When Iron Maiden announces a new album, everyone needs to listen. Through a brilliant marketing campaign that drummed up interest in Belshazzar’s Feast, and then “The Writing On The Wall“, it was only a matter of time before we got an album. Through a global pandemic, and much more, Iron Maiden’s Senjutsu is here. The so-called “reunion era” of Iron Maiden has been a smashing success. Albums like Brave New World, Dance of Death, A Matter of Life and Death, The Final Frontier, and The Book of Souls were all fantastic in their own varying ways. It’s a new era of Iron Maiden with longer, more technical songs, and a sprinkling of that classic Maiden magic.
Senjutsu was actually recorded back during a break in the Legacy of the Beast tour in 2019. Iron Maiden have had this album all this time without one leak, or even one inkling that they already recorded an album. It’s a miracle that nothing leaked in this day and age. Outside of that, all the main suspects of Iron Maiden are here: Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Adrian Smith, Dave Murray, Janick Gers, Nicko McBrain, and of course Eddie. Does Senjutsu change the sound of Iron Maiden radically?
Yes and no. It really depends on the song you’re listening to. But if you like this current era of Iron Maiden, Senjutsu fits right in and blows away anything else people are doing in metal right now.
The Meaning Of Senjutsu
The themes of this album are apparent: war, death, time, and humanity destroying itself. Senjutsu translates to “tactics & strategy”. Through the whole album these themes are mixed together in a very similar way to A Matter of Life and Death. This album might as well be a sequel or spiritual successor to that. They have plenty of similarities in length, song structure, and of course Steve Harris. He has a whopping seven songwriting credits on this album. His vision and approach is heard all over the album, particularly in the back third of the record.
These tracks are all lengthy and require multiple listens through to fully comprehend. Like A Matter of Life and Death, it took plenty of time to get a full appreciation for some of the particularly long songs. Once you do, though, this album gets even better after the point of “whoa, this is new Iron Maiden”.
The full tracklisting for Senjutsu is:
1. Senjutsu (8:20) Smith/Harris
2. Stratego (4:59) Gers/Harris
3. The Writing On The Wall (6:13) Smith/Dickinson
4. Lost In A Lost World (9:31) Harris
5. Days Of Future Past (4:03) Smith/Dickinson
6. The Time Machine (7:09) Gers/Harris
7. Darkest Hour (7:20) Smith/Dickinson
8. Death Of The Celts (10:20) Harris
9. The Parchment (12:39) Harris
10. Hell On Earth (11:19) Harris
As you can see, those are some truly epic length songs. So in that way, each track sort of sounds like it’s a greatest hits of this current Iron Maiden era. You have sounds and guitars that sound like they’re from The Final Frontier with a drum beat mixed from Dance of Death. It’s truly a culmination of a band that isn’t at their peak, but a point after where they’re wiser and the most distinguished that they’ll be as musicians.
1. Senjutsu (Smith/Harris)
When was the last time an Iron Maiden album started off like this? Normally we get the 3-4 minute speedy “single” track here. Nope, they’re changing up the formula once again. Here you get 8+ minutes of fury, thunder, and technical guitars. Somehow Iron Maiden have crafted an opening track that’s 8+ minutes but holds your attention the entire time and that I could see them opening a show with. “Senjutsu” is all about warfare.
This track is all about the power of the music. It’s a really heavy song, particularly from Iron Maiden. But that doesn’t sacrifice any of their normal musical qualities. Bruce Dickinson’s voice goes from gravely and low to soaring in the blink of an eye. If there’s one thing to pick out about this track that’s a highlight, it’s definitely Nicko McBrain’s drumming. I cannot wait to hear this track live to feel the full force of the drums in a live environment.
Overall, this is a new, interesting way to open the album and it works incredibly well. Disrupting the formula is what Iron Maiden is all about, and “Senjutsu” does just that.
2. Stratego (Gers/Harris)
“Stratego” is the most classic sounding Maiden track they’ve made for the entirety of the reunion era. This song could fit directly on Powerslave or Piece of Mind and no one would bat an eye. This was the second single they announced for the album, so I’ve had more experience with this track than the others. Bruce Dickinson is in perfect form here and his vocals bring this one up into the Iron Maiden stratosphere.
It’s odd that they wouldn’t lead the album with this track, but in the grand scheme of things, it works out. You get a sort of “Sign of the Cross”/X-Factor vibe with the album opening with a lengthy and powerful track leading into another shorter and equally gripping song. “Stratego” is definitely going to translate well to a live performance and I can’t wait to hear it as the second song on the Senjutsu World Tour, whenever that is.
This might be most people’s favorite track on the album, but you’ll have to wait for mine.
3. The Writing On The Wall (Smith/Dickinson)
This was another track that we’ve all had the chance to listen to. I’m not afraid to admit that this song and the accompanying video made me cry. It was tears of nostalgia, tears of hearing new Iron Maiden, and tears of joy. It might be a musical departure for the band, but it’s a welcome one.
In the pantheon of Iron Maiden solos there are a couple that stand out: “Powerslave”, “Stranger in a Strange Land”, “Dance of Death” are among the best. “Writing On The Wall” has a solo from Adrian Smith that rivals those tracks without overdoing anything. Each note fits perfectly with the last, never verging into “shredder” territory. There’s a very clear reason that Iron Maiden chose this track as the lead single and to give one of the best music videos ever to.
“Writing On The Wall” is an instant Maiden classic that I’m sure everyone reading is familiar with at this point. It fits even better on the tracklist with this album because of the overriding themes of the record. Good on it’s own, even better with the rest of the album.
4. Lost In A Lost World (Harris)
After the opening track, we’re treated to two songs that are a little quicker and more classic-Maiden feeling. With “Lost In A Lost World”, we’re given a track that definitely requires multiple listens to get the full appreciation for. I bring up The X-Factor again, because this feels very much like a track off that fantastic album. Down to the guitar tones for the main riff, this one twists and turns but leaves you feeling fulfilled.
Like the title suggests, it’s about being someone who’s lost in a world that is also losing it’s way. The song changes tempo a bunch. Its chorus will definitely find a way to get stuck in your ear. After quite a few listens, this was a track that originally wasn’t one of my favorites, but is now among the best songs on the album.
5. Days Of Future Past (Smith/Dickinson)
After that lengthy track, it’s time to break it up a bit with a shorter song. “Days of Future Past” is the shortest song on the album, clocking in at just over 4 minutes. This is one that definitely reminds me of a song off Brave New World. I’m not sure if that’s the intention of the band for these songs to sound like tracks off previous albums, but it’s working out that way.
In an interview with Revolver, Bruce gave this description of the song:
Actually that’s a straightforward nick from the graphic novel Constantine that got made into the film of the same name with Keanu Reeves. I thought it would be interesting to turn it on its head, the situation in which he found himself in as a person who is destined to walk the earth until he gets his shit together — and to say, “Well, hang on a minute; just exactly who appointed God to do this in the first place? What right does he have to pull all this crap on people?”
This is a welcome change of pace for this section of the album and while it’s not my favorite track on the album, it’s by no means a bad one.
6. The Time Machine (Gers/Harris)
If you didn’t know, I really enjoy the collaboration between Janick Gers and Steve Harris. Their tracks are among my favorites since Janick joined the band back in 1990. “The Time Machine” fits in with the rest of this era with it’s storytelling and musical style. Bruce Dickinson has more soaring vocals that tower over the song. The chorus worms it’s way into your brain and before you know it, the song is over. It’s a quick 7 minute ride that is among the highlights of this first “half” of the record.
It closes out the first side of the record, and like Bruce said in that interview above, that’s what they were going for with this double album. They wanted both sides to feel like separate stories that gave you different experiences. Like a time machine, this one takes you through the current era of Iron Maiden before going deeper into their musical prowess for the second half.
7. Darkest Hour (Smith/Dickinson)
Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson have three credits on this album, with “Darkest Hour” being the final one. It’s unlike a lot of their normal tracks that usually follow a “single” sound. This one is partially about the exploits of Winston Churchill during WWII and the battles that shaped the war. From Dunkirk to D-Day, it’s another history lesson from the band among their other great songs.
It’s a slower, more methodical track from the songwriting duo. That doesn’t take away from the overall feel and greatness of it though. It’s another interesting choice to kick off “disc two” of Senjutsu. This feels very much like a similar vein to “Coming Home” from The Final Frontier. “Darkest Hour” is begging to be played live with a crowd chanting the chorus along with Bruce Dickinson.
It builds and builds up to a slow, melodic finish that’s satisfying and poignant for the subject matter.
8. Death Of The Celts (Harris)
Normally Iron Maiden’s records of late have these final tracks that are just absolute epics of the metal genre. For Senjutsu, we got three. “Death of the Celts” is the first of those 10+ minute epics from Steve Harris and it’s a hell of a track. For a ten minute song, this one brings together heavy metal, folk sounding music, and more. It feels very much like “The Clansman” off Virtual XI. It tells the story of the last remaining Celtic tribes after the Germanic tribes forced them into pockets of the UK.
Musically, this is one of the best tracks on the album. If you judge your metal songs by “air guitaring”, you’ll be shredding along with the solos in this track. It’s a very dense track that once again requires a lot of listening. Once you do though, you’ll be heavily rewarded for it with an absolutely epic track.
9. The Parchment (Harris)
The second of the trio of 10+ minute Steve Harris penned epics at the end of the record might be the weakest of the bunch. When you’re the weakest of three Steve Harris tracks, that’s not saying much, but something has to be the “loser” here. It doesn’t have the same punch or message as the songs it sits between, but it makes up for that with heavy guitars and a tale as strong as they get with Iron Maiden. If you’re into your music telling you a story, this is the track for you.
“The Parchment” conjures up what it means to tell a story with music and it succeeds at doing so.
10. Hell On Earth (Harris)
Now, for the main event. What you’ve been waiting for. On album’s past, it’s been tracks like “The Legacy”, “Empire of the Clouds”, or “Where the Wild Wind Blows”, “Hell On Earth” joins those in successfully closing off Maiden albums in a poignant and strong way. With the world on fire, people dying, pandemics raging, leave it to Steve Harris and Iron Maiden to find a way to translate all of that into a musical track.
This song conjures up emotions that you don’t normally feel listening to an Iron Maiden track, and it fits those themes we spoke about at the beginning of the piece. Just when you think the song can only get so good around the middle section of it, it gets even better. This is far and away my favorite and most sentimental track on the album. Steve Harris has written some of the greatest songs in the history of heavy metal, and “Hell On Earth” fits right in with all of the greats.
It’s a testament to the ability and recognition of Iron Maiden that they could record something that tops nearly everything else that they’ve done in their career with this track. “Hell On Earth” is a must-listen.
Where Does Senjutsu Fit Into The Maiden Hierarchy?
In my ranking of Iron Maiden albums, the top two are Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Somewhere In Time. Senjutsu feels like a vastly different album than those two. It’s the band at a completely different time period and point in their lives. So to compare this to those, wouldn’t be fair. How about against other reunion era albums? A Matter of Life and Death is the gold standard of that era. Senjutsu fits right in with that album. Realistically, I’d place it in between Piece of Mind and Dance of Death at the 7th slot.
Senjutsu is a triumph of the genre, it’s a triumph of Iron Maiden, and it’s the album that we all need at this moment in time. It’s filled with themes and lyrics that speak to the ills we all face in the world. Seeing as how it was written and recorded before this whole global pandemic and time of human strife, it just shows how on point Iron Maiden is with their music.
If the weakest track on the album is a song like “Days of Future Past”, you know you have a winner on your hands.
This is another album that benefits from listening all the way through. If you take it part by part, it’s still great. But listened as a whole, you reach a new level of greatness for Iron Maiden in their seventeenth album. For a band to put out something this great, this late into their career is an achievement.
Senjutsu releases September 3rd wherever you get your music, you owe it to yourself as an Iron Maiden fan to give this one a listen.
For more on metal, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.