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Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast. The greatest heavy metal album of all time? Hardly, although a significant number of people will likely argue this to the death. The greatest Iron Maiden album of all time? Not quite, though it showcases a few of their classics. So what is it the greatest of? Well actually, the album really isn’t the greatest of anything. It has its classic moments, but it hasn’t got the heart of the band’s later releases. However, dwelling on what the album isn’t might cause you to lose sight of what the album is. And what it is is an incredibly important album in metal history, regardless of its inherent flaws.
I‘ll start with the album’s strengths. First off, the songwriting here is phenomenal. Tons of memorable riffs, melody lines, and lead. Some of Maiden’s best are present here in their full glory. Regardless of its simplicity, “Run to the Hills” is one of the single catchiest and most magnificent songs the band has ever released. The chorus is almost amazing beyond words. “Children of the Damned” is one their better power ballad type songs, with a great sense of melody and a cool clean riff. “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is of course none other than one of the band’s most celebrated masterpieces musically, lyrically, and even atmospherically. The intro is still chilling almost 25 years later. If that doesn’t scream greatness, I’m not sure what does.
Secondly, the addition of Bruce Dickinson was one of those legendary moments in metal history, as his creative influence would lead to dozens of classic tunes by the band. I personally like Paul Di’anno as a vocalist, but he doesn’t have the range that Bruce has. Bruce’s vocals aren’t perfect here, but they would be by the next album, Piece of Mind. His presence in the band is incredibly welcome.
Now on to its flaws. Its most glaring problem is the same one from the first two albums. While some of the songs are classics, the others are pretty much forgettable. Songs such as “Gangland” and “22 Acacia Avenue” really unbalance a generally strong album. If the band can write 5-6 classic songs, why can’t they write 2 more instead of filler? Your guess is as good as mine, though they wouldn’t have this problem on most of their prior albums. My other big complaint is with the bass sound. I never really noticed this until my most recent listen, but the bass guitar part is way louder than it should be, sometimes overpowering the guitars. Yes, Steve Harris is a great bassist, but he doesn’t need to be way up front like that.
Other than the weaker tracks and erroneous mixing, Number of the Beast is a great album by all means. It’s heavy, it’s quick, it’s catchy, it’s melodic, and it’s quite memorable. It’s not the band’s best work, but it shows the first signs of the true greatness the band would soon afterwards achieve.