Review Summary: Simply put, the greatest.
When someone talks about the greatest heavy metal album of all time, the four albums that are consistently listed as the candidates are Paranoid, Reign In Blood, Master of Puppets and The Number of the Beast. But to me, what makes something the greatest are not the arguments for it, but how well they withstand the arguments against it. Master of Puppets simply influenced metal in too much of the wrong ways, not to mention is more or less a carbon copy of Ride The Lightning; Paranoid had Rat Salad & Planet Caravan; and Reign In Blood just feels underdeveloped, in addition to not having that much influence outside of so-called extreme metal. With The Number of the Beast however, at best the arguments against this are superfluous at best, and retardedly piecemeal at worst. I do hear certain grumblings about Gangland, or specifically how it should have been the B-side to Run To The Hills and Total Eclipse should have made the album. I do agree with this sentiment, but note the album version being discussed, which rectified the problem by having including both tracks near the end. Usually adding extra content to an album hurts it by giving it filler (see also, the remaster of Reign In Blood with the two bonus tracks), but this re-release actually improves the album, making it the definitive metal album. Even if you don't care much for Gangland, you have to admit it's still a proper metal song.
Some arguments might also claim that Iron Maiden would put out better albums than this with better lineups. While I agree with this sentiment, aside from maybe Powerslave, none of those albums reached the level of influence and acclaim that The Number of the Beast did. Not to mention that as amazing as Nicko is, there are still plenty of folks out there who still think Clive Burr was Maiden's best drummer. I don't agree with this, as usually the people who say this are the people who claim that Nicko only uses the ride cymbal to keep time. I counter with not only is that sentiment wrong, but Clive was only able to play in swing rhythms. Regardless, the point of all this was Clive was a fine drummer in his own right. Some of his drumming on this album being the finest moments of his career, such as the drum roll crescendo of Children of the Damned or the absolutely insane double time hi-hat rhythm of Run To The Hills. I get carpal tunnel syndrome just listening to it sometimes. Keep in mind this was a guy that was doing Wrathchild with one hand!
But this album's secret weapon are the tones. The vicious, bulking tones. This just might be Martin Birch's greatest production job ever. Before Ride The Lightning, Morbid Tales and Reign In Blood shoved a spike through the brains of the world, The Number of the Beast was the heaviest guitar sound on the planet. This and Killers set such a new standard in pain, crunch and tonality that by the time Judas Priest had caught up, thrash had already taken root. But I'm not just talking about guitar tones. Bruce's voice at this time is something truly nightmarish to behold. He was the perfect replacement for Paul Di'Anno because while he had a higher range, he still had that maniacal menace that was able to deliver the power and carnage of previous tunes like Prowler, Killers, Murders In The Rue Morgue and even Wrathchild. Best demonstrated on the brilliant double live outing Beast Over Hammersmith.
The laughable tag of New Wave of British Heavy Metal was laid to rest forever with this album. Everything after this point was simply heavy metal, classic metal, traditional metal, power metal, whatever the *** you want to call it. NWOBHM became the tag Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang and a hoist of others got imprisoned with simply because by 1982, they could no longer deliver the goods. Iron Maiden on the other hand, had manage to take the Jailbreaks, the Risings, The Heaven & Hells, the Sabotages, the Hemispheres and the Stained Classes and synthesize them all into one glorious sound comprised of songs that seemed simple and anthemic, but were quite complex on top. The title track is the best example of this, with its oddball 5/4 time signature intro riff. It also needs to be said that placing the two singles near the end of the album was a ballsy and smart move. The songs on side one of the album are all great in their own right, but there's a reason everyone knows and loves Run To The Hills, Number of the Beast and Hallowed Be Thy Name. Perhaps part of the grief Gangland gets is that it has to follow Run To The Hills and just doesn't have that Hellion quality riff to stop the listener from hitting the rewind/skip back button. Casual listeners do not like to explore albums, they like to repeat the singles over and over again and you better come up with one hell of a melody to keep them from skipping backwards. There's also the fact that most singles, or songs in general, can get old and stale with over play. That does not happen here. I'll never get tired of Run To The Hills, The Prisoner, 22 Acacia Avenue, Total Eclipse, etc., etc.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this brief essay on why The Number of The Beast is the greatest metal album of all time, (and not because you don't actually own the album). It forever stands the test of time of how this genre should always be approached from a songwriting perspective.