Iron Maiden - Senjutsu
Iron Maiden's 17th album was released on September 3, 2021 and is titled: "Senjutsu"
This album is released exactly 6 years (less a day but who's counting) after the release of the previous album "The Book of Souls" in 2015. This is the longest time, between two "Iron Maiden" albums, but today it can already be said that the long expectation definitely paid off, since in our humble opinion this is one of the band's greatest albums in the current millennium and it even surpasses some albums from the previous one, clear and cut!!!
The date is not the only connection of "Senjutsu" to "The Book of Souls". The band chose to record the album at the "Guillaume Tell" studio in France, where the previous album was also recorded. The writing and recording process was similar in both cases. The band wrote a song, rehearsed it and immediately recorded it, when everything was still fresh.
The album was recorded at the beginning of 2019 during breaks from the "Legacy tour". Of course, covid-19 epidemic delayed things, but the band decided to delay the release a bit, even though its recording was already finished.
The album's title - "Senjutsu", is a Japanese term that literally means "tactics and strategy", but can also be translated as "skill and spell". Indeed, throughout the album, these themes recur and emerge, as in the second single "Stratego" whose title alone speaks for itself.
The truth is, it was very clear to us that it was going to be an "mind-blowing" album, from the very first listening to the first single from the album "The Writing On The Wall", released on July 5, 2021. This song immediately stood out as nothing less than the anthem!!! The "Jethro Tull" classical guitar style intro, which for some reason reminded us of Ehud Banai's "Canaan Blues" and the catchy riff with the oriental touch, got deep into our veins. When we got to the sweeping chorus, we couldn't stop it anymore and started singing along with Bruce almighty, and then everything was already clear, this song is going to be our anthem for 2021.
"The Writing On The Wall" title refers to the story of the "Belshazzar Feast," told in the book of Daniel, during which an inscription appears on the wall, and Daniel interprets it as a prophecy of the destruction of Babylon. Belshazzar the king of Babylon made a great feast for a thousand of his ministers and his concubines in which they drank wine from the vessels of the destroyed great temple. At that time, a hand was seen writing on the Western Wall against the "menorah" the words "Mana Mana Tekel and Persin." The king was frightened and ordered to bring the sages of Babylon, but only Daniel could interpret the "writing on the wall" as the fall of the Belshazzar kingdom and the destruction of Babylon. At night King Belshazzar was killed and Darius took his place..
About a month later, the band released the second single "Stratego". The melodic riff that leads the song sounds to us at first as a "Rainbow" rip-off. The galloping Steve Harris' bass playing sounds similar to his pounding bass work on "Powerslave" which is celebrating its birthday today. But then, the deeper we got into the song, the more we fell in love with it. It's a classic "Maiden" song, but with an updated sound. In terms of style, it could easily have entered the first band's albums of with Bruce Dickinson, only here we get the addition of an upgraded sound that simply lifts this song up, and we are talking about the addition of the keyboards that sometimes accompany Bruce's vocals and occasionally the guitar riffs.
It seems that these two singles are enough to prove how versatile and different this album is from the previous "The Book of Souls" album, even though the band chose to record both albums in the same studio ("Guillaume Tell" in France) and in the same process of writing and recording, as mentioned.
This diversity is also reflected in the theme song which is also the opening track “Senjutsu”. An epic piece that crosses the 8-minute mark and touches all the band's sound elements and sets the tone for whatever comes next.
Further proof of the band's versatility on this album can be found in the intro of the song "Lost in a Lost World". The classical guitars, Bruce's vocal effect and the backing vocals reminded us of the "Uriah Heep" sound. It is unlike anything else "Maiden" has done in the past 41 years. The song starts quiet and slow with Bruce's soft vocals and the caressing backing vocals, continues heavy with a mid-pace rhythm and then reaches the anthemic chorus and the excellent instrumental part that follows. One of our favorite parts of the song is the one that starts at 3:40 minute, with the guitar line accompanying Bruce's voice with such a beautiful melody. This section repeats itself at the end of the song starting at 8:06 minute and then it just breaks us into pieces. It is hard not to mention Bruce Dickinson vocals. He simply surpasses himself on this album and proves that despite the passing years, the illness and the erosion of his voice he is still one of the greatest singers in metal, and has a vocal range that may have shrunk a little over the years, but still can be envy by many singers.
By the way, "Lost in a Lost World" is one of the four songs on the album that Steve Harris wrote solaly, all of them cross the 9-minute line. Also this time, Harris is the main writer of most of the album's songs, which ends up with three epic songs written exclusively by him and spanning all together over a half hour of music. Along with Harris, there is also a very respectable representation of the Bruce Dickinson/Adrian Smith duo, who are responsible for writing 3 of the ten songs on the album, including the lead single "The Writing On The Wall".
What's beautiful about this album is that next to the band's attempt to change and diversify, they still don't allow themselves to completely move away from the DNA that characterizes them. In almost every song on this album, you can find something that will remind you of the classic "Maiden". over the 82-minute album, we get elements from the band's various music over the years. From the glorious 80s, through the Blaze Bayley era to the band's greatest albums in the current millennium, such as "Brave New World" and "A Matter of Life and Death".
A notable example can be found in the song "Days of Future Past", which even according to Bruce Dickinson himself, corresponds with the "Piece of Mind" and "Powerslave" era of the band. Contrary to what most of you may think, "Days of Future Past" is not related to the "Marvel" comics and the movie from the "X-Man" series. It was inspired by the graphic novel "Constantine" and especially its adaptation into the movie starring Keanu Reeves. Of course, there is also no connection to the timeless album of by The "Moody Blues" called "Days of Future Passed". By the way, it is interesting to note that this is the shortest song on the album that includes one of the most minimalist solos in "Maiden's" career.
Then comes "The Time Machine" written by Janick Gers in collaboration with Steve Harris, ending the first disc. This is one of the special songs on the album, with an addictive guitar line, a catchy and sweeping melody, a beautiful combination of the three guitarists and Bruce's tremendous vocals. A very dynamic song with many transitions and changes of melody and rhythms, some of them will remind you of the classic "Maiden", like the one that starts at 3:11 minute.
The second disc opens with "Darkest Hour", dramatic and exciting. Another great song from the Bruce Dickinson/Adrian Smith duo. A type of ballad that is not really typical for the band's musical style, but it is precisely the song that proves, once again, the enormous diversity in the album and the fact that despite the album lacking a uniform musical line, it doesn't have any falls, stumbles, "fillers" or even one unnecessary minute among the 82 long minutes. Wow, what a breathtaking singing by Bruce who manages to deliver the lyrics so well and what a tremendous and moving solo by Adrian Smith, perhaps one of the best on the album.
This album ends with an insane "jaw-dropping" epic compositions by Steve Harris. Each of these works could have been used as an ending track on any of the band's albums.
The first, "Death of the Celts" opens with Harris' beautiful bass playing and quickly sets off a folk-metal vibe, especially in sections like the one that starts at 5:15 with Harris' bass playing that draws from Celtic music. This song somehow manages to remind us at times, in its "vibe" and atmosphere, of "The Clansman" one of the greatest songs from "Virtual XI" album of the Blaze Bayley era.
The second, "The Parchment", an epic piece that is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album. A quiet and dramatic opening that could easily have been part of of a historical war film soundtrack and a crazy entrance at 1:10 minute with an amazing, melodic and sweeping guitar line in an oriental style. Then, at 2:01 minute, a change that threw us straight into the oriental melody of "To Tame a Land", from the "Piece of Mind" album. The song continues to develop, with increasing rhythm changes during the crazy instrumental section that stretches for 4 enjoyable and delightful minutes, that leads us in a closing circle to the quiet part that opened the song.
The third, "Hell On Earth" a war epic track that seals the album with a dark and exciting atmosphere, which after about two minutes changes and sweeps the listener into the battle-like atmosphere that surrounds it. This is exactly the classic piece with which "Maiden" should end up such an amazing album. This is where it should already be clear that this band is simply the best at what they do. Harris' racing bass rushes into battle and Nicko McBrain's drums provide the rhythm. The guitar harmonies blend with each other, gracefully, delicately and sometimes aggressively, but they will always serve as an arrowhead to clear the way for Dickinson's almighty vocals. If there is a textbook that explains how "Iron Maiden" should sound, this song is probably in it.
There are not many bands with a clear distinctive sound so identified with them, that can still change, diversify, innovate and continue to excite, without changing their DNA. "Iron Maiden" is one of these bands and it has been doing so for almost five decades, even if not always on the right side of the high bar they set for themselves in their first seven albums from the glory 80s. "Senjutsu" is an ambitious and insane album. It's terrifyingly long, but it has all the necessary ingredients to make us keep listening to it without skipping a single song, and that says a lot. It presents a band with wonderful writing and performing ability and proves once again why it is the biggest metal band in the world, which even fifty years after it was founded is able to sell tickets within 6 hours for a show that takes place more than a year later (see "2023 Wacken Open Air").
That's it, now it can be declared! From our point of view, the metal world should be divided into two. The one before "Iron Maiden" and the one after!!!
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