Iron Maiden needed to come up with something special for this, their third album. All of the material they came up with prior to getting a recording contract was used on their first two albums (their 1980 self-titled debut and 1981’s KILLERS). From a songwriting standpoint, they had to start from scratch for this album. Also, this was the first album they did with then-new singer Bruce Dickinson. Dickinson sounded nothing like his predecessor, Paul Di’Anno. The band was taking a big chance at a critical point in their career. On top of all this, Maiden didn’t release THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST in time for the English tour. So British fans heard the new material live before they even had a chance to buy the album. What was the end result of all this? THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST went straight to the #1 spot on the British album charts when it was released. This was Maiden’s first gold album in America(at least 500,000 copies sold). From a songwriting standpoint, only Maiden’s self-titled debut may be better. As a singer, Bruce Dickinson is leaps and bounds ahead of Paul Di’Anno.
The album opens strongly with “Invaders”, a hard-driving song about the Viking invasion of England. This would be a great song to open a show with, but for some reason Maiden has rarely played it live. “Children Of The Damned” is a song about the movie of the same name. The song has melodic verses and harsh choruses. Hmmmmm….I wonder of Kurt Cobain was influenced by this song. “The Prisoner” is based on the 1960’s TV series. It opens with a soundclip from the show. The song kicks in with Clive Burr’s swing-time drum intro, and then the rest of the band comes in. It absolutely kicks ass. I’m surprised advertisers haven’t picked up on it for use in TV commercials. There’s some great guitar work in “The Prisoner”, and it also has a surprisingly catchy chorus. “22 Acacia Avenue” was actually a song that guitarist Adrian Smith came up with several years before he joined the band. He re-worked it a bit with bassist Steve Harris (i.e. they added lots of time changes), and the song became a staple in the bands live set for two or three tours. Lyrically, the song is about a prostitute. Smith’s co-guitarist, Dave Murray, has a very bluesy solo in the song.
The next song is the album’s title track, “The Number Of The Beast”. This is the song that got the band into so much trouble with religious protesters here in America. The song opens with a spoken-word reading from the Book of Revelations. If you sit down and read the lyrics to the entire song (from start to finish), you should realize that the song is about someone having a nightmare. Fundamentalist Christians chose not to see it that way. When Maiden took the BEAST ON THE ROAD tour to America, there were protesters at the venues. Iron Maiden are NOT devil worshippers. They write songs about a wide variety of subjects, as you may have noticed in my review so far. Some of the songs from their other albums are actually quite reverant. Still, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? Anyway, the song just kicks ass from start to finish. Clive Burr’s drumming is amazing and Dave Murray’s guitar solo is totally wild. “Run To The Hills” is probably the band’s most famous song. Clive Burr’s drum-intro has to be one the most recognizable pieces in the history of metal music. The lyrics deal with the mistreatment of Native Americans by white settlers, which is a strange thing for a British band to write about. The main guitar riff is killer and the chorus is absolutely huge. Next we come to the much-maligned “Gangland”. Most people think this song is the album’s one weak spot, but I disagree. True, you’ll probably never hear someone yell out “Play Gangland!!!” at a Maiden concert, but the song is also not the abortion everyone makes it out to be. If you want to hear an abortion, check out “Quest For Fire” from PIECE OF MIND. The song has another killer drum-intro by Clive Burr. In fact, Clive co-wrote the song with Adrian Smith. The song is fast and furious. When THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST was originally released in 1982, the song “Total Eclipse” was not on it. This song was the B-side for the “Run To The Hills” single. It was added when re-mastered versions of the band’s albums were released in the 1990’s. It’s a pretty good song that deals with the destruction of mankind by “Mother Nature”. The live version of “Total Eclipse” from the band’s 1982 show at Hammersmith Odeon in London is better. Finally we come to the album’s closer “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. This is a classic Maiden song. Its’ somber intro contains tolling bells, a melodic yet chilling guitar line, and Bruce Dickinson singing in the first person about someone who is about to be executed. The whole band then kicks in and song starts rocking very hard. The song has several time changes. There is also a guitar harmony section following the solos. Lyrically, the deals with what goes through a person’s mind before they are executed. This is an all-around powerful song.
The only negative thing I can say about this album is that it is the last one with Clive Burr. He left the band for personal reasons at the end of the BEAST ON THE ROAD tour in December of ‘82. He was the best drummer the band ever had. Clive was immediately replaced with Nicko McBrain. Nicko is a pretty good drummer, but he lacks Clive’s power. Maiden lost a step – particularly as a live band – when Clive left.
THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST opened so many doors for Maiden. When they toured America in 1983 to support their PIECE OF MIND album, they headlined from coast to coast for the first time. Throughout the 1980s, they were one of the biggest musical acts in the world. And they did all this with little or no support from MTV, radio, and the mainstream rock press. Their success enabled so many other hard rock and heavy metal bands to become famous as well. That’s why THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST is the best heavy metal album of all time. I also believe that Iron Maiden belong in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.