Parlophone [Release date 03.09.21]
It’s been almost 6 years since Iron Maiden released Book Of Souls to an eagerly waiting world. For me it was one of the most disappointing releases of the band’s career, over long, plodding and ultimately boring, not a criticism I ever expected to level at Maiden.
When the details emerged for Senjutsu I was immediately drawn to the song listing, and in particular, the duration of each track. Again, few songs dipped below the seven-minute mark and with a total duration of over 80 minutes my heart sank, was this to be Book Of Souls part 2 and another snooze fest?
Thankfully not! Things get off to an interesting start with an almost tribal like drum intro to the title track ‘Sejutsu’. This is a heavy track with Nicko McBrain leading the way with a huge drum sound and the triple guitar attack providing a driving, riff led rhythm, whilst Bruce Dickinson puts in a soaring vocal performance, a good start then.
The band released two tracks in the weeks leading up to the album release and both are up next starting with ‘Straego’. This is a good, old fashioned Maiden romp with Steve Harris’s galloping bass line driving the rhythm section. This song is everything that was missing on the ‘Book Of Souls’ album exciting, vibrant and something to get the fans moving in a live setting.
The other pre-album release was ‘The Writing On The Wall’ which takes us down another path with it’s acoustic, spaghetti western style opening leading on to a bluesy riff. The song then progresses through various twists and hooks you in with a big chorus to scream along to, is this really the same band that released such a plodder six years ago?
‘Lost In A Lost World’ also starts off with a quiet acoustic passage with a gentle vocal from Bruce before all hell breaks loose once more with Dave, Adrian and Janick cranking out the riffs and solos with aplomb.
At this point I must mention the album production by Kevin Shirley. He has done a fantastic job of capturing the sound on this occasion and the mix is spot on. He has given the band a harder edge this time around, especially on the guitars, which again lifts the songs and conjures up memories of Maiden at their best.
The results of Kevin’s work are amply displayed in the next track ‘Days Of Future Past’ another full-on Maiden romp with a huge, rocking sound to get the blood pumping.
Next up is one of my album highlights and the first of the longer epics on the album. ’The Time Machine’ is laden with interesting melodies and time changes and you are never sure what is coming next. It continues with the prog rock theme of ‘Book Of Souls’ but with a much harder edge this time around. This is the Iron Maiden we know and love.
‘Darkest Hour’ finds the band in full on ballad mode, and what a track it is! From the intricate guitar intro through to the climactic ending this track is a classic. Bruce’s emotional vocal delivery on this one is outstanding whilst the mid-song guitar solos are some of the best on the album with a bluesy edge to them.
Following the big ballad, you will want something to up the pace and to get you bouncing. Look no further than ‘Death Of The Celts’. This is the natural successor to ‘The Clansman’, again with a strong Scottish theme and melody line to boot. It’s a bit of a slow builder, but once you hit the riffs in the mid-section it all comes to life and you can almost picture the carnage in the pit when this one is played live.
We are transported further back in time with ‘The Parchment’ which conjures up pictures of ancient Egypt and the ‘Powerslave’ album in equal measure. This is the longest track on the album clocking in at over 12 minutes, but it holds your interest and never feels like it outstays it’s welcome. Again, this is down to interesting and well-developed melody and time changes throughout coupled with more top-notch guitar work.
‘Hell On Earth’ then rounds of the trio of closing tracks which in total clock in at over 34 minutes! This is another 11 minute epic which builds from a quiet intro into another all-out Maiden classic riding on a wave of Steve Harris’s galloping bass line and big riffs from eighteen string guitar attack.
‘Senjutsu’ is a long album and for some it may to too much but for me this album is everything that Book Of Souls wasn’t. Where the last album sounded like it was produced by a band who were past their best and jaded, this album is from a newly revitalised Iron Maiden who have honed their metal edge once more and have delivered a collection of songs worthy of their legacy. Welcome back guys. *****
Review by Dave Wilson
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