Iron Maiden are one of THOSE bands that need no introduction. I was a huge Maiden fan as a teenager but anything after 92’s Fear of the Dark album has left me mostly cold. I never listened to the Blaze Bayley era albums and only got interested again when the band got the classic line up back. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great moments after the 1999 reunion with vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith, such as the underrated A Matter of Life and Death album. I freely admit to having great admiration for the band for constantly releasing new material while keeping the fans of the glory days happy in a live setting by celebrating their most iconic moments on stage. On to the matter at hand; Senjutsu is Maiden’s seventeenth studio album and has again been produced by long term knob twiddler Kevin Shirley and co-produced by bassist and Maiden head honcho Steve Harris.
Maiden are a bit like many of the classic rock/metal bands still around and releasing new material, you kinda know what you’re gonna get. Epic overly long songs? Check. Riffs with a Celtic feel? Check. Widdly guitar solos? Check. Their formula works well though and there are a few surprising moments on this latest opus. Lead single ‘The Writing on the Wall’ is a marked departure from their usual style and it’s the stand out track for that very reason. I have to say that I’m not a fan of Shirley’s production on any of the Maiden albums he’s worked on. The mix is always muddy and dull and doesn’t reflect the bands power as a live act. On this latest effort however, Harris’s bass thunders through the speakers and Nicko McBrain’s drums are more prominent than usual which makes for a more interesting listen.
I think the main reason why I have struggled to connect with the most recent Maiden material is Bruce Dickinson’s voice. I fully understand that after having throat cancer his voice would never be the same, now it just grates on me and I really struggle to listen to it. The musicianship of the rest of the band is still great and even though I’ve never been a fan of Janick Gers, he plays a blinder on ‘Senjutsu’. There are no real barnstorming tracks on offer here, most of the songs plod along at a mid-paced tempo and take a few listens to get under your skin.
The album opens with the title track and it has an almost hypnotic feel with McBrain’s tribal drumming and its chugging riff. Other stand-out moments include Stratego which is the most energetic song on the album with its familiar galloping feel. ‘Lost in a Lost World’ is another slow burner and the epic ‘The Parchment’ which clocks in at 12:39 and goes off in a variety of directions. It has to be said, for a band who are all in their sixties to be releasing any new material at all is a feat in itself. This isn’t the Iron Maiden of old by any stretch of the imagination and it takes time and effort to appreciate what’s being done here. Harris has always been open about his prog influences and that becomes more apparent with every new Maiden album. The songwriting credits are mostly penned by Harris with Smith/Dickinson, Harris/Gers and Smith/Harris splitting the rest.
One more thing to mention is the artwork by Mark Wilkinson which is spectacular. The samurai sword wielding Eddie really is fantastic. Yet again Maiden come up trumps with the packaging of the album. It’s available in the following formats – Standard 2CD digipak, deluxe 2CD book, deluxe heavyweight 180G triple black vinyl, special edition triple silver & black marble vinyl, special edition triple red & black marble vinyl and a super deluxe boxset featuring CD, Blu-Ray and exclusive memorabilia!
If you’re a Maiden fan you’ll probably enjoy the album for what it is. It’s an Iron Maiden album that will no doubt please the hordes of Maiden fans all over the world, for me it’s a reasonably enjoyable listen with some great stand out moments with ‘The Writing on the Wall’ being the unexpected highlight. Put it on, make yourself a cuppa, grab a couple of rounds of toast and take it all in. Up the irons!
Author: Kenny Kendrick