Last Friday, heavy metal legends Iron Maiden released their 17th studio album Senjutsu. The double disc or triple vinyl album clocks in at a mammoth 82 minutes, rivaling their prior effort Book Of Souls. Maiden have been riding a wave of new popularity and legacy building for the past few decades since a reunion of their classic lineup in 1999. This new effort, correctly assumed to have been recorded before the events of 2020 put everything on hold, was instantly hyped and anticipated by fans.
Iron Maiden are my favorite band, they have been for a very long time. I’ll get more into that later this week, as all my posts for the week will be dedicated to Maiden in celebration of the new album and their overall legacy.
For today though it’s pretty simple – Monday is the Album Of The Week, and that pick for this week is Senjutsu.
Iron Maiden – Senjutsu
Released September 3, 2021 via Warner/Parlaphone Records
Favorite Tracks – Hell On Earth, Writing On The Wall, The Parchment
I’m not one much for doing album reviews right off the bat. I prefer the gift of hindsight to settle on a record’s place in my music library and in a band’s catalog. I honestly was going to do a ranking of Iron Maiden records as my debut video for YouTube later this fall – the second I started working on that was when they announced a new album was coming. So my Maiden ranking will have to sit until I have time to consider where Senjutsu fits with the rest of their discography.
But this AOTW thing is not always a strict review – it’s more often a discussion of a record I like. And I certainly like the new Maiden offering. It’s another epic, multi-faceted album that stands in fairly stark contrast to its predecesor. It is yet another movement for a band that hasn’t rested on its laurels since finding acclaim in the later years of existence.
It’s also clear that the captain is steering the ship again. After kind of talking Book Of Souls off and letting the rest of the band handle that, Steve Harris is all over this album. It does at times recall the mid- and late-90’s when he was the creative force in the band. That could mean different things to different people, but in this case it’s a good thing.
I think an easy way to approach this is to go track-by-track. Let’s dive into the hour and 20 minute epic that is Senjutsu. Something to note – I have not, to date, read or watched the fairly extensive interviews that the band have given discussing meaning and theme on the record. I will do so after I’ve spent some more time with the album. I wanted to go into it on my own and see what I came out of it with.
Iron Maiden have almost always been on their game with title tracks. Senjutsu is no exception and is a standout for both the album and in consideration of past title tracks. This song about heading into battle features some sick drum sounds and an atmospheric, almost hazy layer to the production, as if recalling a fog of war. The song does a great job tying into the album’s samurai theme and setting the tone sonically as the lead track.
This was the second of two preview singles released ahead of the album. I struggled with the song on its own, it too is atmospheric and a bit buried in itself. But in the context of the album it works very well. It’s another tune about war and tactics, which “tactics and strategy” are the rough translation of Senjutsu. I honestly never played the board game that this track took its name from so I can’t really comment on that.
My only real qualm with the album’s production is on this song – it’s almost done in the vein of a shoegaze song where the individual parts are left in vague layers to consumed as one unit. Iron Maiden isn’t a shoegaze band by any stretch and the music needs to stand out. I think Bruce’s vocals are supressed here. But again, I do like the song and I think it fits the album’s theme and mood.
Writing On The Wall
Here we have the album’s first single, released before we even knew the album title. Any Maiden fan is already well familiar with this post-apocalyptic biker metal jaunt that heralds the arrival of the Four Horsemen.
I’ve played WOTW hundreds of times since its July release. The song is terrific and is an instant classic from the Smith-Dickinson songwriting tandem that has delivered many crucial metal cuts over the years. The song also sets the stage for the album’s other theme, that being how screwed our civilization probably is. It’s a theme that has always grabbed my attention and does so especially now.
Lost In A Lost World
This excellent track gets into some conventional past Maiden melodies and also tells the tale of some long lost civilization. It could be a past reflection on a lost culture, something the band have tackled before. Or it could be a look from the future back on our time. That would certainly fit the album’s second, apocalyptic theme.
Days Of Future Past
This short, blistering song seems to outline some war against a god, perhaps the lines are from Satan’s perspective. Or maybe it’s a burned, scorned mortal who fell out of favor with a god or king, who knows. Either way it also seems on theme – some damned soul wandering the wasteland with no purpose or end. Pretty stark stuff from the band, though they are no strangers to that sort of introspection.
The Time Machine
This song has a fairly vague theme, it appears to be a man recounting what he’s seen over his life. It doesn’t get too specific into what that is. The music is great on this track, very much signature Iron Maiden with a few intersting movements and twists.
Another tune from Smith and Dickinson, this song recalls some sort of war. It does feel a bit like World War II, with the mention of the beaches in blood. I have to wonder if it’s purely a look back or again, if the darkest hour is one just on the horizon. The song is, like the rest of the album, great. Very dark and moody stuff.
Death Of The Celts
Here we have the first of 3 Steve Harris-penned epics that close Senjutsu. This track is an absolute callback to The Clansman, a highlight from Maiden’s oft-maligned Virtual XI album. It is again, the tale of a lost culture, this time in its final battle from the perspective of a lone remaining warrior.
It is yet another welcome addition to the Iron Maiden catalog of long, epic songs. A powerful yet somber recounting of a last stand in the face of the conquering enemy, the song itself triumphs in a way its protagonist could not.
Look, it’s a 12-minute long song about a piece of paper. What else is there to say? Is it some ancient text of forbideen knowledge being sought, or did the band forget to cash a royalty check from Powerslave and set out on a quest to be whole?
More seriously, the song tackles yet another war. This time the depth and meaning is not found on the surface, at least for me. It’s a song to sit with later on and find its hidden passages and themes.
What does stand out on this track? The guitars. For a guitar-driven band with 3 players, this song lets them have at it. It is, for Maiden, a shred fest disguised as another gradiose epic. It’s a song that stands out from the crowd to me and one I’ll be spending more time with down the line.
Hell On Earth
The album’s closing track rounds out the creative burst trilogy from Captain Harris. It brings the album’s theme of “we are doomed” to full bore as the song literally depicts what the title suggests. It isn’t hard to look at how things are going and reach the conclusion that we’re either already there or are about to get there. It came up in several spots on this record and now it has a fitting, full exploration.
And for the love of all that is Maiden – this one is a masterpiece. It almost immediately joins other post-reunion epics like Paschendale and For The Greater Good Of God as some of the best work the band has ever done. It’s early of course but I don’t really mind saying it so soon.
It’s all here on this song – Bruce’s command of the song, the guitars both flowing and slamming, and the band’s drive and rhythm in full force. The starkest and bleakest of songs on the record provides a true Maiden singalong moment and yet again shapes their ever-growing legacy.
I haven’t dove too far into others’ opinions on the record yet but I do know I’m really only offering consensus when I talk about how much this song stands out. People are going off about it on every corner of the Internet. Hell On Earth is absolute power, force and Iron Maiden.
Here we are on the release of yet another classic from one of heavy metal’s most enduring icons. Senjutsu is a well-crafted, on theme and on track record that offers a greater unity amongst its individual parts than some of its predecesors. It’s one I’ll have to spend a lot of time with to reach conclusions about its overall form and where it fits in the already bursting with treasures discography of the band. It will certainly be time well spent.