I should preface this whole review by letting you know that Iron Maiden is my favourite band of all time so whether you like it not, and by no fault of my own, there may likely be some bias here! I also realise that the album is already into it’s second week of existence, and although I was tempted to regurgitate my first impressions as soon as I could I quickly realised that Senjutsu is an album you need to live with for a while before passing judgment. And live with it is exactly what I’ve done, I have let this double album epic seep it’s way into my veins and I finally think I know where I stand.
I highly doubt Senjutsu will be winning over any new Maiden fans to this weird cult of ours. There will be a lot of people who give this sprawling 10 song, 1 hour and 21 minute beast one listen and decide it’s to slow and plodding, but Iron Maiden fans around the globe will see the ambitious saga as nothing but pure fan service at its best.
For better or worse Maiden have been guilty of experimenting with different themes such as science fiction and fantasy in their last couple of albums which has extended to their overall sound to a point. Senjutsu however may have a Samurai theme to its art style and some songs may dip into this but overall this album feels like a love letter to all things modern Maiden. There’s a gigantic Eddie looking elephant in this room I haven’t addressed yet and that is of course the impending doom that this latest album could be Maiden’s last. Of course I don’t wish that to be the case but if it is, it’s the perfect way to bow out.
The opening track and album’s namesake really sets the tone for the rest of the record. It may never really get out of second gear but it has a distinct feeling like Bruce Dickinson is reaching through the speakers and grabbing the listener by the hand to take us on an epic journey through time. Once Stratego kicks in we’re well and truly on this ride and what a way to start the album this is! We get the classic Maiden gallop in all its glory which leads to one of my favourite choruses in the band’s back catalogue which is of course massively high praise! During the quiet moments I don’t have this album blasting you can probably find me singing “Ocean is black, the devil’s track” back to myself like a proper weirdo. This song well and truly has its hooks dug deep and is easily the catchiest track on the album.
The Writing On The Wall follows with its beefy riffs and massive solos which will have even the most miserable fuckers nodding their heads and proves why it was the first Iron Maiden single for six years. Clocking in at a whopping nine and a half minutes – Lost In A Lost World is the first taste of that classic epic Maiden sound we all love and was the moment where I realised the band were kind of playing their greatest hits as this would not feel out of place on a masterpiece like A Matter Of Life And Death. It really is Iron Maiden at their absolute best and their most progressive. From the peaceful intro through to the gigantic sounding riffs and back down again to a gorgeous outro, this song is truly spectacular yet isn’t even my favourite track on the record! More on that later..
The pace only quickens with the heavy as balls Days Of Future Past which is sadly not about time travelling X-Men but makes up for it with four minutes of Nicko and the boys playing as fast as can be expected at this point of their career and is one I really hope I get to mosh to live when the lads come back on tour. I’m not going to lie to you, I did slightly fear we might be veering off track with The Time Machine when Bruce dropped the lyrics “Have I ever told you ’bout my time machine? Sit you down and tell you everywhere I been”. I instantly worried we might be getting corny Bruce with some sort of Doctor Who tribute but thankfully the song soon turns into another colossal banger with an admittedly rough start. I can’t deny from about the three minute mark where we get a Black Sabbath sounding guitar tone quickly followed by a Dance of Death inspired riff that I was quickly back on board with The Time Machine and is a fitting way to end part 1 of Senjutsu!
If you’re one of those people who find Maiden’s gigantic songs ‘plodding’ then part 2 of this album is definitely not for you! The rest of us though are in for a hell of a journey and it begins with Darkest Hour which I can’t help but consume as a light starter for what comes next.. The final three songs to Senjutsu clock in at around a mammoth 35 minutes! This may be off putting to some but speaking as somebody who lives and breathes everything Iron Maiden, this ending is perfect. In fact I think I can honestly say these three songs come together as my favourite ending to any Iron Maiden album ever which is arguably the highest praise I have given any piece of media on this website.
Death Of The Celts is like the evil devil child of The Clansman and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.. making it the eight son I guess? Anyway this track is a perfect example of what I said earlier about this album being all about fan service as there’s no way in hell an Iron Maiden fan won’t lose their shit over hearing this for the first time. It’s so uniquely Maiden in every way and shows off the immaculate song writing skills of Steve Harris who remains the beating heart of this wonderful band. I love this. I really thought the album peaked here, oh how wrong I was..
Speaking of Steve Harris, he dominates the intro to The Parchment with a certain gentleness before blowing your ears off when the rest of the band come crashing in. As the song flows it becomes more clear how inspired it is by 2001’s Brave New World – an album that solidified Maiden’s new sound for a modern era and this pays homage to that in the most glorious way. Come the end I’m beyond satisfied, this has been perfect and all that’s left is for the boys to take us home and oh boy don’t they just..
The final track – Hell On Earth is the best song Iron Maiden have released in decades and solidifies Senjutsu as a masterpiece. It takes everything I love about this band and mixes it together in one enormous couldron of Metal storytelling produced by six of the most talented musicians to ever grace this wretched planet. The way the song ebbs and flows is genuinely too difficult to put into words and instead of reading me ramble on about it you should just go and listen for yourself. All I’ll say is that if the worst is to happen and Hell On Earth is the last Iron Maiden track to ever be recorded then take a bow lads because you’ve gone out on top.
I’ve already said that I believe Senjutsu to be a masterpiece so I won’t insult your intelligence by teasing a final score, we all know it’s a 10. I never believed going into this album that I would go on to talk about it in the same breath as A Matter Of Life And Death, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and Brave New World but here we are. Don’t be fooled though, Maiden aren’t rinsing and repeating old material here. As stated in the opening, this album is simply a love letter to all things Iron Maiden with a new twist. None of us outside of their tight knit group can say for sure whether this is the last time people like myself get to review a new Iron Maiden album, but if it is, it’s been a pleasure. Up The Irons.