Senjutsu: Have the metal pioneers still got it 45 years into their careers?

Iron Maiden. New Album. Enough said. Let’s get on with it.

IRON MAIDEN- 2021 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

The album’s opener and title track gets into things a lot sooner than I expected it would. It still builds up nicely with a pretty great drumbeat and some awesome power chords leading to a fun guitar riff. However, Bruce’s vocals come in in under a minute, something I was not expecting given how long the intros were for their last few albums. As I said, it still builds the atmosphere well, and immediately sets the tone for something different from the band, something possibly needed after 17 albums. It’s a very Maiden-y verse, especially with the higher harmonies in the background. Bruce sounds as awesome as ever, a true testament to his skill after what he has been through over the last few years. It continues into a massive, open chorus, slowing things down and adding a signature air of epicness through the melody and accompanying lead guitar. It may not be one of Maiden’s strongest choruses and did come off as more of a pre to me at first, but there is no denying its catchiness. We get an odd structure after the second verse, adding a great duelling guitar solo for a good thirty seconds before the chorus comes back again. The bridge after said chorus was awesome, the riff over the top of Bruce’s higher vocals giving the three guitarists plenty of room to play with. We do, however, get a slightly too drawn-out slower part afterwards. It was fun and catchy but felt like it went on forever, especially when it is brought back again after another brief guitar solo. A final chorus and outro solo take us home. This was good and enjoyable, though it didn’t quite grip me as much as ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ from the start of the last album.

One of the two singles, ‘Stratego’, is up next. It bursts right in with a fantastic, VERY Maiden riff and drumbeat, sounding more like their more recent selves than the previous song. The verse keeps that same feel and energy, the low melody from Bruce getting harmonised perfectly by the higher guitar lead. The pre where Bruce goes higher to match said harmony was also perfectly done. It all builds perfectly to a massively catchy chorus, huge and open and again aided by the guitars harmonising with the vocals. This one follows the more traditional rock song structure, a great guitar solo following the second chorus, though they add a little variety with a fantastic bridge riff coming out of it before it leads to the final chorus. This was a lot more what I was expecting and hoping for and cannot get enough of it, even after I’d listened to it a few times in the last few weeks leading up to the album. I am such a huge fan of their style since Bruce has returned, with their last four albums being among my favourites, and I’m glad they are continuing it on in some respect. Playlisted!

The lead single from the album, ‘Writing on the Wall’ has already got a VERY brief review from us when we wrote an article on the album’s announcement, which you can read here. My thoughts on the song haven’t changed all too much, though it has definitely grown on me a lot more since that first listen. I love the inclusion of the acoustic guitar for the intro and the more bluesy lead riff is amazing. It somehow feels different while also having the same hallmarks of modern Maiden, something I think it does better than the opener. I also LOVE the chorus the more I listen to it, it’s ridiculously catchy. We get a couple of fantastic guitar solos after the second chorus, split up by another awesome harmonised guitar riff. Everyone on this album so far has been incredible, but it’s hard not to think Adrien, Janick, and Dave aren’t stealing the show. Another AWESOME track.

Time for a long one (and it’s not the only one by a long stretch) with ‘Lost in a Lost World’. The band again throws a curveball, opening on a simple, clean guitar chord progression with Bruce’s slightly effect-laden vocals coming in quiet and low over the top. It sounds awesome, though not very Maiden at all! Even the choir-like backing vocals were an awesome change of pace. It doesn’t even kick in for two minutes, but when it does it’s into a pretty awesome riff. The verse is pretty great, but it also takes another almost two minutes for it to change at all. The pre was awesome though, the lead guitar part again following Bruce’s vocals perfectly, giving off big ‘When the Wild Wind Blows’ vibes. At over four minutes the chorus finally hits, it not having as epic a feel as the past two but given that everything else about this song feels epic it’s fitting that the chorus is just a big hard rock riff with solid, catchy vocals over the top. Then, in typical Maiden fashion, we get a few minutes of them showing off that they are some of the best musicians in the world today. Duelling guitar solos, epic riffs, and Steve Harris holding down the fort with his trademark solid, interesting bass playing. We get a final chorus before it gets slowly stripped back into a quiet outro, led by the fantastic vocals, a high guitar harmony, and the awesome low bass. Another fantastic song, four for four so far!

The shortest song on the album, ‘Days of Future Past’, jumps straight into a mid-tempo distorted guitar riff and doesn’t let up once throughout its four minutes. The main riff afterwards is one of the best on the album, a good verse leading into a fantastic, catchy chorus. It reminds me a lot of ‘The Alchemist’, a short, to-the-point banger tucked in the middle of an otherwise epic-lengthed album. It may actually be my favourite chorus so far, it’s Maiden through and through and suits Bruce’s voice to a T. The solo was awesome as expected and there isn’t much more I can say about this track as it’s another that follows the traditional structure. All I can say is check it out!

‘The Time Machine’ is a slow-burn intro reminiscent of ‘The Clansman’ or ‘The Book of Souls’. Bruce’s vocals ring perfectly over the slow, beautiful clean guitar, adding an instant epic feel. The subtle strings in the back were a nice touch, too. It explodes into another awesome riff a minute into it, pretty uplifting vocals coming in over the top of it for the verse, which threw me off a tad. The chorus is another awesome one though, fitting the true Maiden style of writing perfectly. I cannot get over how light and almost U2-esque the verse melody is though, it’s certainly different for the band. The riff after the second chorus even sounds pretty similar to the one from ‘The Book of Souls’, making me pretty proud of myself for making the connection early on. The rest of the song is more standard Maiden, just like ‘Lost in a Lost World’; lots of awesome riffs and solos and catchy vocal lines tucked away in the middle. It’s another fantastic track to end disc one. Yep, you heard me right, it’s a double album, and we are officially halfway through. And they only get longer from here…

‘Darkest Hour’ starts with an AWESOME clean guitar riff coming out of some wave sounds, setting the tone and atmosphere perfectly. Bruce’s vocals come in over the top perfectly once again, he seems to be at his best these days adding his lower range over the top of the slower, more atmospheric parts of the songs, even if he can still belt it high with the best of them. The drums even come in over the top of the slower verse too, keeping the track lower for a lot longer than I was expecting. The distortion builds up into the chorus around two and a half minutes in, but the track still stays pretty steady. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a very rare ballad from the band… The chorus is awesome, growing on me more and more with each listen, a real highlight of not just the track but of the whole album. The guitar solo is amazing, the slower tempo of the song giving them a chance to really add some emotion and feel to their playing, and they do so masterfully. Everything about this song was incredible, and I cannot get over the fact that it was a ballad. It’s maybe the easiest song to make the playlist ever, wow.

‘Death of the Celts’ gives off more ‘Clansman’ vibes (I mean of course it does, with a song title like that), a couple of slower, quiet acoustic riffs once again building atmosphere before Bruce comes in to add even more epicness to the proceedings. His vocals even fit a similar melody to Blaze Bailey’s in ‘Clansman’. I feel like after them playing it again live on the ‘Legacy of the Beast’ tour for the first time in a while they released how much of a banger it is and thought they’d write more like that again, and I for one am all for it! It again stays on the slower side when the distorted guitars and drums come in, making it somehow even more epic. The only point I can make, whether you are for or against it, is that the first chorus doesn’t come in until over three-and-a-half minutes in. I love it personally and think it adds to the feel of the song, but I can see why some wouldn’t be as fond. We get more Maiden-noodling for a few minutes, transitioning from awesome riff to awesome riff seamlessly, and throwing in a solo or two for good measure too. I feel redundant at this point for saying this was great.

The longest track on the album, ‘The Parchment’, is more of the same. So is the closing track, ‘Hell on Earth’. None of that is a bad thing. I feel like a hypocrite, given that just the other day I was reviewing Dead Romantic and said that the songs sound pretty similar and that they could do with changing it up, and yet here I am praising 24 minutes of Iron Maiden for sounding similar to the rest of the album. However, firstly, the band changes it up so much within each song that it gives plenty of variety in the album anyway. And secondly, screw you guys, I can say what I want. Are either my favourite tracks on the album? No. But both are still damn enjoyable, good songs, from a band that has no right to still be pumping out music of such high quality nearly half a century after forming.

Overall: This was fantastic. While their last album was a grower and I only truly started appreciating it after seeing some of the songs live, I instantly fell in love with a good few of these songs. I cannot wait to see some of these songs live and I honestly think it shall continue to grow on me over the coming weeks and months and may even become one of my favourite albums from the band. Check this out if you are at all into rock music!

The Score: 9/10

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