The year was 1982. The rising stars of heavy metal, Iron Maiden was just about to release their third full length album The Number of the Beast
. However, the band had just ditched the man behind the mic, Paul Di'Anno, and hired ex-Samson vocalist, Bruce Dickinson. At the time, replacing Di'Anno was a huge risk for the band, and many critics predicted the end of Iron Maiden. But that with simply not going to be the case.
Far from it, actually. On March 22, 1982, the band released The Number of the Beast
. The new album was a huge success, helping the band reach #1 in the UK charts for the first time. The Number of the Beast
was also quite controversial, with the dark themes of some of the songs influencing claims of Maiden being devil worshippers, which the band denied. Of course, the controversy gave the band plenty of free publicity, especially in the States, where the band had not fully broken out yet.
The album starts off with "Invaders". One of the fastest songs Maiden had done at the time, "Invaders" dispelled any notion that the band was in trouble. Bruce's operatic vocal style worked wonders for the band and made it possible for Harris to write songs like this. Steve's bass lines are superb throughout the song, and stick out among the speedy riffs and aggressive drumming from Clive. Dave Murray has a speedy, yet criminally short solo, which is followed up by Adrian Smith's slower, yet effective solo. The lyrics describe a viking invasion, and are quite cheesy, but at the same time, rhyme well, and are thought out. A great opener to the album, but certainly not what it's known for.
Up next is "Children of the Damned", one of the albums best songs. Bruce's vocals are again, second to none and even top his last effort. The song mixes clean guitar riffs, with heavier, more distorted ones during the choruses and later parts of the song. The lyrics are dark and at times explicit (see second last verse), but are written to Bruce Dickinson's catchy vocal lines. Adrian Smith's solo isn't anything spectacular considering his talents, but it manages not to ruin the mood of the song. "Children of the Damned" is an excellent song and a recommended track for new listeners.
The next song lightens the mood a little bit. "The Prisoner", a song based on the 60's TV series of the same name, starts with a dialogue from the show. Following the dialogue is a lengthy, minute or so long instrumental. While it isn't technically impressive, the intro sets the atmosphere for the rest of the song. Bruce's singing is powerful, and invokes that of a desperate fugitive. The harmonies before the solos are pulled off very well and lead directly into the solos, which seem very inspired. On all counts, this is a solid track, and keeps the listener interested. Classic Iron Maiden.
The second instalment of the Charlotte saga appears on this album. "22 Acacia Avenue" again revisits the ailing relationship between the protagonist and Charlotte, the local prostitute. The lyrics seem less serious this time out with some silly lines popping up here and there. The Harris penned lyrics are brought to life by Bruce's varying vocal range and everything works out exceedingly well. The musical portion of the song was written by Adrian Smith and is an older piece. It features several time changes and is exciting from start to finish. Each musician follows Bruce's vocal lines superbly, and when the music takes the spotlight, it does an excellent job of keeping up the pace. The music is very melodic and the production adds to the hectic environment. The song ends eerily with Bruce singing "You're packing your bags/you're coming with me!" A mysterious riff finishes off the song, leaving the upcoming events in the saga to the imagination of the listener.
One of the most well known Iron Maiden songs comes up next. "The Number of the Beast" is also considered by many to be one of the bands best songs along with the likes of "Hallowed Be Thy Name", "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". I don't really buy into those claims, but I still feel that The Number of the Beast is an important song in the band's history and rather good. The jack of all trades, the title track had just the right amount of lyrical genius, catchy riffs, and controversial effect that helped mold Maiden into a popular, successful band that went on to dominate the rest of the decade. Starting with a spoken intro that combines two biblical passages from the Book of Revelations, the song then restarts with a memorable guitar intro played while Bruce introduces the feelings that the protagonist has after a strange night out. Based partly on a dream of Steve's and the movie The Omen II, the lyrics are very well written and send vivid images into the minds of the listener. Bruce's unique vocals are very powerful, especially during the chorus which was seemingly made for thousands of people to sing along with during live shows. Musically, the song is very energetic and fast paced. For me, the highlight is the instrumental section of the song which lasts for over a minute. Dave Murray's impressive solo is very atmospheric and a good indicative of the band's skill. Though "The Number of the Beast" took a very long time to grow on me, I would definitely recommend it to newer fans of the band.
Following one of the band's most popular songs is yet again, another one of the band's most popular songs, "Run to the Hills". While I can understand the fanfare of The Number of the Beast, the popularity of this song completely dumbfounds me. Despite good performances from each of the members, the song is simple and very tedious, with very little change throughout. Much like "Flight of Icarus", which was written for the Piece of Mind
album, the song completely relies on Bruce's vocals to maintain any sort of interest. "Run to the Hills" completely abuses the band's galloping riff technique and after a couple listens, becomes annoying. However, the song still contains some positives. For one, the songs lyrics are very good, describing the conflicts between the Native Americans and the Europeans from both side, Natives in the first verse and Europeans in the rest of the verses. Dave Murray also plays a brief solo that tries to mix things up, which is then followed up by a cool, yet uninspiring build up that leads into the final chorus. The song lacks any real hook and is rather sub-par for Maiden's standards.
Next up is "Gangland", one of two songs on the album co-produced by drummer Clive Burr. This song is one of the more unpopular Maiden songs, rightfully so as it isn't exactly special. The band displays a lot of energy in the song and as a result it's a lot more exciting that the previous song. The song has an eerie feel to it, particularly during the chorus, which fits the dark themes of the album very well. The harmony section through to Adrian Smith's short solo is easily the best part of the song and every once and awhile it is very pleasing to listen to. The rest of the song is a mixed bag, which some of the verses feeling a little cluttered or muddy and others being satisfactory. "Gangland" is a meh song which could have been much better.
The second to last song is "Total Eclipse". Like "Twilight Zone" off of Killers
, Total Eclipse was not included on the original album, instead being neglected to B-Side status in favour of Gangland. Why they made that decision is a mystery to me as "Total Eclipse" is superior to "Gangland" in almost ever way. "Total Eclipse" is a very good song, containing excellent riffs and some of the best lyrics of the album. The song's lyrics describe a catastrophic natural disaster and uses clever imagery to get the song's point across. The solos are great and enhance the mood of the very well. Bruce's vocal lines fit the dark lyrics which makes the song more enjoyable. Total Eclipse is not a classic, but the riffs will get you headbanging for a good four and a half minutes.
Finally we come across the last song of the 45 minute album. It is here that Iron Maiden wrote and recorded one of their greatest songs of their career, and one of the best in the scene, "Hallowed Be Thy Name". The song combines a perfect amount of musical talent, emotion, lyrical skill, and whatever else is needed to create a powerful song such as this. The emotional depth found on this song is matched by no other song in Iron Maiden's catalogue. The lyrics describe the thoughts, reflections, hopes and understanding that a man facing the death penalty goes through. The result of Bruce's seemingly inspired voice combined with the Steve Harris penned lyrics is epic enough to send shivers down the spines of any metalhead. Not to be left behind is the musical aspect of the song. From the bells that open the song to the strong ending, Iron Maiden never lets up. The band churns out melodic riff after melodic riff and they connect and flow flawlessly. "Hallowed Be Thy Name" showcases the band's superb songwriting skills and is no doubt an influence on future Steve Harris epics such as "To Tame A Land", "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", and "Alexander the Great". "Hallowed Be Thy Name" is an essential song to any fans collection, and is among the band's best works.
The Number of the Beast
was Iron Maiden's breakthrough album and a very important one in the band's career. It was their first album to reach #1 in the charts, and spawned hit singles such as the title track and "Run to the Hills", which are still played in concert to this very day. It was instrumental in developing both the band's unique sound, as well as a heavy metal genre just ready to take off. Any fan of the genre should definitely pick this up if they haven't already done so. In the sense that The Number of the Beast
was very influential and commercially successful, The Number of the Beast can be declared a classic in the world of metal.