I really like the inclusion of the little melody (or it is the start of Adrian's solo) under the verses (it starts around 2:12) - it's a small feature/detail, but it adds something extra to the dramatic feel of the song and you know a solo is coming.
Boom. A thunderous hit of the drums. More beats fall as fiery arrows begin to fly in from overhead - the sound of a growing guitar about to emerge. And then, with no other warning, Iron Maiden plunge us into album #17 with the epic opener and title track, "Senjutsu", aka "The Great Wall". The title gaff isn't something I worry over; as offensive as it can be to confuse Japanese culture with China and vice versa, I'll take Steve's word that the song is just about a wall, with Japanese imagery brought to life through the sounds we're now engulfed in and the Art of War strategies that are on displa... hold on, Sun Tzu was Chinese! What the hell, Steve???
H comes in with a heavy fucking riff as Nicko slides around the drumkit with finesse. Standing among the steeples, standing upon the walls, is our darkened guide, a gray-haired Bruce Dickinson, emerging from the shadows to tell us all a tale of bravery, courage, and resilience in the face of destruction. "Beat the warning, the sound of the drums. Set the beacons afire for them all!" Warriors take up their places as an army sweeps to overwhelm them. *Armies, actually, as we soon learn - invaders from the north, nomads from the plains, tribes from the south, even northern grasslands are awash with them all! The stakes have never felt higher and my god is this first verse just an utter masterpiece of lyricism and delivery. It's enthralling and empowering at the same time.
And then we get some payoff in the form of the song's chorus, where Nicko shifts the beat ever-so-slightly to underscore the rising of keys that we are greeting with for the first (and certainly not last) time on this album. This chorus soars above the battlefield with grace and grandeur, emblematic of the brave soldiers' heroism against the enemy. It's a fantastic call to arms.
The second verse isn't as well-composed as the first one, but it keeps the attention and builds on the narrative as the warriors stand and continue to fight off the enemy. Adrian and Dave lay down a couple of solos here; the first perfectly keeps the mood, while the latter is, eh, nothing special. We hit the chorus again and then wind down. Or so one would think, until you realize there's still like five minutes left in this mammoth. Bruce strains with all his might to wail of the battle and the steadfast soldiers keeping to their stand. I love the desperation and strength in the line, "What will save us? The great wall!!"
A slow and lengthy verse spills out in front of us, almost like a calm within the storm. The determination here is incredible. I do think that this is the one part of the song that feels a bit overlong, but I don't have a big gripe about it because it's all part of the framework at hand. The ancestors will guide our heroes as they fight off those who wish to destroy their homeland. Man. Jan gets a solo in here, too. A good Janick solo will always have his traditional lolly-gagging but he brings this to a glorious zenith just as Bruce calls out to the men again. They must fight and win and live to tell their sons of the glory.
Another chorus slides in to top things off and then just as you think the song is actually going to end... it keeps going again. Some little change-ups and an H solo which is... one of his lesser ones in all honesty. It starts great but then just warbles about to the end. But that's okay, solos don't make or break a song for me (usually) and the outro brings things to a close with a rumble and slight fade as sparks fly and leap out of sight.
I remember when everyone was saying that "If Eternity Should Fail" was an odd choice for an album opener, but this one pushes things further. But I like them both as introductions to their albums at large. We don't always have to jump in with energy, sometimes a little patience and push-and-pull works better. "Senjutsu" may run a little long at times, and the tempo never seems to build anywhere, but that's okay. The song is a great entrance to the album, slowly making its way forward with fantastic images brought to life. I love the story they tell, the shadows they incorporate, and all the little nuances of the performance, from Nicko's rhythms to Bruce's storytelling voice.
What a great first track! Not perfect per se, but so, so satisfying. 9/10
Drums and atmospheric gurgles lead into a slow and steady march. An ominous verse flows into an epic, melodic chorus. Another verse and we get a nice multi-part solo break with some eastern feel before returning to the slow, stately chorus.
A brief drum-driven interlude leads into a plaintive and memorable pre-chorus and variant chorus, then another solo. This returns to the pre-chorus, then flows back into the original chorus. A reprise of the drum-driven interlude builds into a more melodic guitar instrumental with some exotic soloing, then explosions and flames bring the track to an end.
There are elements of this song that I like a lot — the lyrical theme, the “theater of the mind” aspects, and the almost romantic feel of the chorus — but it also feels like it’s plodding through molasses and never really serves up the punch that the subject matter deserves. Good but not great, 7/10.