Some six years ago, Iron Maiden hit us with The Book of Souls. A 92-minute behemoth that – at first – we had some trouble wrapping our heads around. And in truth, the piece almost ended up in the oubliette somewhere. Yet, it nonetheless garnered an incredibly high score back then, which made modern RMR scratch his head in dismayed confusion.
So, before starting with this review, we gave the maidens’ last book a particularly long and hard look all over again. Sadly, the former stellar rating did not survive today’s standards and a severe downgrade had to be applied. Which by no way means that their earlier piece was bad, but perhaps not at that extremely high level of abject fanboyism.
But now Senjutsu with Eddie in disguise beckons us. And we hope that all those inconsistencies will fall by the wayside on its path to richer pastures.
And indeed, The Writing on the Wall already hit many of the right buttons a few weeks earlier. The RMR deckhands liked the laid-back whiskey-fueled desert rock feeling of the track. Hints about Heavy Metal that finally comes on two wheels again. Against a backdrop of magick and the arcane, of course, straight out of fantasy land. What else would we expect from those old metal warriors, right?
Yet, this sandy track, together with Stratego as the second marketing plot, turned out to be so much fake news. The Iron Maiden marketeers knew full well that the rest of the album would follow nowhere in the vein of their two showcase pieces. And that’s a true disappointment, I would have really liked to hear Eddie on a desert rampage along strange highways and abandoned gas stations.
But first, we need to understand that Iron Maiden‘s high-octane ’80s style that drenched us in adrenaline whenever the band hit the market will not return. Those days of soaring metal we got back when the beast or the seventh son reigned supreme truly are no more. Instead, the maidens seem to have found that nirvana where everything floats effortlessly (for them). So for those who look for that level of energy and metal power of the past, take the next exit and don’t come back.
And that’s no different from other big ol’ bands. Once they found the magic formula that keeps the cash machine running, off they go on that same road with few variations. Bands like Nightwish or Black Sabbath1) did or do the same. Or in other words, if you hit up AC/DC, would you expect to hear anything else than typical … AC/DC? You know what you get once you hit play, and that’s a comfort to many.
Many of the big magazines often provide free amplification by cultivating public opinion. And by doing that they duly forget that they’re supposed to be critics. In other words, they tend to tell people what they want to hear. Cannot lose those sales, right?
So, here Senjutsu takes off where The Book of Souls lets go of the reigns. Another 81-minute behemoth that somehow made its way back to the ’90s where The X-Factor reigned supreme. And that’s an improvement, having gained some 10 minutes of airtime on its thorny path to astute crispness.
And make no mistake, the musical prowess in this band is like next-level stardom. The RMR crew might not see eye-to-eye with the direction this all takes, but not many of the newbies out there will be able to match the maiden bunch. And that, even if Bruce Dickinson already sounded more energetic in the past. But even his performance is pretty astounding for one who had a bout with throat cancer not that long ago.
Well, hells bells, Senjutsu – the title track – already will drive home to ye that there will be none of that Southern Comfort to be had that comes with Desert and Southern Rock. Instead, we kinda appreciated this wink towards Taiko and its wondrous percussion. And – it’s gotta be said – I don’t dare imagine how that will sound on stage. Real Taiko with Eddie’s idea of a Samurai attack? Holy friggin’ Metal Cow!
Yet, in a way, this first track is indicative of what’s to come for the rest of the 80 minutes or so. A bunch of mid-tempo concoctions that are undeniably Iron Maiden. A pig-headed depiction of finely chiseled riffs, licks, and solos that make up today’s band fare. With frequent reminders of past ditties that got our juices flowing over the last 16 records or so.
Now, compare that with the aforementioned stupid marketing stunt The Writing on the Wall and Stratego fell prey to, and you see where the specialists over at Iron Maiden failed. Today’s Iron Maiden will do just as
Iron Maiden Steve Harris pleases. And that’s perfectly fine. If anything, the band sports a fanbase to die for, and the upper-echelon yaysayers from the reviewers’ community will assist them no matter what.
Only, it also means mid-tempo brawls of overheated maiden-isms that will endlessly noodle around the soundscape. Gotta please three guitarists and a bassist in their riffing and solo urges, right?
Yet, to be honest, with all three gifted guitarists in that band, the solos and riffs on Senjutsu are mainly otherworldly. That they use known themes from former records only renders the record even more alluring. Often with progressive undertones and, more often still, presented in that laid-back playing style that only folks at ease with their art are able to.
And it will be a moot point to try figuring out which one of those 10+ minute monsters sounds best. Many a fan somehow seems to dislike Death of the Celts for instance. But, in a way – this is like hating the wind. Four out of ten tracks available are way above 9 minutes of airtime. And all of them contain weak and absolutely great moments where outstanding musicianship reigns supreme.
Yet, it can be said that Senjutsu is full of endless noodlin’ and overarching bloat. Much of those routines could have been dialed back to create something mean and truly juicy. In other words, I’m still looking for vile Eddie with a bloody katana, ready to send a lean killer piece our way. And you don’t have to recreate the ’80s to get to a razor-sharp production that will just keep people in awe. One that will unequivocally blow the minds of the real critics out there as well.
Ultimately, however, Iron Maiden just proved that not many bands will be able to measure up to them. Overloaded as the record may be, this is next-level stuff that goes beyond the tinny production The Book of Souls was able to throw our way. In a way, it appears that the band now arrived at a place where they want to be. A spot where stories are told. Expertly, professionally, and exactly as they want them. Conventions, die-hard fans, and the past be damned.
Now, take that, music industry, if you dare.
Ed’s note: Fed up with all that westernized ju-jitsu stuff here? Yearn for some really crunchy Heavy Metal? Try some Saxon, instead. Yes exactly, these guys.
|1.||Before the end hit them, of course.|