Review Summary: Three classic songs? Yes. A classic album? No, not really.
Why did you buy the Number of the Beast? I can think of two reasons. Either someone told you that it was the best Maiden album, or at least the definitive one, or you looked on the back and saw the song titles of three of the all time classic metal songs. I reckon that everything else will have been, to be quite honest, a bit inconvenient. Because, to be brutal, nothing else on this album even apporaches the same quality.
Lets start with the worst. The opening track, Invaders, still makes me almost physically sick. The main riff is frankly annoting, and I cannot think of a worse example of Bruce's voice than the truly appaling chorus. The verse utilises the same chord progression you can find at least twice on any Maiden album, but does it so much worse (listen to the difference between between this and Hallowed Be Thy Name if you will). The lyrics meanwhile amount to mild torture, and the worst bit of it is that they have done similar lyrics so much better (try Run to the Hills for Comparison). At least the solos are enjoyable, but considering the crap surrounding them, it just isn't enough.
Gangland is not a huge amount better. An empty sound and annoying drum beat, combined with similarly inane lyrics, makes for an almost equally cringeworthy effort. That it comes straight after Run to the Hills doesn't do it any favours, because it just cannot stand up to the challenge in the face of such competition.
I have no real problem with the rest of the songs. They just aren't that great. Yes, the Prisoner has a great intro riff and corresponding drumbeat, but chorus is pretty average, and the intro riff itself goes on a bit too long. Yes, Total Eclipse has an infectious and unusual chorus, but the verse riff is pedestrian and the solos unispired. 22 Acacia Avenue goes on for far too long, dragging what should have been a three minute stomper into six and losing pace whilst doing so. Finally, Children of the Damned, despite a brilliant vocal performance from Bruce, fails on the chorus and further more seems to drag 4 minutes 35 out to about six.
These songs however, are not the ones that catapulted Iron Maiden to world superstars. No, that honour falls to the three sings I have thus far failed to mention other than as comparisons. it is no fluke that Number of the Beast, Run the Hills and Hallowed be thy Name are still greeted with something bordering madness at live sets. Each of these three are stone cold masterpieces in their own rights and have between them defined Maiden in the 80s.
Number of the Beast is a surprisingly tricky song, especially the intro riff, and quite how Bruce ever reached that inhuman pitch to achieve the scream, I will never know. It sounds so vibrant, so full of energy. The solos are incredible (even a bass solo!) and the overall sound is one of a band at their peak.
Run to the Hills pulls off all the things which should not have worked. Songs about cowboys and indians should not be seriously good metal. The intro guitars should be annoying. It works however, perfectly. The gallop riff is as good here as anywhere else. The vocal performance (from Harris as well) is possibly the best in all of Maiden's catalogue, and the guitar interplay between Smith and Murray sounds like the two are bonded spirtiually, and understand exactly what will complement the other.
Hallowed be thy Name closes the album in grand style. Starting off calm and serene, with some of Maidens best lyrics, it perfectly conveys the sorrow and confusion felt by a condemned man. The tricky but catchy riff and superb rhythm during the verses build the tension magnificently as the execution draws nearer, until the music becomes unbearably frantic and , with the final wails of 'Hallowed be Thy Name' reaching deep into your soul and shaking it at its base, it fades into the calm collected refrain that closes the album.
Had these three songs not been present, this would not have made Maiden huge, nor would this album still be selling. Yes, the album is worth buying, but purely for these three songs. An album can only be a classic if every single track lives up to that standard, and it is the case I fear, that Number of the Beast is just a significnt one. I finsih by asking you one question. Would you have still bought this album if Number of the Beast, Run to the Hills and Hallowed be thy Name were not on the tracklist?