For a band that’s never had a No 1 hit on the global musical charts — we aren’t taking into account chart-topping singles so 1992’s Send your Daughter to the Slaughter doesn’t count — English heavy metal band Iron Maiden has not had a problem selling albums or filling stadiums in its 41 years.

Lady Gaga once commented that “the devotion of the fans moving in unison, pumping their fists, watching the show, when I see that, I see the paradigm for my future and the relationship I want to have with my fans. Iron Maiden‘s never had a hit song, and they tour stadiums around the world, and their fans live, breathe and die for Maiden, and that is my dream”.

This is because the band doesn’t make music fans want to hear — Iron Maiden makes music Iron Maiden wants to hear, which is to say, material that represents a continuous journey onwards. This is evinced by Senjutsu, its 17th studio album, which was officially released on Sept 3. While sharing DNA with the refined melodies of the turn-of-the-millennium’s Brave New World, the album that saw lead singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith rejoin the band following a mid-Nineties exile, Senjutsu feels very forward-looking. Rather than indulge in the musical style that once made them so famous — Metallica did this with Hardwired... to Self-Destruct, for example — Iron Maiden’s new works are just that: new.

Featuring less of the high-octane material that dominated the band’s Eighties oeuvre, Senjutsu, which marks a lengthy six-year gap from 2015’s The Book of Souls, is defined by a deep, melancholic vibe — rather prescient of them, seeing that the album was recorded in early 2019 and kept under wraps throughout the pandemic as the world ground to a halt. Seemingly unaffected by passing trends and times, this album is an instant classic that does two things — retain some of the powerhouse sound that’s earned them their cult following while packing in fresh ideas and inspirations.

Most notable is a triptych of marathon-length songs, all written by bassist and bandleader Steve Harris — Death of the Celts, The Parchment and Hell on Earth, which I liked the most. It samples Dickinson’s vocals and Harris’ riffs in Iron Maiden’s usual bold manner, but the length of the songs harkens back to a different time in rock. Lengthier pieces à la Bohemian Rhapsody and Stairway to Heaven are not uncommon, but one can’t help but gasp at the length of each of the three pieces. With its operatic wails and instrumental race to the finish line, Hell on Earth is not really the best way to end an album, but since when has conventional wisdom applied to anything they’ve done?My favourite in the whole album is The Writing on the Wall, which seems to boast a more easygoing, folksier groove than the rest of the tracks, even though Dickinson’s lyrics reflect a more serious tone that prophetically references the months before the song would be heard. “A tide of change is coming and that is what you fear/The earthquake is a-coming but you don’t want to hear.”

I recently read that this is Iron Maiden’s first album since Dickinson was diagnosed with throat cancer — a fact that seems to have grounded his soaring tenor a little — and that he had torn his Achilles tendon during sessions. It was a bit of a shock because Iron Maiden had never seemed to age; their music is so continually evolving that one gets the impression that they are forever young. Perhaps, in some ways, that is true.

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Senjutsu is a Japanese word that loosely translates into tactics and strategy, and it’s an apt name for an album that has been cautiously thought through, expertly written and created with the utmost commitment to its DNA. This genre of music may not be for everyone, but the technical ferocity that these 60-something rockers have applied to their work is a master class in innate talent, hard work and passion. I dare say, this might just be British heavy metal at its best. Heck, make that the whole world.


PHOTOS: Iron Maiden