Epic Tales of Derring-do
Iron Maiden's seventeenth studio album, Senjutsu (3 September 2021; Parlophone), is the band’s first in six years following The Book of Souls, but has been well-worth the wait.
The album's Japanese title is loosely translated as "tactics and strategy," which is appropriate given that it has hit the number one spot in Germany, Belgium, Finland, Scotland, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as making the top three in the UK and America.
This 80 minute studio double album is not lacking in ambition: everything about it is epic from the themes of castles, apocalyptic landscapes and swash-buckling heroism, to the length of the tracks, several of which go over the 10 minute mark. The continuance of vocalist Bruce Dickinson, guitarist Adrian Smith, and the long-term guiding light of producer Kevin Shirley ensure that those who love Iron Maiden’s signature heavy rock sound won’t be disappointed. Three guitarists (the others being Dave Murray and Janick Gers) - who are all partial to Strats -, also mean spades of interlocking guitars and blazing solos.
The abum opens with the title track, which has a heavy and threatening tribal drum rhythm and a chunky riff that pefectly sets off the lyrics about men facing death in battle: “Rallying round to the call, We can hear far away are the sound of distant drums, And they need everyone at the wall, So the day of our judgement has now begun to fall.”
Stratego evocatively conjures up the idea of horses hurtling towards the battlefield, but it is the outstanding Writing On The Wall that really hits hard with its heavy blues and a soaring solo. This track reportedly tells the tale of Belshazzar’s Feast from the Old Testament, but it is given an updated twist in the video with images of climate devastation, the rich and powerful mindlessly pillaging the earth, and a devilish Grim Reaper type-figure tempting innocent humans to the fall. It is genuinely chilling and as one commentator put it has: “one of the best guitar riffs ever, and a hook that makes me want to go climb a mountain and fistfight a grizzly bear!”
Despite some wag putting a fake video on YouTube, Lost in a Lost World is not a Moody Blues cover, but a dark and passionate song that starts slow before the beat really picks up. I love the hypnotic guitar solo on this track, which kicks in at around the six minute mark. Days Of Future Past and The Time Machine are both fitting contributions, while Darkest Hour deals with the ominous moment that Winston Churchill faced the possibility of defeat to the Nazis in WWII.
The final three tracks - Death Of The Celts, The Parchment and Hell On Earth - were all penned by bassist Steve Harris and together easily breach the 30 minute mark. My favourite of the three is the album closer Hell on Earth, which contains what a generous person might see as a positive, though wistful, message about the future: “On the other side I’ll see you again in heaven, Far away from this hell on Earth.”
Senjutsu requires some stamina at times but the band’s boundless enthusiasm means that effort is amply rewarded. It is an epic double album with strong songs and grand themes that, at this point in their career, is frankly amazing.