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Along with albums such as Reign In Blood and Master Of Puppets, Number Of The Beast is one of *those* albums. You know, the ones that garner praise as if you could package it in shit and people would cut off their own nads to lick it off. As such, there is inevitably two groups of people, the fanboys, and the detractors. And as you should know, both groups usually have something right.
The new vocalist, and arguably the most famous member of the band, Bruce Dickinson, is the most overarching presence on this album, and consequentially, has the largest problems with his performance. When he is just doing the normal range of vocals, without soaring high notes, then he does very well, with a great lower register reminding one of certain other vocalists like Geoff Tate and Rob Halford. Unlike these two, however, he just can’t do the high notes. Whenever he tries, it’s obvious he’s straining, and it comes out sounding as if he just put his balls in a vise to try to get the effect. As for the rest of the band-members, they really are just average. Even Harris’ much-lauded bass just plods along, and this leaves it up to Dickinson to pull up the slack, except for a few notable examples.
Throughout all of the songs, especially ones like 22 Accacia Avenue, there is still trace amounts of Iron Maidens punk era here. Normally that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but Dickinson just doesn’t seem to fit during this. Also the album is really messy to listen to all the way through, as the conflicting styles often mark the inconsistent nature of Iron Maiden within albums. There’s not as much filler as say, Powerslave, but there still is enough to jam up the flow. Also worth mention is how poorly the songs are grouped, with the truly metal Invaders followed by a semi-ballad, and Hallowed Be Thy Name being preceded by the worst song on the album.
Now, the songs here can be grouped into three basic groups, the regular NWOBHM tracks, the singles, and the slower, emotional songs. Hailing from the first group, Invaders, the opener, has Dickinson giving forth both good and bad performances. Fortunately, the bad is short and merciful, rarely disrupting the flow of the song. The end result is good, with a chorus worthy of Maiden. A couple songs later, The Prisoner bursts on the scene. This is really where Maiden really starts proving they can pull out more than filler. It has an emotional chorus, with riffs that are energetic and bass that, surprisingly doesn’t just plod along like almost every other song.
After this though, it’s just more filler. 22 Accacia Avenue is a good song, but lacks any real hooks to distinguish itself, unlike the previous song in this series (Charlotte The Harlot). Also, as mentioned before, you could just imagine hearing this on the S/T or Killers, and Dickinson doesn’t fit. As for Gangland, this is the kind of song that gives haters their justification. It’s generic, and just plods along at the same pace without a single real hook or memorable moment. So much so that it could even give AC/DC a run for their money.
Now for the singles, everyone alive has heard them, they even rival Metallica for recognition. Of the two, Number Of The Beast is the better. Starting out with a spoken part similar to The Prisoner, it goes into the riff, and then a surprising thing happens, Dickinson gives out a scream worthy of his fame, and goes into a great performance, with a voice that really sounds like someone who has seen the devil. It also has a catchy chorus that, while repeated a little too often, deserves its recognition. The rest of the instruments though, are more generic, supporting Dickinson, and don’t really come out on their own except for a quality solo.
The other single however, doesn’t do so well. Run To The Hills, other than being catchy doesn’t really have much else to add. You’d think a song about the struggle of the Indians would have more emotion, but instead it just has Dickinson repeating the chorus ad nauseum, with another repeating part alternating in and out. And yes, it’s just as boring as it sounds. Adding to that, Children Of The Damned is boring for nearly the same reason, with a repeat chorus (though the guitar parts vary some) that utterly fails to capture the emotion or power such a song should have.
Luckily though, Beast ends on a much better note in that. Hallowed Be Thy Name shows off what Iron Maiden *could* do. It starts with an appropriately hallowed sounding guitar part, and goes into a deep and emotional performance by Dickinson. What is also surprising is that his vocals work well even when going into ranges where he’d normally sound like he had a ten-foot dick up his ass, and it is indeed a beautiful thing to behold. The rest of the band members also give equally inspirational performances, with riffs that reinforce the sad nature of life portrayed by the non-repenting lyrics describing a criminal going to his death.
While Number Of The Beast certainly has its filler, it also has its classics, it’s a good way to get into the genre, and has some songs that will satisfy even jaded veterans who’ve long left the classics behind. Just don’t go into it expecting a masterpiece
Highlights: Hallowed Be Thy Name, Number Of The Beast, The Prisoner