Our 2021 Annual Report continues with an interview with drummer Nicko McBrain of the legendary Iron Maiden, whose Senjutsu album tops our list of the Top 30 Metal & Hard Rock Albums of 2021. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.
Iron Maiden were the highest-profile metal band to drop an album in 2021, and the hype was enormous. With extra time to plan the LP’s rollout due to the pandemic, the legendary British band cooked up the enticing “Belshazzar’s Feast” teaser before unveiling the epic music video for “The Writing on the Wall.” Soon after, Iron Maiden announced their unveiled their 17th studio effort, Senjutsu, and Samurai Eddie became the face of heavy metal in 2021.
The album lived up to the high expectations set by the lead single, and earlier this week, Senjutsu landed in the No. 1 spot on our Top 30 Metal & Hard Rock Albums of 2021 list.
We recently caught up with Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain to discuss the making of the LP, the effects of the pandemic on the band’s operations, and what lies ahead as Maiden head back out on their 2022 “Legacy of the Beast” tour (tickets available here).
Check out the Q&A below.
When did you first start thinking about Senjutsu?
We discussed doing a new record on The Book of Souls tour — towards the end of the first part of that back in 2016. So we thought, well, we’ve got some time between the first part of the [“Legacy of the Beast”] tour in 2018 and the 2019 part of the tour. There was about two or three months off: Christmas, New Year’s — a couple months there. So we booked the studio, which was good, because you have to make sure you get into a room if you wanna make an album [laughs]. So, we penciled it in. Then we decided at the end of February  to start work on the album. Because we had the time off.
What was the studio recording process like?
I gotta be honest with you: I had a bit of a moan and a grumble when I got into the studio. I said to the boys, I said to [singer] Bruce [Dickinson], “What the hell are we doing in here doing a new record?” And he said, “Well, you know, we did discuss this thing.” I said, “Well, it’s the middle of bloody winter, right in Paris.” So I was a bit [whiney] and moany for a few days, because I don’t like the cold. That’s why I live in Florida, mate [laughs]. The deal was, we had the studio booked for two or three months, so we used the room to write in, but we set the equipment up [to record] — like we had done with Book of Souls.
When we felt we were ready to record part of the song, we went out and did it. And the thing was that [engineer/producer] Kevin [Shirley] was with us from Day 1. Whereas on The Book of Souls, we had like three weeks all setup in the studio, but not ready to record. Everything [on Senjutsu] was written and rehearsed and recorded in that same room. That was February through the end of April.
Did the career-spanning “Legacy of the Beast” tour influence the varied songwriting on Senjutsu?
I think there was definitely a bit of influence. Sonically, there’s a couple of tracks where I think it sounds like us when we were back in the ’80s. When we were doing “Flight of Icarus,” we hadn’t played that since 1986. I think there is an influence on this new album from some of our earlier work… possibly, when Steve [Harris] was writing his epic songs or co-writing with Janick [Gers]. It could be that it was in the back of their mind when they were writing.
How do you balance Iron Maiden’s creative vision with the lofty expectations of fans?
Of course, we’ve got the best fans in the world. We got the best critics, and we got some of the most stupid critics in the world, as well. I’ve gotta be honest, we’re a very selfish, motivated band. We love our fans. When we go out on tour, that’s when we think of you guys: What do you wanna see? But it’s not the main motivation. Because if you get lost in that world… “What do you think all these fans wanna see?”… You’re gonna have different fans and attitudes around different parts of the world. You’re all one big family, but say South America… they might want to hear certain older songs or whatever.
But from an album standpoint, when we go in the studio, I’m sorry, none of you lot out there are even thought one millisecond about. Please don’t get offended any of you lot out there. We just write what we — at that time in that studio, in that circle of the sun, if you like, where we are in that time of our lives — come up with. There’s a lot of pressure on the writers, but we all tend to be able to suck that pressure in. Like an atomic bomb, we’ve got this nucleus, then we explode within the song. Once the song is written, that’s where Maiden come alive and we make it ours.
The fans, we really think about you guys primarily when we’re putting tours together and the visual aspect of it. But we are really very selfish. We do it for ourselves really. And we pretty much know what you like, so that’s where you guys come into it.