Review Summary: Unsurprisingly, it's another very solid and enjoyable Iron Maiden album.Senjutsu
, LP number seventeen. A new album from a band that’s been going for forty-six years. When you look at it in this context, it subverts conventional critical analysis somewhat. How? Well, it’s up for debate, but one could proclaim the band haven’t made a seminal album since 1988. What’s under unanimous accord however, is that the nineties held the band’s harshest trials and tribulations; albums that were made under waning relationships, identity crises, and a stagnation caused by Harris’ intimidating work ethic, which allowed for very little respite. By the turn of the millennium though, they were beginning to subjugate the problems and form a complete understanding on what worked for them in the past and what didn’t. Say what you will about their rocky nineties output, but it’s hard to deny the quality of their work since Brave New World
as being anything other than decent, and unwaveringly consistent. Dance of Death
and The Final Frontier
, for example, aren’t earth-shaking opuses, but I believe the band – since Dickinson’s return – never aimed for them to be. Simply put; since Brave New World
, Iron Maiden have been focusing on the refinements of their trademark sound in order to make quality records for their fans.
Of course, one could rightly argue that all the band have been doing for the past twenty years is playing it safe, but then that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s no secret. On paper this may read as lazy and bewildering, with how they’ve managed to maintain their relevance in this fickle industry, but it ultimately falls onto execution – and the bottom line is, with what they do, they do it flawlessly. Essentially, the band spent the eighties writing a string of immaculately composed seminal works; the nineties brought out some hard lessons and troubling lows; and the noughties saw them working out a strategy that would please fans time and time again. I mean at this point, Iron Maiden literally have nothing else left to prove and, with respect, haven’t had anything to prove since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
but have endured, I suspect, on the basis that they still have passion and love for the craft. Most bands would be grateful with having just one pivotal album under their belts; these guys did it with most (arguably all) of their albums in the eighties and have been coasting on the reverence from that ever since. As such, it has afforded the band a privilege: because their accolades have been remembered in such high regards over their failures, the rebirth of the band in the noughties deduced a gambit that focused solely on their pre-existing strengths – making albums for the massive, loyal fanbase they already had, and by overlooking what the contemporary trends are for the time.
The thing is, this kind of fettered maintenance is actually common practice with veterans who have been doing it for this long. The likes of AC/DC, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple – they have found the sweet spot within their style; making self-aware records that purposefully hit familiar, dopamine-releasing tropes that fans are sure to enjoy. In accordance with this, the results from these albums are seldom bad, but rarely elevate themselves to a level beyond great. Yet, when you have such an established brand, it makes sense to go down this route, because although they bear few surprises it’s safe and, ultimately, what the fans want. Unfortunately for critics, this can be a prickly position to be in without overusing cringe platitudes, because you and I both know Iron Maiden aren’t about to make a capricious turn to dubstep or shoegaze. You know exactly what you’re getting here, and you know that, at worst, it’ll be executed competently. The bottom line is, if you never liked the Iron Maiden sound, you won’t find much merit here, either. Just from looking at Samurai Eddie on the album cover, you can already hear those treble-y gallops, blazing solos, and soaring vocal hooks stretched over double-digited run times. And you know what? For any good-hearted Iron Maiden fan, that’s all they’re looking for, and of which Maiden deliver in spades here.
So, for a band that has, for the last twenty years, created records with an unflinching transparency, the only way to analyse Senjutsu
without touching on the obvious, is to base the quality on their wonted songwriting, the production, and how well their proclivity for peregrinated instrumentals is handled – i.e., do their spacey jams become overbearing on these songs? The answers to these questions echo a lot of Book of Souls
’ overall quality, in that, given the sheer breadth of the project, all of the songs here have excellent qualities to them but have their momentum jarred by some by-the-numbers moments. “Days of Future Past” and “The Time Machine” are prime examples of this – both tracks have acute melodies, sashaying grooves, and a few blistering solos guaranteed to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. However, these glorious strengths are hindered by Bruce laying out a characterless verse, for example, or a rudimentary instrumental part that does little to help the song’s pace. Similarly, tracks have a few rough transitions that stop you from completely immersing yourself in these gargantuan jams. “Lost in a Lost World”’s elemental opening is eventually split wide open when the whole band comes in, but at that moment, the listener can feel the stitching that conjoins these two different tones together.
These flaws are not new though, and they don’t stop Senjutsu
from being another solid album in the new-millennium Iron Maiden catalogue. Musically, to this day, I’m still in awe with the virtuosity being displayed in the band. Iron Maiden may well be an old dog, but the band can still run rings around even the youngest and nimblest of players, when necessary. As mentioned, the guitar work on here is second to none. The album’s singles “The Writing on the Wall” and “Stratego” maintain their impressive paces, displaying an array of wonderful melodies and countermelodies from the band’s three guitarists, as well as executing mountainous crescendos with fantastic guitar solos segueing seamlessly afterwards. The rhythm section is predictably awesome: always syncopated, intricate, and accommodative to their surroundings, and overall – as I mentioned earlier – the songs here just emit the same self-confidence all of their albums have since Brave New World
. It’s Iron Maiden, once again, flexing their inimitable style with vigour and enthusiasm. And that’s the most endearing aspect of Senjutsu
; for a band that’s been going for this long, it’s wonderful to see all of these talented musicians making music with genuine heart and passion behind it all.
And, you know, I could be a dirty bastard and point out the painfully obvious – that Bruce Dickinson’s voice has degraded a little bit since his glory days – but this would be totally unnecessary. Indeed, for a sixty-three-year-old dude who’s battled with and defeated throat cancer, Bruce still knows how to formulate an ear-pricking, hair-raising hook with all of his usual operatic flair and unbridled energy. It’s obvious the production masks some of his shortcomings, but generally, Bruce brings ferocious hooks to the likes of “Senjutsu”, “The Writing on the Wall”, “Stratego” and “Hell on Earth”, as well as sombre moments of respite on “The Parchment” and “Lost in a Lost World”, marking as some of Bruce’s overt triumphs on this LP. The only duff track I wasn’t able to gel with here was “Death of the Celts”, which sets off promising but feels vastly worthless on the whole. Still, for an album this long, the writing is surprisingly lucid and engaging. A part from the aforementioned hiccups, Senjutsu
is a great album and is guaranteed to please fans of the band, which, in all honestly, is the record’s true and intended purpose.
Long live the ‘den!