There are two types of people when it comes to a new Maiden release. Those who have decided beforehand that it is shit because it wasn’t made in 1984. And those that will defend and love it invariably because Maiden is Maiden. Some will feign a sort of middle ground where they pretend to judge it on its own merits and keep an open mind to positives and negatives, but this is false, they always fall into one of the two aforementioned categories. So, this here review is written by one stringently adhering to the second category and proud of it. Maiden, needing no introduction, wrote and recorded their seventeenth album way back in early 2019 and just decided to sit on it for two and a half years, so we had to go seven years between releases since The Book of Souls (2015). Now Senjutsu enters the ring and the mythology.
At eighty-two minutes it follows the double album formula set by The Book of Souls all those years ago, and they are eighty-two minutes that feel so very much shorter. The title track and opener might be the oddest one of the bunch; cooking slowly over eight minutes it evokes the Japanese setting as battle approaches, Nicko McBrain bringing the war drums to life while the keyboards evoke the Eastern feel. Though the solos are banging it might be a tad too long and at times even too slow. Enter Stratego, a shorter and quicker number that relies heavy on the melodic guitars and Harris’ iconic gallop and lead single The Writing on the Wall which has already become quite famous for Adrian Smith’s incredibly effective bluesy tone, slapping some Lynyrd Skynyrd into the Maiden sound. My point is, versatility. The naysayers claiming Maiden are repeating the same thing over and over might want to actually take a listen. The Time Machine is where Janick Gers’s folksy side comes into play; playing a bit like The Talisman off The Final Frontier (2010) it’s one of the livelier songs on the album, Gers pulling a massive solo.
Less cluttered - the faster numbers seem more in line with the slower ones - Senjutsu ends up way more cohesive than its immediate predecessor, basking in a melancholy glow that brings emotions of A Matter of Life and Death (2006) and The X Factor (1995). The atmosphere lies heavy, church steeples and war mist thick across the production, helped along by the prevalent use of keyboards as a mood setter along the melodic riffing and iconic Harris bass gallop. Might be obvious, but the longer tracks (Harris penned, duh) end up stealing the show in a manner, the closing trilogy being much talked about already; Death of the Celts evoking a slight The Clansman feeling while The Parchment is an eastern tinged spiritual successor to Sign of the Cross. Hell on Earth closes, and I’ll likely revisit that one in a few months. Focus isn’t on big, bombastic choruses - although those are of course there - but rather an introspective feel, often leaning on Harris’s own dark side and on the theme of war, here told in less personal storytelling than on previous records and more on the grand scale.
They say Dickinson’s voice has aged like a fine wine, but fine wishes it would age as well as Dickinson’s finely tuned tenor, having lost none of its potency or gravity over the years. The man handles the brooding epic of the title track and the higher moments of The Time Machine and Days of Future Past - with its classic Smith riffing, reminiscent of The Wicker Man - with as much gravitas as he did the now classic Brave New World (2000) epics. Likewise the guitars are masterfully executed, rolling in classic Maiden style dual riffing and moving to progressive quirks in tracks like The Time Machine and Hell on Earth, Harris’s thick bass setting the stage. Maiden bring to life their latest opus in vivid strokes of darkness and shades of the human mind; grand songwriting and masterful musicianship marks Senjtsu a milestone in their near 50 year career. One for the ages.
Standout tracks: Stratego, The Time Machine, The Parchment, Hell on Earth