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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Review: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

Label: Parlophone

Date: September 3rd, 2021

I have a theory which I’m about to lay upon you. It all traces back to 1982. Remember the last track on “The Number of the Beast”? “Hallowed Be Thy Name”? Remember how that second verse seemed to lead into a heavy metal inferno, but then we got sort of a delayed pleasure that only comes about two and a half minutes later?

A classic song, no questions asked. Through and through, Maiden made it work, but I somehow always viewed that third verse a bit anticlimactic. Even in that spectacular Cradle Of Filth cover. But back then Maiden were an up and coming band, brimming with force of inspiration probably unparalleled to this very day. Proving it by publishing five records in five years, all of them undisputed classics of the genre.

They made that one song there, and they saw that it was good.

At the end of that five year stint, Maiden published yet another track that follows the line to end (for now) in “Senjutsu”. You all know of which one I’m talking here. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, of course. Another one that guides you where you didn’t quite intend to go. But it is still a great song, probably due to the above mentioned fact that the band was at the first of a couple of peaks in their creativity. The fact that that particular song, through all of its highs and lows, remains a somewhat forbidden love for every Maiden fan, was probably the birdie that still whispers in the ears of Eddie and the boys.

But Maiden were still shy about misusing such epics. “Alexander the Great” and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” being probably the only two outtakes that we are able to hear in that direction. At least in the 1980’s.

Then came the turbulent 1990’s. “Fear of the Dark” had no less than two weird moments. The title track being one of them, believe it or not. But earlier in the track list we had “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” which started slow, building gradually into a whirlwind only to get stuck in the “repeat line to the end” moment, where everyone expects the story to go further.

No problem, of course. It is yet another one of Maiden monuments.

The title track which ended the album and became a fitting farewell to Mr. Dickinson is even weirder. Ever noticed how when all hell breaks loose, the first chorus is a relentlessly fast and upbeat one but then the same segment appears in a galloping rhythm next time? Okay, Iron Maiden is best known for those gallops, but it does come a bit anticlimactic again. Any other band would have gone for the same chorus and then the slower part which comes on in the Maiden version anyway.

Yet again, Maiden manages to come out of that “experiment” with flying colors, highlighting the song in heavy metal history book forever.

They managed to slip a couple more past us in the 90’s, which actually turned out to be pretty good, like “Sign of the Cross”, but we weren’t paying too much attention since everyone tried to find faults in the vocal performance. And found none other than Mr. Bayley not actually being Mr. Dickinson.

And when “The Voice” himself made it back, Maiden pushed out one more crucial record and probably said something along the lines of: “Okay, we wait no longer”. Thus becoming lords of hit singles and a bunch of too long tracks that wouldn’t find their way on releases from much weaker bands.

Not to mention the endless stream of “live” and “best of” albums that keep on coming.

“Dance of Death” had “Wildest Dreams” and “Rainmaker” with an epic “Paschendale”. “A Matter of Life and Death” had “Different World”. At that point, I’ve lost the interest and failed to even hear the previous fifteen years of their life. Judging from what I’ve heard from the fans, I haven’t missed much.

Then again, the singles from “Senjutsu” were promising. Actually, even more than that, they promised the return of the golden days. Still, I didn’t waste so much space on this review only to sing praises on the mere fact that Iron Maiden have a new record out. It proves to be a combination of everything I mentioned above. Hit singles, recollections of the glorious past, beaming rays of spectacular inspiration, gallops and otherwise, as well as weird moments and unnecessarily prolonged pieces.

Summing my theory, had the boys this type of inspiration (or simply enough guts to use it) back in mid-80’s or early 90’s, they could’ve made “Senjutsu” into yet another classic Maiden record. On the other hand, we would likely lose a classic or two that way. “Senjutsu”, though being a good enough album, much better than anything Maiden did after “Brave New World” (not counting the two records I never heard), lacks a deadly strike that would cement its place in the metal hearts everywhere.

The individual pieces of songs are phenomenal! Most of them anyway. Masterful execution by the masters themselves. However, some pieces simply drag on for far too long and I had quite some trouble staying focused at times. Much of that has plagued the new millennium Maiden from the beginning. There are songs on “Senjutsu” that promised so much more than they eventually delivered. And nobody can convince me this couldn’t have been a sixty minute long strike at brilliance.

Alas, it is not, since Iron Maiden are still wandering about, trying to find a spark that made “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” or “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”. But it is gone, probably never to return again. Iron Maiden is a different band nowadays. Whether better or worse is probably a matter of tastes. Me, I’m pleased to say that after long years I’ve actually enjoyed a new Maiden record. To a certain degree, but from a band with such a historical role in my favorite genre of music, that is more than enough.

Plus, we will have a chance to see Mr. Dickinson’s hair floating behind him again as he runs up and down the stages worldwide. Not a small feat, if you ask me!