Album reviews: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu and Manic Street Preachers – The Ultra Vivid Lament

·3-min read
Iron Maiden in artwork for their new album (John McMurtrie)
Iron Maiden in artwork for their new album (John McMurtrie)

Iron MaidenSenjutsu

★★★★☆

Senjutsu is Iron Maiden’s first album since Bruce Dickinson made a full recovery from a tumour found at the back of his tongue. He’s lost none of his panache. Riding a galloping riff on the breathtaking “Stratego”, he snaps and snarls in a maelstrom of thunderous percussion and violent guitar squalls. “The Writing on the Wall” is one of their most adventurous songs in years, a thrilling spaghetti western that tips its hat to the grinding riffs of country music’s Chris Stapleton.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Senjutsu is just how much fun the band are having. It’s an album built to entertain, full of theatre, full of gold-standard musicianship. They keep things neat at 10 tracks, but when they do indulge themselves a little, it’s worth it. The 10-minute epic “Death of the Celts” opens on a stark, ominous guitar motif, marches to war then wreaks havoc with a thrashy, pummelling battle between the band’s guitarists and drummer Nicko McBrain. It returns, full circle, to that affecting guitar motif at the outro, as if surveying the bodies of fallen warriors.

Across the album, the band seem fully aware of their veteran status. “Darkest Hour” references Winston Churchill; other tracks such as “The Time Machine” and “Days of Future Past” grapple with the inevitable passing of time. But there’s also a resilience, in both Dickinson’s voice and the energy in the performances. Senjutsu is an album that screams, “Not dead yet.” ROC

Manic Street Preachers The Ultra Vivid Lament

★★★☆☆

An ambient hum opens The Ultra Vivid Lament. The first track, “Still Snowing In Sapporo”, is a mild post-rock song that pleasantly chugs along like a train on tracks, travelling through a diorama of the band’s 1993 Japanese tour. From there, though, Manic Street Preachers put nostalgia in their rear-view mirror and offer up a 14th record that is situated in the here and now.

“Orwellian” is the clearest example of that renewed focus on the present. The band’s fondness for apocalyptic imagery is given a specific target as James Dean Bradfield laments times in which “it feels impossible to pick a side” and a world where “words wage war with meanings being missed”. The song’s references to culture wars and cancel culture are overt. It should come as little surprise; these are two themes that slot in nicely with the trio’s past repertoire. Elsewhere on the album, they take aim at a familiar target. “Don’t let those boys from Eton suggest that we are beaten,” is one such blistering line on “Don’t Let The Night Divide Us”.

The Ultra Vivid Lament is the band’s first album conceived on piano rather than guitar. It’s a move that lends itself nicely to the overall mood of melancholia. As ever with Manic Street Preachers, though, it isn’t all doom and gloom. “Quest for Ancient Colour” and “Happy Bored Alone” recall drunken swaying with friends on the dance floor.

Fans will be grateful for “Blank Diary Entry” and “The Secret He Had Missed” – two tracks that demonstrate the band’s apt ear for duets. On the latter, vocals from Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming play wonderfully with piano riffs that recall Abba’s hit “Waterloo”.

It’s an album that sounds very little like their last, and in that sense – despite its myriad reference points – The Ultra Vivid Lament is a Manic Street Preachers record, through and through. AN

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