Album Review: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

Usually, I wouldn’t have waited, and at midnight had my first listen but I’ve had this on pre-order from the moment the first single was released so I wanted to hold back and go back to how I anticipated Maiden albums waiting until I had a physical copy which is something that started  32 years ago for me.

Now, right off the bat one of the first things I noticed whilst having the LP in my hands and reading the lyrics were the timings of the songs. They certainly aren’t for the faint-hearted as the majority of them are “Rime of Ancient Mariner” long and I know that even before hearing them that this is something that’s already been widely discussed and mostly criticised.

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The album opens with the title track and sets the tone for the album; its rallying chorus gave me goosebumps but this could be down to the six-year wait for a new studio album. This is followed up with “Stratego”, the second single release which I still prefer to first release and follow up track “Writing on the Wall”. Now WOTW still has a great intro and fantastic chorus but call me a fanboy or whatever but the gallop in “Stratego” may be off-putting for others but it’s not for me.

The Constantine-inspired “Days of Future Past” has a nice “Flight of Icarus” feel to it with its storytelling and it’s actually my favourite track of the entire album. “The Time Machine” is the first disc’s final track and the Churchill-inspired “Darkest Hour” takes the listener into part two.

The last trio of the album “Death of the Celts”, “The Parchment” and “Hell on Earth” are the three longest tracks and it’s maybe no coincidence that these were written by Harris alone. Out of the three “Death of the Celts” has to be the standout one for me.

Second Opinion (Ross): Iron Maiden’s last album was a slow burn for me. But I knew that after one listen. Senjutsu doesn’t fall into that category. The album’s first half has a couple of decent but largely forgettable tracks but “Stratego” stands as the album’s highlight. It’s what a classic Iron Maiden song should sound like in 2021. Meanwhile, the longer numbers are long for the sake of being long. Overall, they’re far too plodding and bloat the album to turn it into a slog of a listen. There’s a lot of dead weight which could be cut in those final three tracks resulting in this being a single album rather than a double. It feels like Steve Harris and co decided because the last one was a double, then it’s expected of them this time around.

Then there’s the downright shoddy production from start to finish, particularly Bruce Dickinson’s vocals being completely buried for half the album (when he’s not straining his cords to hit the key) – even a first year college student could do a better job. Whilst I’ve long respected Maiden’s determination to adapt to their ageing better than most in terms of sonics, they’ve dropped the ball on this one. This comes nowhere near close to their glory years or to even begin to raise the question of a creative renaissance.

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As mentioned earlier I’ve been an Iron Maiden fan for most of my life and to be perfectly honest I probably wouldn’t be writing this without discovering them. Is it their strongest album of the last few years? That’s going to debated for years, is it one of their most ambitious? I certainly think so. Do I think it’s unfairly criticised for being long and boring by people who haven’t even listened to it? Unfortunately, yes I do. Sure, the vocals are quiet in places but it shouldn’t take away from what is a well-rounded release. After four decades the writing isn’t quite on the wall just yet.

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