Review Summary: Iron Maiden's cliche album.
If you know only 2 or 3 songs by Iron Maiden, chances are they probably come from this album. Need I name a few? Alright: Run to the Hills, Number of the Beast, Hallowed Be Thy Name. As expected, they're from "Number of the Beast". "Number of the Beast" is widely regarded by the masses to be their magnum opus. Strangely enough, both Bruce and Steve consider the following album ("Piece of Mind") to be much better.
"Number of the Beast" marked a start to a new era for Maiden. Gone was Paul Di'Anno, as he caused lots of trouble- getting drunk and stoned to the point where he couldn't sing onstage, carrying a knife and subsequently being arrested, engaging in prostitution among many things he did. In came Bruce Dickinson, who is considered by many to be an instant upgrade. His soaring, operatic vocals gave the band the sound they were aiming for. His and Steve Harris' relationship was a rocky one- both engaged in war over stage presence and songwriting. One particularly funny story was that Bruce would often adjust the length of his mic stand so if Steve tried to get in his way, he'd trip!
Also among the new things for Maiden in store was a more metallic style of music. The band had still kept traces of their more punkish sound from Killers, but the style grew increasingly heavier as the albums went on. And it sure fit Bruce's vocals. On the opening track ("Invaders") alone, Bruce lets his pipes shine. The fast paced instrumentals and lyrics about Vikings at war would be hard tompull off with Paul's raspy, punk rock style, but Brucey hits all sorts of amazing high notes, particularly in the chorus: "In-VADERS! RAPING!!! In-VADERS!! MARAAAAAUDING!!!!"
Now all but one track are pretty great. "Children of the Damned" reminds one of "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" by Jimi Hendrix, with the similar sounding intro (albeit in a different key). The lyrics are based on the classic "Village of the Damned" and the shift from acoustic to electric is just incredible. The middle contains these particularly lovely lyrics: "Now it's burning his hands/he's starting to laugh/smiles as the blaze sears his flesh/melting his face/screaming in pain/peeling the skin from his eyes/watch him die/according to plan/he's dust on the ground/what did we learn?" before exploding into a blazingly heavy instrumental section with an amazing solo.
Then comes "The Prisoner". After a sample from the eponymous TV show, the song has a Led Zeppelinish next few bars before turning into 5 minutes of pure metal fun. Bruce let's his vocals soar and some amazing solo work from H and Davey help compliment the song's overall fun feel. "22 Acacia Avenue" follows the Charlotte the Harlot saga, a saga about a notorious London prostitute. The song's breakdown in the middle is without a doubt the best part of the song. "Gangland" is a fast paced and fun song, however it's too short and is incredibly rushed. However, if there's one thing you must make note of is the amazing high notes Bruce hits- especially at the end, where he ends the song with the extremely histrionic, "Dead MEEEEEEEEEEEN TELL! NO! TALES!!!!!". Clive Burr's drumming is also incredibly amazing and blistering as all ***. The intro in particular shows how fast he can drum- it makes you wonder if he's even human!
I'm you've heard the three hits above so I'll skip this. "but dude, this is an album review--" fine. "Number of the Beast" is the song your parents didn't want you listening to in the eighties because it was EEEEEEVIL AND SATANIC! Yet the song is catchy and fun, with a blistering solo from Dave Murray, and a classic solo from Adrian Smith that is fun to air guitar to. Among the highlights of the song is Bruce's scream at the beginning that wasn't originally in there. This is because Bruce was sick and tired of Steve's insistence on multiple takes of the intro, to the point where during one of them, he just let a huge one out! "Run to the Hills" is a fun and catchy singalong tune with fun galloping bass and drums, and Bruce's soaring vocals in the chorus. Guranteed, at a concert, you'll find it hard not to sing along to the famous of chorus: "Run tooooooo the hiiiiiiiiils... run FOOOOOOOOR your liiiiiiiiives!!!!".
And one paragraph had to be reserved for the greatest song of all time: "Hallowed be thy Name". Ladies and gents, this is what Maiden is all about in a 7 minute package. The intro with the chimes and lyrics that set the scene for an inmate's last moments on death row: "I'm waiting in my cold cell/when the bell begins to chime/reflecting on my past life/'cause it doesn't have much time/'cause at five o clock they take me to the gallows pole/the sands of time, for me, are running low...", before the song leads into a mid-tempo metal tune with beautiful guitar harmonies. Then in the last few minutes, the song explodes into a fast paced tune with two beautiful solos courtesy of Dave and H. Then the last minute has an amazing lead out, with a few bars of beautiful harmonization and the Bruce's "YEEEEAAAAAH, HALLOWED BE THY NAME!" this song has remined a concert staple since the album's release, with the exception of their recent "Maiden England World Tour" due to problems with Bruce's voice, and understandably so.
One point gets deducted for a song that I consider to be the second worst in Maiden's catalogue: "Total Eclipse". Thankfully this song isn't on the vinyl, but the song has a very disjointed and boring feel, with a solo that is rather just subpar at best. The song does show some hope with Bruce's soaring D5's near the end, but even that can save the song from being extremely boring as hell. There's a reason it was left off the album!
Overall, if musical evolution has taught me one thing, it's that every band has a "cliche" album one point- the one that's made note of most by music publications and what not. To name a few, Rush has "Moving Pictures". Judas Priest has "British Steel". Paul Simon has "Graceland" Diamanda Galas has "The Singer". Need I continue? And Maiden's is this album, "Number of the Beast", which shot the band to fame even despite getting no attention from mainstream media.
Obviously I'd recommend this album to start with if you're new to Maiden, because it's easily their most accessible. But I have to side with Bruce and Arry and say that the following album is much better, and compared to it, this is more of a sign of things to come. Still, it remains an important part of the band's history, and is full of many standout tracks.