It’s been 6 years since Iron Maiden put out Book of Souls but it feels like a lot longer, at least by the modern-day listener’s standards. Thankfully we won’t have to wait a second more as Senjutsu, the band’s 17th LP has finally arrived. Their second double album after its 2015 predecessor, Senjutsu has already been a success less than two weeks after its release, achieving a career high of #3 on the Billboard Hot 200. What’s lead it to perform so well so far? It isn’t just the strength of the name behind it, nor is it nostalgia; throughout their lifetime Maiden have refused to go backwards and rehash the glory days; instead they have continually sought a path of progression and mastery and many-a-fan has thanked them for it.
So where has this journey lead them in 2021? A noticeable constant in Senjutsu is the opting for longer, gradually building epics rather than standard-length headbangers like “The Number Of The Beast” and “Aces High”. We get that from the 8-minute-plus opening title track and the mighty “The Writing On The Wall”, offset in the middle by the galloping “Stratego”. “Lost In A Lost World” borders on prog metal while “Days Of Future Past” and “The Time Machine” harken back to classic Maiden, just enough to please the purists wanting to relive 1982 one more time.
Then there’s side 2, consisting of four lengthy numbers; the long but fiery draw of “Darkest Hour” is first, followed by the 10-and-a-half-minute “Death Of The Celts” that amplifies the power metal feel of “Darkest”, and infuses it with a quintessential Maiden touch. “The Parchment” circles back to the thematics of side 1 with its Eastern battle mythology and slow boil towards a double-time guitar climax. Rounding out the record is “Hell On Earth”, a final march into war much in the vein of “Senjutsu” and “Lost” that’s not only exemplary of the unshakeable chemistry of the Irons but of the clear compositional genius of Steve Harris, as if either aspect needed any more proving.
It’s great to see a band that’s been around for as long as Iron Maiden continue to push forward sonically instead of stagnating with age. That’s what you get with Senjutsu, a legacy act with ample gas left in the tank, sounding fresh without compromising the distinctive sound they’ve cultivated and perfected for over 4 decades. It’s hard to see any point on the horizon when they’ll call it a day, and where they’ll go from here isn’t totally certain either. Will the formula they’ve turned to on this record continue on future albums or is it a one-off to be traded in for something else? Whichever way they go it won’t be backwards, and what they’ve done on this record has worked wonderfully for them. Perhaps the best we can do is sit back and trust that whichever direction Maiden takes they’ll execute properly and give us another great crop of tunes to listen to.