Sound the klaxon, a new Iron Maiden album is out. Their 17th record Senjutsu came out last month, a mere six years from the 92 minute behemoth that was Book of Souls. Senjutsu, Japanese for tactics and strategy, follows on where that left off – it is an 81 minute double album full of proggy, bombastic epics. So pick a comfy chair and set aside a whole evening, you are here for the long haul.
Thankfully, despite its intimidating length, it is not the uneven slog its predecessor is. The lead single ‘Writing on the Wall’ is a great introduction, a track about the climate disaster facing the planet with a folk tinge running through it and a bouncy, Celtic riff. Over half the record is comprised of lengthy prog numbers but there is balance here, with ‘Darkest Hour’ one of the best examples. Like ‘Tears of a Clown’ from B.o.S. it is a rueful ballad, a melancholic look at Winston Churchill, and his battle with depression and the Nazis with a beauty of a guitar solo.
This album, and 21st century Maiden, fears brevity but we get a wondrous glimpse of it in the forceful metal of ‘Days of Future Past’ – over in a scarcely believable four minutes. When done right their progressive proclivities pay dividends, as is the case in ‘The Time Machine’ – with a slow, measured start building toward a classic, galloping melody reminiscent of their 80s output. The title track is a moody tale of men going to battle, with the war like drums of Nicko McBrain and the still impressive howl of Bruce Dickinson, especially given his age and recent battle with cancer.
The last three tracks of disc two, all written by Steve Harris of course, clock in at over 34 minutes. The first being ‘Death of the Celts’ – a sprawling epic about the people of the same name, choc full of sprightly melodies and plenty of tasty guitar solos that drags slightly at times. ‘The Parchment’ is the worst for this, a decent track with a heady atmosphere and some powerful solos marred by momentum killing repetition. Final track ‘Hell on Earth’ is guilty of the same sins, with the good bits forgotten amongst the drawn out melodies and repetition.
Senjutsu is a dark and progressive record, with bombastic, lengthy epics and impeccable musicianship. A lighter, more balanced affair than the uneven B.o.S, but alas still guilty of some of its excess and self indulgence.