Sunday, November 12, 2023

Iron Maiden - Senjutsu (2021)

It might be tempting to take my recent review of Book of Souls, copy and paste it with all the appropriate titles changed, because Senjutsu suffers from a lot of the same issues I had with that record. However, I think the difference is that the lows here are lower, and the highs are debatably higher than anything on that 2015 offering. Keep in mind that this is still a legendary band, capable of legendary metal tracks, with much of its classic roster in place, taking its sweet time between new studio offerings, yet unable to really compose on the level of their younger selves, with all that money, and all that time. Don't get me wrong, they have EARNED such breaks, unquestionably, because of their incessant touring and advanced ages. Iron Maiden has nothing to prove, with a stellar, classic backlog, loads of popular merchandising, and tours that do their damnedest to give you your money's worth. The band has given me so much that I cannot really ask more of them...

Still, I'm baffled why a band with such an enormous resource pool can no longer create the sort of top shelf tuneage which put them on the map. On its surface, Senjutsu does look cool...I dig the stark simplicity of the artwork (as with Book of Souls), and Samurai Eddie is surely a thing. The 81-82 minutes of this might have easily been quashed onto a single CD, but once more the band has opted for the double-album, with a number of lengthy tracks, although nothing as long as on the prior disc. We're talking several pieces that are 9-12 minutes, and the odds of Maiden being able to fill all that bulk with the quality of a "Powerslave" or "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" seem bleak. The first single I heard off this, "The Writing on the Wall", had a decent animated video, and a folky feel to it which felt fresh for the band, although it's ultimately a pretty dull track without a memorable chorus. "Stratego" had me more excited, the flow on that one brought me back to the Maiden I loved of that mid-to-late 80s period, but with a slightly fresh mood to it (and another animated video). That's still one of my favorite songs on this album, but if you're asking me to put together a collection of a few dozen tracks for a road trip, it's not going anywhere NEAR that list.

Most of the lengthier tunes here feel rather empty, not that they lack emotion or melody, because Bruce still delivers as one of the high points of Senjutsu; but I almost never feel like there is any positive payoff to spending all that time within the music. There are tracks like "Lost in a Lost World" which feel like pure callbacks to some of my favorite Maiden material, but then there's nothing new or remotely refreshing about them. The shorter tracks here ("Stratego", "Days of Future Past") are much more engaging, while cuts like "Death of the Celts" and "The Parchment" seem to be building to something impressive, and then the work crews up and retire for a lunchbreak and never return. "Hell on Earth" is more successful at grabbing me, but again all the good stuff could have been condensed to a track half the length and I would have missed nothing.

Now that I've covered my disappointments, I will say that I don't quite dislike the album, this is not Nostradamus by a long shot; it doesn't suck at all, and it once again squeaks by on some of its positive factors. The production feels a lot more natural and resonant to me than The Book of Souls' smoother, cleaner mix, and as a result the historical, windy, epic nature of the lyrical matter seems better suited to the sound of the actual instruments. It's just as pleasant to put on in the background as its predecessor, because hey, that's Iron Maiden back there. But compare for a moment what this band is churning out compared to some of its peers...the last two Saxon albums kick ass in their traditional blue collar heavy metal. The most recent Judas Priest album was the most charged up they've been in almost 30 years. The last four Satan albums, since the reunion, leave Iron Maiden and every other NWOBHM or NWOBHM-adjacent band in the fucking dust. Bruce and the boys just sound bored and exhausted by comparison, and I hope that with these last two double albums, they've shaken off these 'epic' urges, and can fire off a few more concise efforts like Piece of Mind or Number of the Beast before we have to inevitably say goodbye to one of our favorite bands. Senjutsu is decent enough, but could have been so. much. more.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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