Iron Maiden’s progressive proclivities stretch right back to the beginning of their career but it’s really been in the last decade and a half where they have truly let themselves off the chain.
As elder statesmen of rock and metal and a vast fanbase that only continues to grow as the years roll on, Iron Maiden have long understood that they can pretty much do whatever they want if it stays within their recognisable framework. Since the early 90s their albums have been getting progressively longer, to the point where the last three have required patience-testing levels of concentration.
At 76 minutes, The Final Frontier suffered from a lack of really strong material, and the even longer The Book of Souls closed magnificently but in other places was clunky and too self-referential. Those are crimes the band’s immense 17th studio effort, Senjutsu, is far less guilty of. That there are some wonky quirks in the production there is no doubt, but those are more than made up for by the maturity and focus of the band’s song writing: these are some of the most compelling epics Iron Maiden has put together in 20 years.
From the downright dramatic opening of the title cut to the almost Copperhead Road country rock stomp of The Writing of the Wall and Lost in a Lost World’s melancholy prog, Iron Maiden is expanding their horizons while sinking the foundation stones of their style just as deep. The familiar gallop is still there, making a fleeting appearance in Stratego, by far the closest thing to the classic period to be put down here, and some of the soloing the Maiden guitar team weaves throughout Senjutsu is truly outstanding, even for them.
It’s the long-yearned for progressive side of Maiden that finally shines through, displays of light and shade and emotional depth that have sometimes gone astray hit the mark here. Darkest Hour is a reflective piece without the lumbering turgidity of, say, Fortunes of War, and epic centrepiece Death of the Celts revisits The Clansman by throwing everything at it: folk motifs, finger-picked acoustic guitars, see-sawing vocal melodies and long guitar trade-offs that leave everyone else in the dust. The Parchment is a throwback to Powerslave but, rather than stealing from it, reaffirms the legacy of that early masterpiece. Atmospheric closer Hell on Earth nails the bitter-sweet melancholia Steve Harris has come close to only once before, but the plaintive sorrow and sombre delivery of this eclipses even that of When the Wild Wind Blows. Harris’ wandering solo-penned sagas have often been the most divisive aspect of Iron Maiden’s later work. On Senjutsu they take up almost half the playing time – an album in themselves -and while they could arguably cut down some of the repetitive sections, these are three of the most flowing and engaging epics he has put together in decades.
Iron Maiden may never make another studio album. If that proves to be the case, they have gone out in grand fashion. Senjutsu is the progressive masterpiece Iron Maiden have been nudging towards for several albums now. No longer the band delivering barnstorming gallopers, this is the grand statement of where they now want to be.
- The Writing on the Wall
- Lost in a Lost World
- Days of Future Past
- The Time Machine
- Darkest Hour
- Death of the Celts
- The Parchment
- Hell on Earth