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It is an indisputable FACT that the mighty Iron Maiden were, are, and will continue to be one of the most influential, consistent and important heavy metal groups in the entirety of heavy metal. Their career is a long, industrious one exemplifying all the best characteristics of dedicated workmanship that have become synonymous with all the greatest metal bands, and it is also a career that has yielded some truly brilliant albums in the course of the genre’s history.
None more so, in this reviewer’s humble view, than 1982’s legendary ‘The Number Of The Beast’ – an album that truly deserves the accolade of “everyone should own a copy”, an album that has come to define all of the elements that have become quintessential to modern metal culture. This album, fellow metalheads, is the stuff of legend.
‘The Number Of The Beast’ is perhaps less of a defining moment for Iron Maiden than it is for heavy metal at large – Maiden are a band who have always been willing to expand and experiment over reliance upon the same old sound. Here, we find a band shrugging off the vague punkish overtones of ‘Iron Maiden’ and ‘Killers’, crafting a masterwork in high speed, balls-of-steel power featuring some of the most important and universally known songs in heavy metal.
For starters, the album itself is a wonder to look at – whether on CD or vinyl, Derek Riggs’ iconic depiction of zombie mascot Eddie towering above a scene of demonic carnage embeds itself in the brain instantaneously. Everything about the album as a package – the logo, the spot on album title and the infamous song titles – all serve to engage the listener’s attention in a vice grip that they won’t want to be relinquished.
The songs have become archetypes of the genre and anthems to generations of metalheads, and rightly so. While the likes of ‘Gangland’ and ‘Total Eclipse’ are admittedly somewhat forgettable, the sheer quality of the majority of the album renders this the most infinitesimal of gripes. Opener ‘Invaders’ is a fantastically over-the-top work of striding riffs and ridiculously cheesy lyrical conceits, complemented perfectly by ‘Children Of The Damned’, one of the best songs of a more mellowed bent that Maiden have ever written.
Fan favourite ’22 Acacia Avenue’ is a powerful headbanging exercise, but it is at the midpoint where the twin hammer blows of the record are delivered, and at the close of the record the piece de resistance: ‘Number Of The Beast’, ‘Run To The Hills’ and closer ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ remain three of the greatest songs in metal’s entire history, featuring some of the most unforgettable riffs, blazing solos and anthemic lyrics of all time, capable of raising devil horns in salute every time they touch mortal ears. The title track may just be one of the greatest songs ever conceived, with its spine-tingling refrain of “666! The Number Of The Beast!” a masterpiece of lyrical craftsmanship.
As a unit, Maiden here are on the top of their game. While they arguably would be given a greater edge in recent years with the use of triple guitar players, here the dual harmonies and galloping riffs of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray get the job done and done damn well. Clive Burr provides a backbone of steel with impeccable drum work, never overdoing anything and making every cymbal crash and rolling fill count. Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris, for their part, should be given highest honours for their work here – Harris’ complex, driving bass lines are a joy to listen to, as is Dickinson’s human air-raid siren of a voice, a voice that puts in absolutely career-defining performance here. All of these elements combine into a tightly cohesive force to be reckoned with.
In terms of the sound of ‘Number...’, Martin Birch’s production is a stellar work. Crisp and sharp, all the instruments ring out clearly without intruding upon the other and all retaining their own power. Burr’s drum hit with full vim and vigour, the riffs are suitably meaty and heavy whilst never becoming too overbearing, and Bruce’s vocals fit comfortably amongst everything. While the bass’ prominent position seems to cause contention, ultimately Harris’ superb proficiency on his instrument renders this argument somewhat impotent.
‘The Number Of The Beast’ is without a word of exaggeration one of the greatest heavy metal records of all time – one that continues to enthral now and will no doubt do so for decades to come, so it is crucial to metal’s entire development and growth. This, fellow metalheads, is one of the records that no collection is truly complete without.