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Friday 3 September 2021

Reviews: Iron Maiden, The Night Flight Orchestra, Bokassa, Dirkschneider & The Old Gang (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Simon Black & Paul Hutchings)

Iron Maiden - Senjutsu (EMI) [Matt Bladen]

After a long running teaser campaign inviting us to Belshazzar's Feast the first single Writing On The Wall was released with the announcement that British Metal legends Iron Maiden would be releasing their 17th studio album titled Senjutsu which loosely translates to "tactics & strategy", possibly why there was the subterfuge with the albums release. Its Maiden's first album in 6 years, so the anticipation for this record has been building for a long period of time. So does Senjutsu live up to expectations? The cover certainly does, a Shogun Armoured Eddie wielding a Katana while the classic Maiden typeface lies behind is exactly what you want to peak that excitement. However the record itself opens with the title track, an 8 minute slow burner written by Steve Harris and Adrian Smith, where the band build up to the chorus slowly, a mid-paced stomp and Bruce Dickinson saving his voice, giving little snippets of his power as it progresses. 

When I listened to the album fully, having this instead of the pacier Stratego as the first song makes sense, I think the album has been sequenced to be played in full, so Senjutsu is the way to get the band all warmed up, before things get lively on Stratego which has synths not heard since Virtual XI. Speaking of Virtual XI, Senjutsu is the first album not to feature a writing contribution from Dave Murray. The Smith/Dickinson pen works it's magic on the Western sounding The Writing On The Wall. From here we move on to Lost In A Lost World which is the first song to show that the old Air Raid siren is getting a little rusty, though after his tongue cancer battle, still being able to sing at all is a blessing. Lost In A Lost World is the albums first 'proper' Iron Maiden epic, those Steve Harris resonant basslines and Nicko McBrain's constant rhythm driving this mini-epic that's Steve Harris 101, while the punchy Days Of Future Past, is shorter but has that Dickinson/Smith thrust to it, the lyrics dealing with faith and religion while their third credit goes to Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour is a moody opening to the second disc and is actually the shortest song on that disc at 7 minutes. Yes folks we have another double disc release on our hands! Fans of Iron Maiden will know that as they moved into their third decade, they became much more progressive, without loosing the classic Maiden tropes that so many thousand bands throughout the years. Both discs combined make for 80 minutes of listening so, it's a lot to take in, more so if you are trying to review it with multiple listens! Still this is Iron Maiden so it's never a chore. The Time Machine and Darkest Hour both work well as a duo, the one easing into the other, with the latter having the bluesier solo moments from Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers. 

The final three tracks on the album are all Steve Harris 10 minute plus numbers. Death Of The Celts, an emotional one, with lots of keyboard effects, it's a clinic in light and shade, Bruce sounding fragile but also imperious. The Parchment comes next yet another powerful piece of prog Maiden again led by the bass of Harris. You can easily identify that these three tracks are all written by Harris as they are his style of Maiden writing let loose. Hell On Earth once again driven by dexterous bass playing ending another expansive offering from the British metal institution. Senjutsu is one or two tracks too long if I'm brutally honest, but it is a much more diverse offering than The Book Of Souls with a bigger range of soundscapes, though I'm sure the keys will provoke some negative feedback. While for me the production is a little too flat and some of the songs are extended for extended sake.   

I enjoyed Senjutsu, probably more than their previous offering, at this point though it doesn't matter, the Iron Maiden will roll on and while they could tour their catalogue until the end of time. Just for continuing to release new music they deserve all the accolades. 7/10

The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromatic II (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

So when I come across an album which is pitched as a part 2, then two logical root causes usually come to mind. Either this was originally intended as a double album and the label wouldn’t play ball, so here’s the second half; or the band haven’t had a decent hit in a while, so let’s try and sound like our greatest hit and that here’s more of the same (sit down Queensrÿche, you’re drunk). In this unique instance I think it’s a case of ‘we’ve got a great double album here, but if we release all of it in the middle of this pandemic without being able to tour, then it may disappear without a trace’. Given that Global Pandemics don’t come along too often (I hope) then this seems an eminently sensible tactic, as this is a band most definitely on the way up.

If you’ve not come across this bunch of Swedish Hard Rockers, or are of the mind-set that turns its nose up at non-Metal outfits, then you won’t be aware that they are a project branched from the very melodic death Soilwork whilst on the road, with members borrowed from the equally very metal Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars and Darkane. That means it’s dripping with a shared love of 70’s stadium rock, with a touch of Disco boogie and (conceptually at least) some mile-high shenanigans somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. So yes, that means that all the promo shots with airline staff outfits are a core part of the design.

Given that I hadn’t had the pleasure up to this point, I did take a few moments to fire up Part 1 and in general this one is a little more laid back than that record (well, transatlantic return flights are usually nighttime ones) but no less catchy and enjoyable. A big change in their overall sound is the addition of keyboardist John Lönnmayr, bringing a Progressive Pop element to the sound and making the stage no doubt somewhat crowded with eight of them now on it. 

Single Chardonnay Nights captures the ethos with a bit too much of the Disco sentiment and I can’t help feeling that Midnight Marvelous would have been a much better single (who knows, it may be yet) as it’s head and shoulders the best song here. I love the way the overall tone of the disk borrows from the likes of 70’s era Elton John so shamelessly, whilst adding a nice modern twist at the same time. Like the music of the 70’s this is delivered with panache, style and quality in the production department. 

Overall I’m enjoying the tracks, but the album could have benefitted from a bit of trimming, as after twelve tracks and fifty minutes the novelty wears off a bit and it lacks a touch of the energy of its immediate predecessor. I suspect had they been able to make this year’s Bloodstock, then a lot more of us would have been pleasantly surprised. Nevertheless, on its own merit this album has converted me, so it deserves a respectable 8/10.

Bokassa - Molotov Rocktail (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Being Lars Ulrich's "new favourite band" is a pretty lofty title to have to live up to. Though that does depend on what you think about Mr Ulrich's music taste. I digress as this did allow them to be the opening act for Metallica's Worldwired Tour, but they are a band who have peddling their brand of 'stoner punk' for a while now and off the back of their previous record Crimson Riders in 2019, the lockdown has been a fruitful period for the band as they have managed to put together yet another album of snarling punk metal. From the breakdown filled Hereticules where vocalist/guitarist Jørn Kaarstad shouts "I'll fucking show'em!" with his rasping vocal. 

He's got an ideally suited voice for this music as even with the doom meets horns of Low (And Behold) while his guitar playing shifts easily from four-on-the-floor punk to stoner, the aforementioned doom and some hardcore smash n grab of bands such as The Bronx. Bokassa are a uncompromising trio, their music used as both a statement and an excuse to have a good time, many of the lyrics are political but also a little tongue in cheek, on So Long, Idiots! and Pitchforks'r'us especially. Behind Kaarstad are drummer Olav Dowkes and bassist Bård Linga who do more than just drive the songs along, Dowkes having a real grasp of atmospheric percussion on the slower Godless as the bass leads the final track Immortal Space Pirate 3 Too Old For This Sith a rumbling finale to this brand new album. Lars may be on to something here as Bokassa certainly have a unique sound that will appeal to fans of QOTSA and Red Fang. Big riffs and lots of fire from this rocktail! 7/10 

Dirkschneider & The Old Gang – Every Heart Is Burning (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Reunited with two former Accept bandmates in bassist Peter Baltes and guitarist Stefan Kaufmann along with Mathias Dieth (Sinner, U.D.O), son Sven on drums and singer Manuela Bibert, this three-track release sees former Accept frontman Udo Dirkschneider in typical Germanic metal form.
The songs are anthemic, dramatic and overblown with the typical Teutonic swagger that the vocalist has pursued for over 40 years. Well crafted, neatly performed, there’s just little here to provide anything of real excitement. Unlike the most recent fare from Accept, including this year’s excellent Too Mean To Die, this is just a bit too Eurovision in its style and substance. The title track is routine, and despite the gloss on it, there’s just not a lot to become enamoured about. Face of A Stranger is of similar standard style. It follows a traditional blueprint which isn’t at all bad but simply is a bit uninspiring. The same can be said of the third track, Where the Angels Fly, albeit that this is more of a ballad and the kind of limp stuff Sabaton now peddle, and it doesn’t really float any part of my boat. Overall, this is one for serious fans only. Sometimes I think the legacy and history is better left where it should be. In the past. 5/10

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