It may have escaped your attention but Iron Maiden released their 17th studio album, Senjutsu last month. Granted, hard rock isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The release hasn’t garnered as much attention as Adele’s upcoming new album, of course, but it’s a brilliant piece of work and well worth checking out.
I’ve been a Maiden fan for longer than I care to remember. I spent much of my teenage years in a state of semi-obsession with the band and devoured their work in minute detail. No matter that it was the most unfashionable thing on earth at the time. I had the Maiden bug and that was it. My fandom coincided with perhaps the lowest point in the band’s history, as contemporary trends left them far behind in the dance obsessed ’90s.
I still recall watching Maiden in a three-quarters’ full Maysfield Leisure Centre in 1996. That sums up their status at the time. Then the staggering revival happened. Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith returned to the band in 1999, acting as the catalysts for a new era that’s seen unprecedented success. Maiden has now sold over 100 million copies of their albums and sit atop the pinnacle as bona fide rock giants. My teenage self scarcely believes it.
Therefore, the launch of a new record is an event. Maiden has become such a polished and refined act, new music is greeted with a mixture of expectation and nagging doubt: can they really deliver after all these years? In short, yes! Maiden always produce the goods and deliver emphatically again with Senjutsu.
The new album has everything we expect and oodles more. The heavy riffs and booming guitars are measured by beautiful melodies, layered vocals and distinctly softer interludes. It’s an eclectic piece. Modern Maiden has long championed its progressive and folksy influences, and the band takes that evolution to a new level here. Lost in a Lost World is a novel departure, while remaining essentially Maiden at the same time.
The first single, The Writing on The Wall is a fine track and deceptively brilliant. On first listen it’s a little unremarkable, but the song subsequently establishes itself with admirable persistence. Indeed, it gets better with every listen. And it’s different. More mainstream, perhaps, than we’re used to, the song undoubtedly makes best use of Iron Maiden’s peerless musical assets.
In fact, there isn’t a bad song on the album. The Time Machine initially seems silly and whimsical in conception, but is actually a fantastic song. Days of Future Past is a much shorter track and atypical of the overall album. It’s another change of pace, but in a good way and wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Bruce’s solo albums from the late ’90s.
There are other departures, too. Darkest Hour is a brooding ballad about, ahem, Winnie Churchill. Yes, you read that right. Only Maiden can do things like that and make it work! But there are other more dependable elements. Maiden’s trademark gallop is reassuringly audible in Stratego, while the album concludes with a trio of epics from Steve Harris.
The final three songs aren’t for the faint of heart, but are well worth the investment. They form a majestic wall of sound that plays around with virtually all of Maiden’s signature topics and themes, utilising every trick in their vast book. It is a simply wonderful conclusion.
I enjoy Maiden more than ever, but it wasn’t always like that. Indeed, as I got older and delved into bands like The Beatles, I viewed Maiden as a little anachronistic and immature by comparison. What adult wants to listen to songs about medieval battles, mythology and movies? I drifted away for a time. But you know what? I was right the first time! Iron Maiden are superb and profoundly under appreciated for the brilliance of their work.
Actually, Maiden are the sort of act that you appreciate better with age. Indeed, it takes a little maturity to fully appreciate the intricacy, complexity and melodic consistency of their music. And, after all these years, they get bigger and better. Senjutsu charted Maiden’s best ever ranking on the Billboard 200 and they were only beaten to the UK no.1 album spot by a whisker, by Drake, on the new album’s release. Remarkable. Maiden’s Somewhere in Time album contains an epic about Alexander The Great. Alexander purportedly wept because he had no worlds left to conquer. In 2021, the same is true of Iron Maiden.
PS The United Rugby Championship has started. It’s early days, but already it’s plain to see that whatever problems pan-Celtic rugby has, the South African sides aren’t the answer. These are good players, but taken out of their cultural home and environment, they’re struggling to make an impact. It’s sad to see if rather predictable. Back to the drawing board?