than anywhere else on the record, and it ends well enough to make you think perhaps you were a little too harsh on the rest of Senjutsu...

Which is a trap, because this is definitely not a great Iron Maiden album. It pales when compared to the far more varied Book of Souls, let alone the classics, and although certain tracks here will doubtless be wonderful live as a whole this would not be premier material as a 40 minute album. That it is over 80 minutes of material is downright infuriating! Compare this to the albums since Brave New World, and you'll realise how much better they are. Compare this to the classics, and you'll wonder why you ever chose to listen to modern Maiden over that era. Everyone loves this band, your reviewer included, and its name will forever mean everything to fans. Yet sometimes you have to be honest; whatever the wails of "it's a grower!" that will doubtless come, Senjutsu is far, far from a great record. Yet the proud, glorious, and stubborn institution that is Iron Maiden will continue to divide opinion while doing exactly what they want. Impossible to review, indeed.

Killing Songs :
Senjutsu, Days of Future Past, The Parchment, Hell on Earth
Goat quoted 60 / 100
Other albums by Iron Maiden that we have reviewed:
Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls reviewed by Goat and quoted 73 / 100
Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier reviewed by Goat and quoted 83 / 100
Iron Maiden - Flight 666 DVD reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Iron Maiden - Killers reviewed by Thomas and quoted CLASSIC
Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden reviewed by Thomas and quoted CLASSIC
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