Review Summary: While being overrated, "Number of the Beast" is still an excellent effort that contains some of Maiden's best songs.
In 1982, Iron Maiden released their universally acclaimed album Number of the Beast. Though it initially fell to mixed reviews from critics, today, it is considered one of the best metal albums of all time, topping dozens of “Top Metal Albums Ever” lists. Many consider this to be Iron Maiden’s best album, and while I disagree and deem it to be a tad overrated, it is impossible to ignore that it is still one of their best.
Number of the Beast is one of those records that are up in the metal heavens along with Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Megadeth’s Rust in Peace. However, influential or not, when looking at every track critically, it doesn’t quite match up to those masterpieces. For instance, take into account the track entitled Children of the Damned. This song is a Maiden ballad, and there had only been about four or five of those since their debut. Unfortunately, the worst track on Number of the Beast is also the worst Maiden ballad up to that point. The biggest blemish are the vocals; Bruce attempted to be as aggressive as he would on any other Maiden song, but it completely ruined what could have been a solid track, as the vocals (and lyrics) are enough to divert one from what could have been a decent ballad. Despite a fantastic solo, Bruce’s ridiculous tones on this song and the irritating reiteration of the chorus are enough to make this a scar on the album. The one positive aspect to this is that it is the second song on the album, following the strong opener “Invaders”. While “Invaders” is only slightly above solid on its own, in the context of the album, it fits flawlessly and displays Maiden’s new, more refined sound. If Children of the Damned would have been the first track, or even the last, any listener could be displeased from the start of the album, or leave the album on a bad note, and we wouldn’t want that. The only other weak tracks on the album are Gangland and the Prisoner. Gangland opens up with a truly magnificent drum fill, but has zilch to offer past that, apart from an annoying chorus and a decent set of riffs. Luckily, the song is short, clocking in at less than four minutes. The Prisoner is a blessing and curse; while the song has an exceptional set of leads and some marvelous drumming, the whole theme is a bit cheesy, as are the lyrics, and the song is overlong.
Though Number of the Beast has some dreadful tracks on it, it’s definitely made up for. Contrary to what you may think, there are other justifications besides killer cuts like Hallowed be Thy Name that bring this album out of the foggy forest of musical failures and up to a four. It’s the production. Every track is made loud and clear, you can easily hear every note from every instrument. Though not flawless in the superiority of the tracks, the sound quality of the album makes it the perfect record for a road trip, a highly enjoyable rocker.
Now on to what makes this album a must-have. First and foremost, the phenomenal Hallowed be Thy Name has to be mentioned. Up until that point in their career, the only song that could even challenge Hallowed be thy Name as Maiden’s opus was Phantom of the Opera, the highlight track from their debut. It is purely paramount that every Iron Maiden fan knows this song; it’s their most admired tune by almost anyone that you would ask. Though it’s not my personal favorite song, it’s definitely Top three Maiden material, and definitely a perfect finale to the album. Hallowed be Thy Name features a quirky and epic intro, and at about the 1:10 mark, the most legendary Iron Maiden riff begins, and where the song goes from there is in about every astonishing direction you can think of. Upon listening, you will encounter the sparkling riffs between the guitars and bass, and never is a note out of place, accompanied by what is perhaps the most memorable vocal performance of Dickinson’s career. It’s almost impossible to describe entirely in words how fantastic this song is, so if you haven’t heard this thrilling jingle, take a listen.
While Hallowed be Thy Name is what makes this album as great as it is, there a few other tracks that are also terrific. Run to the Hills is another exceptional song, equally as famous as Hallowed be Thy Name. This one displays some of the best drum work you can hear from Maiden; a chilling intro that varies but never bores follows the high-pitched double guitar assaults throughout the song, and that same drum work echoes over the legendary chorus. The chorus itself is executed brilliantly in terms of the vocals; I hum the lines nearly every day.
Run, to the hills,
Run for your life,
Run, to the hills,
Run for your… LIFE!
Dazzling. Simple, but dazzling, the vocal melody is far catchier than any pop-punk song. Besides these two gems, the album features another, called 22 Acacia Avenue, which is yet another track that never drags, and this one is filled with elaborate harmonies and riffs galore; something the previous release entitled Killers lacked. 22 Acacia Avenue also features another fantastic vocal performance by Dickinson, one that is not easily forgotten.
All in all, while this album is not Maiden’s true opus, this record has some truly striking tracks, though it’s accompanied by some weaker ones. Definitely a must have from Iron Maiden, this is when they finally refined their sound into the style that later masterpieces like Piece of Mind and Powerslave displayed. The album is worth getting for the tracks that I recommend. This is yet another excellent effort from the British beasts.
“Hallowed be Thy Name”
“Run to the Hills”
“22 Acacia Avenue”