Review Summary: Iron Maiden handles lineup changes and musical changes with grace and create a classic.
Iron Maiden’s third studio album was the first major turning point for the band. This was the first release with the vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, a man who would become the face of Iron Maiden in the years to come. The band updated their sound to allow his voice to reach its full potential; The Number of the Beast has a more epic and grandiose feel than the previous two records with Paul Di’Anno. This is also the album that made them famous; a large part of that is due to the controversy surrounding the record at the time it was released. (The album was under fire by Christian conservative groups for allegedly promoting Satanism with the album artwork and lyrics to the title track of the album.) For those of you who are worried, don’t be; Steve Harris dispelled those rumors long ago. However, the controversy attracted plenty of attention from the mainstream media, who were curious about just how “satanic” the album was, and they listened to it and liked it, and the news spread. Thus, Iron Maiden’s music was exposed to the public, and that made them who they are today.
Aside from the controversy, The Number of the Beast is famous for another reason - and that is the sheer quality of the songs. Three of the band’s most well-known classics: “Number of the Beast”, “Run to the Hills”, and “Hallowed Be Thy Name” call this album home. The latter in particularly, is an absolute metal classic and considered by many to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, heavy metal song out there. With its construction, tight riffs, and charisma, it’s hard to not call this the best song on the album. The title track begins with an eerie speaking of a passage from Revelations which leads into Bruce singing over a brilliant riff, before he unleashes an absolutely blood-curling and amazing scream; one of the best in all of metal for sure. From there, the song is just a riff-fest. The popular single, “Run to the Hills”, is next. It’s not as complicated as other songs, but it’s a great song to listen to and just enjoy; plus it has the kind of chorus you hear once and never forget for the rest of your life.
In a record with all these famous songs, the other ones will undoubtedly slip under the radar. “Children of the Damned” is a clear standout track that begins softly and eerily, and builds in intensity during the bridge, and culminates in a terrific solo and ending. It’s only four and a half minutes long, but it feels just as epic and powerful as the band’s future progressive material such as “Dance of Death” and “Brighter than a Thousand Suns”. The opener “Invaders”, one of Maiden’s fastest and heaviest tracks, bristles with energy, and “The Prisoner” contains one of Maiden’s best choruses. “22 Acacia Avenue” shows the band dipping their toes into the progressive genre, which we’ll see a lot more of later on. The only track that falls behind is “Gangland”, but the heavy and doomy b-side, “Total Eclipse” makes up for it.
It is absolutely applaudable that Iron Maiden was able to craft such a formidable record given their circumstances. The change in vocalists was so graceful, unlike the change involving Blaze Bayley, where he didn’t adapt as easily. Bruce Dickinson carried the band to new heights in all areas. He set himself no limits; his range and power is shown in each and every song, and the theatrical quality of his voice gives him a brilliant presence. The band elevated themselves too. The two guitarist’s riffs and solos are inspired, even by their standards, and Steve Harris’s signature bass style is starting to form too. Clive Burr also displays some great beats on his last album with the band. The lyrical work is impressive too, particularly in “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and, of course, good old “22 Acacia Avenue”.
But above all, the songwriting is the best part of the record. Every riff and solo progresses right into another one with ease. Iron Maiden doesn’t stick to verse-chorus structures, but don’t go too far out either. The tracks are all varied, but all produce the same general atmosphere, so they add up to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This is what I consider the key to a great record.
The Number of the Beast isn’t a perfect record, nor Maiden’s best. There are a few things I would change; major things like replacing “Gangland” with “Total Eclipse” and improving the weak chorus on “Invaders”, and smaller things like putting the title track first in the tracklist. But, in the grand scheme of things, the negatives pale in comparison to the positives. I wonder if the conservatives back in the eighties would have still burned Iron Maiden records if they had actually listened to it. Doubt it...
Iron Maiden Review 7/15