Senjutsu

Iron Maiden

BMG, 2021

http://ironmaiden.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/18/2021

(Background: Incessant phone ringing.)

Who the hell is this?

“CT? Warburg here.”

Jesus, Jas… it’s two in the friggin’ morning.

“Really? It’s only midnight where I live. We have a problem…you’ve had the new Iron Maiden album, Senjutsu, to listen to now for a month.”

Yes, that would be correct.

“And you still haven’t submitted a review.”

Nothing gets past you, Jas. That’s why you’re in charge.

“So, why haven’t you submitted a review for it yet?”

It’s a little complicated, boss.

“What’s so complicated? You either like it or you don’t.”

Not so fast. I’ve learned over time that post-reunion Iron Maiden albums have to take time to grow on the listener; while certain tracks might grab your attention from the first few notes, there are others that have to mature in the listener’s mind before they can form a real opinion about the disc.

And after about a dozen spins, Senjutsu has proven to be one such album, but in the end, it’s a step down (albeit a slight one) from their previous effort, The Book Of Souls.

“You intrigue me. Go on.”

Glad to, now that I’m awake. For a band into their fifth decade together, Iron Maiden proves from the outset they’re not afraid to take chances, such as with the title track. With its war-drum plodding beat, it tries to set a menacing tone for the disc; unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to that particular expectation, as it tends to drag on well past any prime it might have had. The follow-up track “Stratego” (which was also the second single) does raise the energy level, but it hardly breaks any new ground for them, and sounds a bit stale.

But when you hit “The Writing On The Wall,” the lead-off track from this disc, you have all the proof you need that Iron Maiden can still step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. The only flaw I’d point out is that I still think Bruce Dickinson’s vocals were mixed a bit too low, and should have sounded a little crisper.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Do you think that’s a side effect of his recent battle with cancer? This is, after all, the first album he recorded since then.”

Actually, any weakness in vocals – aside from Kevin Shirley’s production work – I’d chalk up to the fact that everyone in the band is now over 60. Dickinson isn’t going to have the same shriek today that could set off car alarms like he did back in 1982. He still shows many times that he can handle higher registers, but this material actually seems to demand a lower vocal register. In fact, tracks like “Days Of Future Past” demonstrate that Dickinson still has the pipes needed to prove why he remains one of heavy metal’s most iconic vocalists – and the guitar work from Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers certainly doesn’t disappoint either. And you can’t overlook the drum work of Nicko McBrain – I still think he over-relies on the ride cymbal, but he hasn’t lost any power in almost 40 years with Maiden.

In fact, take a track like “Death Of The Celts” – one I admit runs hot and cold with me, depending on the day I listen to it. The staccato guitar work brings back memories of “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)” from Powerslave, but never sounds like they’re trying to copy it, and it creates its own unique sound that will imprint itself on the listener’s brain. This, too, sometimes suffers, I think, from overstaying its welcome a little bit.

“I was going to ask about that – do you think that the song length helped or hurt Senjutsu?”

Honestly, it depends on the song. Let’s face it: Iron Maiden has never been the kind of band to aim for radio play, so it doesn’t necessarily behoove them to only write four-minute songs. The shorter songs do work at times - “Days Of Future Past,” for instance – but some of the longer tracks like “The Parchment” and “The Time Machine” actually use their length to their advantage, keeping the listener locked in until the last note fades out.

Then again, some tracks like “Lost In A Lost World” and “Hell On Earth” honestly don’t benefit from their length. Would shortening the songs have helped them overall? I’m not certain, but it might not have hurt.

Oh – and someone has to say it, so it might as well be me. If Iron Maiden is going to keep recording, they really need to get a full-time keyboardist. Bassist Steve Harris has been providing the synth work in the studio for some time now – and, as a keyboardist, he’s an outstanding bassist. I don’t have a problem with keyboards in these songs, but the lines I hear are incredibly simplistic; if I have to hear synth work, I’d like some substance to their presence.

I still enjoy Senjutsu overall, and it contains some of Iron Maiden’s best work. But as an album, it’s uneven, and that is what ends up hurting its status in my eyes overall.

“Makes sense. So, you gonna have that review to me soon?”

Um, Jas? I think I just gave it to you.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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