You know, its weird I guess, that everyone enjoys music in different ways.
What I mean by that is everything I write on this site is done from my own personal perspective and for this one you have to go back to when I was about six years old.
There used to be a programme called Top Of The Pops on the TV every Thursday and it was a must watch for us. The whole family used to sit there and I can remember one night when Iron Maiden came on. It must have been one of the singles off the “Number Of The Beast” album, and I can remember never seeing anything like it before. The headbanging, the power of the sound. I am not going to say it changed my life (my own musical epiphany came a few years later) but it must have had some psychological affect.
We bought all the albums, of course we did, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s when I saw the band for the first time live. It was the “Dance Of Death” tour, and I’d gone with my brother and it was then, I think, we both realised that we had been in the presence of something that wasn’t quite normal, tangible, whatever.
Fast forward something like 15 years and my brother has a couple of children. My eldest niece- not yet three – has developed a liking for some music and knows how to get Google to play it, she also knows when I am not wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt and Daddy is: “that’s not my Eddie” she said the other week, indignantly, when I have the temerity to wear a ZZ Top shirt, “Daddy has Eddie on.”
She also knows that “new Eddie” had a different picture on the CarPlay screen, which brings me back to the point of this. Everyone who loves Maiden does so in different ways. And for me – this is the part I always kind of feel I need to apologise for – the best Maiden is the latter period stuff. My favourite Iron Maiden album is “A Matter Of Life And Death”, it doesn’t mean it has to be yours, it just means its mine.
Which is why, to me, “new Eddie” matters, and which is why its taken me five weeks to review the thing. You think I hadn’t got the Triple Gatefold Vinyl the day it came out? You think I haven’t poured over the lyrics, the credits the thanks list, all of it? I have. Many, many times. The thing about “Senjutsu” though, is that it takes a lot of listening to, and even allowing for that there’s a lot of conflicting emotions within.
From the off, the title track, its clear that this is a “modern” Maiden album, and that means its labyrinthian, you’d call it “prog” metal, if it wasn’t so clear that it is the Irons and only the Irons who are making it. The solos give it away more than anything. I’d contend there’s no band that sounds quite like them, not in the early days and certainly not now. And this is incredibly ambitious.
It does follow “the formula” a touch, the second track “Stratego” for example, is the gallop. The one they’ll play early in the set, the one that would have fit on “Piece Of Mind” and they do it brilliantly.
Indeed, when “Senjutsu” gets it right – and it often does – it produces some classics that stand up to everything and anything they’ve ever done. “The Writing On The Wall” for example, is genuinely stunning, the sort of thing that makes you want to close down your music website and devote yourself to only listening to this band, frankly. It is as good as music will get in 2021, never mind this record.
The rest of them perhaps don’t get to that level, but in sporting terms that’s like expecting every player to be like Messi, or just for Steve, Marco Arnautovic’s (they stole him, basically, off my lot and we never recovered, it runs deep!) and what there are, is some incredible moments. The bit where the riff kicks in on “Lost In A Lost World” (just sticking it out there that that could be the most Iron Maiden title ever?) or perhaps, the moment in “Days Of Future Past” when they decide to be as visceral as any modern band as if to remind everyone they are Iron blinking Maiden.
Mostly, however is a record where grandiosity is what’s being aimed for. “The Time Machine” sees Bruce reach for his best Peter Gabriel era Genesis, talking about “impish whim’s” before the band kicks off before he disappears altogether, while the historical focus on the lyrics is never better shown than on the superb “Darkest Hour”.
The last three actually, are penned solely by Harris, and they can be viewed as a bit of a mini opera, they are over half an hour long (see what I said about it needing attention) and “Death Of The Celts” captures the zeitgeist perfectly of what the last decade or so has been about for Maiden. It is dwarfed as they all are by the “Death Of The Celts” if ever there was a track that was a film score in its own right, its here.
An interesting point about the record is as much as that feels like the end, the actual closer is “Hell On Earth” clocking in at “just” 11 and a half minutes (pop for this album!) it neatly brings all the strands together – that is to say its heavy metal, but on the terms of the greatest ever exponents of it.
And that line, perhaps, is the key to this. Iron Maiden really aren’t fussed whether you like the latter, early or mid work (and one day I hope the two with Blaze are finally recognised fondly, but that’s another can of worms!) they are making music in their fifth decade entirely as they want, and therein lies the utter genius of “Senjutsu”