The Number of The Beast is the first of Iron Maiden’s 4 consecutive classic releases, and an absolutely essential piece in any metal fan’s collection. For those not familiar with the metal genre, this is an excellent place to start, especially if they are familiar with the heavier bands of 70s rock, such as Led Zeppelin, Rush, and the Who.
This album marks long-time singer Bruce Dickinson’s debut with the band, and he makes his mark quickly as Maiden pulls away from the punk influence of former vocalist Paul Di’Anno (who was kicked out of the band for his descent into alcoholism), and adopts the style that will make them pioneers in the genre. Steve Harris really steps into his own as a songwriter on this album, as both the lyrics and music become increasingly complex and showcase the instrumental talent of the band on a level that Maiden’s two previous albums, while strong in their own right, just never reached.
Of the 9 songs on Number of the Beast, I would say that the only two that would even qualify as mediocre are ‘22 Acacia Avenue’ and ‘Gangland’. ‘The Prisoner’ is based on the TV show of the same name, and features a great chorus by Dickinson and some nice guitar work by both Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. ‘Invaders’ is in my opinion an underrated gem, featuring a fast, catchy guitar riff that carries the song and goes great with Dickinson’s ‘air raid siren’ vocals. ‘Children of the Damned’ and ‘Total Eclipse’ are both worth a listen as well, though I had to listen both several times before I appreciated them.
There are three tracks on Number of the Beast (which, to put it in perspective, is a third of the album) that are considered absolute classics by just about all Maiden fans. The first is the title track. ‘The Number of the Beast’ is a great piece of music with some classic riffing augmented by Steve Harris’s powerful basslines and not one, but two great guitar solos. ‘The Number of the Beast’ is not, as many believe, a Satanist song. In fact, the song is based on a recurring nightmare had by lead guitarist Adrian Smith of being tortured by the devil. So in a way, the song has the exact opposite message many abscribe to it. Besides, the Rolling Stones had a song about Satan, and it was one of their biggest hits. You don’t hear many people calling Mick Jagger a Satanist, do you? Most of the people who accuse Iron Maiden of Satanism or promoting violence get these ideas from their morbid cover art and the total inability to understand satire (for instance, ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’ is not a song about going on killing rampages, but rather an anti-war song).
But I digress. The second classic metal song on this album is ‘Run to the Hills’, which is about the genocide of the Native Americans during the years of American colonization by the British. This is the first song to use the ‘galloping’ guitar riff style that is used again in ‘The Trooper’, from their next album. Bruce’s vocals are in full force this time around, with his singing sounding near operatic in its intensity, and Smith and Murray once again put together fantastic dual guitar solos.
The final song on this album, ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ is not only the best song on the album, but in my opinion Iron Maiden’s best song altogether, and quite possibly the best rock song ever written. ‘Hallowed’, a 7-minute epic, features what are easily some of Harris’s most cerebral lyrics, about a jailed man waiting to be hanged reflecting on the nature of his life and reality in general. ‘Hallowed’ features a dazzlingly complex song structure, with Harris’s chugging bass once again providing the foundation for an assortment of terrific riffs by Smith and Murray and another exemplary vocal performance by Bruce. Toss in an absolutely jaw-dropping guitar solo by Smith (who truly was born to shred), and you have a song, and an album, that no real, or even casual, metal fan should be without.
For those who liked this album, further recommendations include:
Piece of Mind – Iron Maiden
Powerslave – Iron Maiden
Holy Diver – Dio
Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath