Iron Maiden – Stratego (single): Progressive Review

Stratego by Iron Maiden is the second single off the new album Senjutsu slated for release in a couple of weeks on September 3. The song is live on all digital platforms since August 19 2021 and here, in what I call a progressive review, I’ll be journaling about my listens of this brand new and highly anticipated song by one of my all-time favourite bands.

I found the previous single, The Writing On The Wall, pretty decent: maybe it’s a bit simple in structure and execution, but I still have the chorus planted in my head that pushes to be sung at the top of my lungs, so I think that to a certain extent Maiden have hit the mark. Now for Stratego, I’m not expecting anything in particular: I just hope it’s not repetitive and that Bruce has the good sense not to sing all the time on high pitches, on which it’s obvious he no longer arrives and which sound forced and shrill. He still has a great voice when he stays in his comfort zone, so why should he shriek like that?

I finish these introductory lines when there are only a handful of minutes left until the X hour. I think it never happened to me before to listen to a new song at the very moment of its release. I feel a bit of excitement, it reminds me of the trepidation I used to feel years ago, when I was still in my 20’s waiting for new releases. At the time I would have enjoyed a moment like that immensely. Okay, here we go, it’s 7pm: time to refresh the Spotify page… There it is Stratego, with its blood red red cover sporting samurai Eddie in all its glory! Click play… Technical problems with Spotify, the song doesn’t start! I’m gonna reboot the app and try again, see you in a few minutes.

Listen 1

  • System: PC with USB DAC, tube headphone amp, Beyerdynamic DT880/600ohm
  • Source: Spotify

Nice galloping! We are off to a good start. Rockin’ and clean sounds, clear mixing until the the voice kicks in, and it is a bit muffled, I think they could have done something better here, an issue that is also on The Writing On The Wall and that at this point I think will be a characteristic of the whole album. The use of echo on Bruce’s voice seems fitting. The lead guitar is a bit too far back on the verse, on the plus side it urges me to turn up the volume on the amp and the involvement increases.

Riff and vocal melodies in the verse are very reminiscent of Brave New World, and Ghost Of the Navigator comes to mind; that’s not a bad thing all things considered. The chorus is also nice, very catchy and sung on notes that Bruce manages to handle well and not sound forced. I also dig the choice of synths, a bit dungeony sounding.
The songs flows beautifully and its over sooner than its 5 minutes of duration. I really enjoyed it and I’ll put it back on immediately, just the time to make a couple of quick posts on social networks plus a whatsapp of congratulations to a dear friend of mine, leader of Maiden Division, an excellent Italian Maiden tribute band.

Listens 2-5

  • System: PC with USB DAC, tube headphone amp, Beyerdynamic DT880/600ohm
  • Source: Spotify

Honestly there’s not much to say, the song is more than decent, it works very well and is very enjoyable from start to finish. The duration is perfect and you happily play it again as soon as it ends. Better than several tracks on Brave New World, as far as I’m concerned. Promoted!

Some people on social media criticize the production, saying the sound sucks and Kevin Shirley is not suitable for Iron Maiden. I can only agree in part. First, I love the way Brave New World sounds and I wish every subsequent Maiden album was blessed with the same level of clarity and power. Shirley was great on BNW, so he IS good and he IS suitable for Maiden. Still, it cannot be denied that the following albums have been marked by at least questionable production and mixing choices, which probably do not depend only on Caveman.

Back to Stratego. On my system the sound quality is very good, on par with many other well produced metal records I own. So much so that I can turn the volume up to levels much higher than what is comfortable for me and not hear distortion. That is true as long as there are no vocals in the mix. Bruce’s main vocal parts are too in the back, sound muffled in the mix, kinda dark, rough and also overly compressed, I get the feeling they occasionally suffer from clipping. They sound different from everything else, even the backing vocals, which sound almost crystal clear in comparison.

Very strange indeed. Why this different treatment? It makes me think that the lead and backing vocals were recorded at different times, with different equipment, to uneven results. Otherwise, I cannot explain the technical and artistic choice to treat the main vocals in this way. It’s not that they gain anything from it, on the contrary… Still, they don’t sound bad at all, but could sound way better IMHO.

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