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Nostalgia! I remember I first heard Iron Maiden playing a Tony Hawk game, I had to be about 13. The soundtrack featured Number of the Beat (As well as Eddie as an unlockable skater and Maiden decks), and holy shit. At this point my metal credentials was basically the fact that I owned the Black Album, and had heard Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. But that fucking scream. I was both floored and sold. The next time I was out, I went to the rock section, found the iron maiden CDs and picked up Number of the Beast. I did that thing where you straight for the song you heard, and then began playing it from the beginning. My mind was abosolutely blown for almost all of it, barring two songs - which I’ll get back to. It was all downhill from there; heavy metal is one hell of a genre.
Number of The Beast is one of those metal albums that every metalhead should be familiar with on some level. It’s a classic of the genre, and introduces one of the most recognized singers of metal, Bruce Dickinson. And with a new singer came a change in style. Paul Di’Anno Maiden was a great band, with some real grit. Paul sort of had a punky “kick your ass” attitude, but could also pull off beautiful vocals for songs like Remember Tomorrow or Strange World. Unfortunately, due to his habits and the fact that we all know he sort of DOES live a punk rock lifestyle AND beat the shit out of people, especially women or something. And benefit fraud. But Bruce brought a cleaner, almost operatic voice to the fold. And to compliment this, the band also became, much like an opera, more over the top. This is the beginning of the definitive Iron Maiden style. The galloping riffs, the high range vocals, the literature and historical lyrics. Not much to be said about running from the law anymore, or bedding women. Ok, well, maybe in the early 90’s.
Subtlety is gone as well. There really are none of the little things that made previous albums interesting. Songs like Remember Tomorrow just don’t work for this new Maiden, with its quiet bass intro, as one guitar plays the main riff, and the other adds quiet melodic enhancements to the song, and the drums sneak in soft drum fills, just before Di’Anno hits a high note, and the band hits us with enough energy to make the song more powerful, but not so much that it doesn’t fit in with the soft side of the song. This sort of subtlety is gone, in favor of making the music louder and more in your face. This isn’t necessarily a bad direction to go in, but it does lend credence to the argument that a lot of Maiden songs sound the same. While Maiden may not be the AC/DC of heavy metal (I’d say Motorhead), they do have a pretty standard formula. While they do try to add things to music with synthesizers or orchestra sections, that definitive Maiden style doesn’t change a whole lot. This album is the first to really show it off, and may be the biggest perpetrator. The intro, a fun, catchy and great speedy song with a great vocal melody, really sets the tone for much of the rest of the album. The Prisoner, the famous Run to the Hills, the sequel to Charlotte the Harlot, 22 Acacia Avenue, and the title track all really show off the maiden formula. They’re catchy, and have that classic Maiden galloping, driving beat, and the signature soaring vocals. The downside is that within the same year of me falling in love with t his album, I lent it to a friend, who was not nearly as into it, and upon its return said he felt like every song was Number of the Beast. Realistically, this can be seen as a valid argument. There is probably not enough true experimentation on this album, or hell in Maiden’s discography for that matter. They’ve settled into a particular sound, and they’re sticking to it, like it or not. Anyway, moving on…
Children of the Damned is a rather epic song, although it pales in comparison to the far more epic Hallowed Be Thy Name, which I think if you aren’t familiar with, you need to turn in your metal card, because it’s one of the best epics this band has ever done. Both of these songs start off fairly slow, and finish in with some great speed metal. Children of the Damned features a really cool section near the end, leading directly into one of my favorite glory notes Bruce has done. And that says something.
The only two songs on this album I never got were the quick, almost speed metal Gangland, which just never did it for me, and Total Eclipse. In another review which also agreed that this album was overrated, it was called into question that maybe this song is so coldly received because it wasn’t on the original release, and this is evidence that most of this albums positive reception is nostalgia. Well, I can tell you that this song was on the first copy of this album I ever had, and I never knew another Maiden fan before I bought this album to influence my opinion. And I still never liked this song much. So it might just kind of suck. I’m to understand that the band had to cut a song to make a b-side and these where the two bottom choices. Yeah, I agree.
At the end of the day, this album brought us a handful of classics, and truly made the Iron Maiden sound, and hell, it’s probably a good starting place, but this is far from their best work. It’s an influential album, and a fun nostalgia trip, but when put up against many of their other albums, in my opinion, it just doesn’t hold up, although songs like Hallowed by thy Name, the title track, Run to the Hills, and Children of the Damned will all be remembered as classics for good reason. Not a usual frequent listen for me though. More like that childhood friend you grew apart from, but still occasionally call to check up on out of the blue.
A quick note as far as original vs remaster. As I said the remaster features the B-Side Total Eclipse. You aren’t missing much if you don’t have this song. Otherwise, the biggest difference seems to be a volume boost. I’ve never noticed any clipping, though I’m not an audiophile. Otherwise, I really haven’t noticed a ton of difference between the two versions, except maybe on a few tracks (I seem to prefer the original mix’s version of The Prisoner, maybe it’s some dynamic range loss, or maybe it’s all in my head). However, I will say the remaster’s packaging is far more interesting, so if that’s a selling point, go for it. I don’t think the remaster did enough in terms of the actual audio to either enhance or diminish the album’s quality. Just throwing that out there if you’re worried about versions.