As I sit typing this, Iron Maiden is currently embarking on their Legacy of the Beast tour. Legacy of the Beast is Iron Maiden’s mobile game. If you didn’t know, Iron Maiden rule the world. So because their Los Angeles show is coming up; what better time to write a review of all sixteen of their albums leading up to it. Their show is Saturday, September 14th at the Banc of California Stadium. So every work day (including one day with two), there will be a song-by-song Iron Maiden album review. On to their third landmark album: Number of the Beast.
Yesterday was a review for Killers, if you missed that one, check it out first.
Some Background on the Beast
The early 80’s were a time of turmoil for Iron Maiden. They were one of the most popular young acts in heavy metal. Paul Di’Anno was self-destructing though. Steve Harris had seen a new singer in the band Samson before though. He knew he wanted to make a change from Di’Anno. Enter Bruce Dickinson. Already known in the heavy metal community as an air-raid siren of a vocalist. Rod Smallwood, the manager of Iron Maiden had a meeting with Bruce and it was decided he would be the new singer.
The band had little time in between a small tour to get Bruce ready, and recording of the new album. After approximately five weeks they had Number of the Beast ready. Bruce Dickinson was legally unable to contribute to the writing of the album because of his previous band. He’s stated in the years following that he had a moral contribution to “Run to the Hills”, “Children of the Damned”, and “The Prisoner”.
The album released March 22nd around the world. It was Iron Maiden’s first number one album in the UK and it was top 10 in many other countries. The album art was done by Derek Riggs once again. It’s one of the, if not the, most iconic album artwork in heavy metal. There was a fair bit of controversy involving the album and it’s subject matters. Iron Maiden was protested and slandered by Christian fundamentalist groups that ended up giving the band more press than they could have asked for.
Number of the Beast is considered a classic of the genre. So without further ado, let’s get on with the heavy metal show. Once again I’ll be using the US remaster tracklist as it has one extra song.
Track 1: Invaders
Starting off with a bang. You have the galloping drums and bass that Iron Maiden are known for right away. Bruce Dickinson wastes no time wailing and screaming like he’s known for now. At the time, I can only imagine a Maiden fan going from Di’Anno’s opening tracks to this. It’s like night and day from a musical standpoint. There’s some power in Di’Anno’s songs, but Bruce blows him away here. The track is about Viking raiders invading and doing what they do. It doesn’t need to be a grand epic of a song because those come later. Steve Harris has said that this could have been a better opening song had they had more time to record the album. It’s a fine opener for the album that sets the tone for what Maiden is going to be.
Track 2: Children of the Damned
If you want to know how to write a moody ballad sounding song without coming off like it’s contrived or less heavy, this is your song. “Children of the Damned” takes the layout of those Di’Anno slow songs and perfects it. You want to tell a story? This song does. You want people to scream out the chorus along with Bruce? This does it. There are a lot of classic Iron Maiden songs, but this might be one of them that doesn’t get enough credit.
Track 3: The Prisoner
“I AM NOT A NUMBER, I AM A FREE MAN!” The words that echo out before the guitar kicks in on this track. For a lot of bands, referencing a somewhat obscure British spy show would be a death knell. Iron Maiden pulls it off here. It starts off sounding like a happy-go-lucky song about the plot of The Prisoner but then kicks into high gear around the 3:30 mark. One of the better interludes on the album or in the band’s catalog leads this one to great territory. It’s a song that many fans clamored to hear and were very happy to hear on recent tours. The album gets even better from here, it that’s possible.
Track 4: 22 Acacia Avenue
The second in the “Charlotte the Harlot” saga. “22 Acacia Avenue” speaks about the address of Charlotte and how someone is trying to get her to quit her game. It’s one of the more powerful songs on the album. Charlotte isn’t doing well for herself and her friend wants to save her. A song that has a great story of how Charlotte is affecting the lives of her friends and family. It helps a lot that the musicianship and vocals by Bruce Dickinson and the rest of Iron Maiden are top notch. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith in tandem really show their chops on this track. A song that’ll make you want to headbang alongside the lyrics ” When you’re walking down the street, everybody stops and stares at you”.
Track 5: Number of the Beast
If you’ve heard of Iron Maiden, chances are you’ve heard this song or the next one. Besides “The Trooper”, it’s their most famous song. Starting off with a Vincent Price knockoff (because they couldn’t get Vincent Price, they tried), it kicks into high gear immediately. The song and video got Iron Maiden into so much trouble with fundamentalist groups that they had to edit out the devils at the end.
It tells a story of someone who sees a satanist cult or maybe not. They could be dreaming. It was inspired by a nightmare that Steve Harris had. He was up late watching the movie Omen II and it led to his inspiration for the song. This all leads to one of the most impressive screams in recorded history. The story goes that producer Martin Birch made Bruce Dickinson sing the intro over and over again for hours on end. At the end of it all, Bruce let out the blood curdling scream that he hasn’t ever been able to replicate. A true classic of Iron Maiden and the genre.
Track 6: Run to the Hills
Now for the other song that you’ve definitely heard before. That opening drum fill is the thing of nightmares for players of Rock Band on the Xbox 360. “Run to the Hills” needs no introduction. It’s a bona fide legend, if you see Iron Maiden, you’re gonna see “Run to the Hills”. You’re gonna scream along with the chorus. Telling the story of European settlers vs. Native Americans fighters in North America, it shows the fighting from both sides. It’s one of their highest charting singles ever. It doesn’t need much analysis, just listen and rock away.
Track 7: Gangland
So now we get to a song that isn’t as popular among the band or with Maiden fans. The band had to pick from two songs to make the album. It was either “Gangland” or “Total Eclipse”. They only had five weeks to record the album so they chose “Gangland” to make it on the album. Years later, they all agree that it should have been the “B side”. Having a B-/C+ song be the worst on your album is not the worst. “Gangland” would be a landmark for a lot of other bands. It’s actually one of the heavier sounding songs on the album so I don’t mind it too much. Being an Iron Maiden supernerd, I’ve definitely listened to this song many more times than I need to.
Track 8: Total Eclipse
The track that ended up as a B side on “Run to the Hills”, “Total Eclipse” was the song that the band said should have ended up on the album. In later reissues, it would be put on the tracklist. The song just fits more with the sound of Iron Maiden than “Gangland” does. Bruce Dickinson wails and yells out the vocals like no other here. It’s a fairly generic source material about a total eclipse that leads to the apocalypse but it fits along with Maiden’s image and imagery. Not much to say, it’s not a song that’ll change your life, but it’s a good time listening to it.
Track 9: Hallowed Be Thy Name
This might not be my favorite Iron Maiden song, but it’s definitely the quintessential Maiden song. Like how Led Zeppelin has “Stairway to Heaven” but everyone in the band agrees that “Kashmir” is their best song. “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is an epic in the vein of “Kashmir”. It’s one of, if not the most, epic song in the genre. Everything you can want about Iron Maiden is in this song. Bruce Dickinson tells the story of a man about to see death by execution and how he deals with it. The lyrics are Steve Harris at his best and most iconic. Everything about this song is perfect. If you haven’t gotten the chance to listen to it, you need to. It’s the perfect cap off to Number of the Beast.
As an album that many other heavy metal titans put up there as an inspiration, Number of the Beast is just that. A classic. Not just a classic album of heavy metal, but a classic album in the history of music. The addition of Bruce Dickinson was a godsend for Iron Maiden. He allowed them to reach heights that no other metal band this side of Metallica has seen. Bruce Dickinson changed the landscape for the band. His arrival made it possible for Steve Harris to stretch out his songwriting ability.
Iron Maiden would go on from here on a five album run that rivals any other band. The final amount of turmoil in the lineup would occur during the Beast on the Road tour accompanying the album. Clive Burr wouldn’t last another album with the band. He was replaced by Nicko McBrain before the Beast on the Road tour finished.
It would be nitpicking to say that songs like “Invaders” and “Gangland” take the album down. This one gets a coveted 10/10 from me. It’s up there with Black Sabbath, British Steel, and Master of Puppets as the most important heavy metal albums ever. Following this, Iron Maiden would release Piece of Mind.
All music and art courtesy of Iron Maiden.
Check back tomorrow as I write my review of Piece of Mind. Another Iron Maiden classic from 1984.