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In 1982, Maiden raked up an album which caused quite a bout of controversy and caused quite a stir in the metal scene as well. Paul Di’Annio went out the door and in came the superior Bruce Dickinson. Perhaps as a result of adaption to Bruce’s vocal style, Maiden softened their style, rooted out the punk and went forward to a more epic style. The residual effects of this change can be seen on this album. There are many moments and tracks which scream ‘Killers!’ (although with the punk elements out) here which is what makes it a sort of a bridge between early Maiden and later Maiden. This album was what really broke Maiden into the mainstream.
Bruce Dickinson is a much more capable replacement to Paul Di’Annio. With Bruce’s operatic style, Iron Maiden truly found its niche. Bruce had more range, power and emotion than Paul (there are few singers with as much emotive power as Bruce) and his talent spoke for itself, quickly erasing any doubt from people’s minds that Maiden had perished. Steve still shines on the bass-rich production which as I mentioned earlier, acts more as a boon than a bane to Maiden. Dave Murray and Adrian provide another solid job on guitars here, pulling off some of Maiden’s best solos ever in Hallowed Be Thy Name (which has Maiden’s best solo and is incidentally their best song as well), Number Of The Beast and The Prisoner. Clive Burr still hasn’t missed a beat although this would sadly be his last album with Maiden before he faded into obscurity.
A few weak-spots prevent this album from receiving a 99 or a 100. And these are Run To The Hills and Invaders. Both are nice and fun (esp. Run To The Hills) but lack the spark and the freshness of the rest of the album. Perhaps this is because these songs seem more like residue left off from Killers and don’t work at all when slapped on a more mature release like Number Of The Beast. Also bonus track ‘Total Eclipse’ was rightfully rejected, it doesn’t at all keep up with the standards set by the rest of the album.
The rest of the songs though, are some of the best if not the best of Maiden’s catalogue. ‘Children of the Damned’ is a haunting ballad on the movie of the same name, Bruce really rips on vocals here. The song builds up from a slow starts and finishes off with a majestic fashion with an adrenaline-pumping twin lead and a distinct wail from Bruce. ‘The Prisoner’ is another up-beat, catchy number with excellent soloing showing up mid-way. ’22 Acacia Avenue’ is the follow-up to ‘Charlotte the Harlot’. The song though is absolutely nothing like the Charlotte. I disagree with claims from many that it drags, in fact the length is just right. The soloing and riffing are top notch and Bruce delivers another performance for the ages here. Also, this song contains what maybe metal’s first bass solo at 5:57 (actually it’s a bass-guitar dual lead). The title track follows and is probably the catchiest song here. This song was in many ways flag-song of metla in the 80’s and especially raised the hairs of a few fanatical Christian groups with its supposedly Satanic lyrical content. ‘Gangland’ then follows and sounds like another song that could have been placed in Killers. Its probably the fastest song on here and the twin-lead midway is excellent. Next is ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ which is undoubtedly Maiden’s best and metal’s best song. The atmosphere around the song is immense and foreboding of the feeling of death lurking within one’s grasp. Maiden sucessfuly render the insecurities of a prisoner before his execution and his subsequent resignation to his fate. Bruce gives an unmatchable vocal performance while the guitar themselves play a riff laced with most exquisite melody and aptly mid-paced tempo (the way its menat to be, Maiden ruins it when they speed it up live), Burr expertly co-ordinates with the rhythm while Steve gives a dirge-feeling to it all. The song passes through various tempo changes and remains excellent throught. One point to note however is the solo section, which has Maiden’s best solos ever. Adrian (who’s part is now being constantly butchered by Janick Gers) and Murray both belt out their best here and the solos also feel amazingly suited to the atmosphere around the song. The lyrics contain some of the best lines ever invented, who can deny the charm of – ‘If there’s a god, why’s he let me die?’ or ‘When you know your time is closer, then you begin to understand that life down there is a strange illusion’?. The entire song is truly an achievement and a song of such depth, emotion and brilliance will in all probability never arise again, even from Maiden!
On the whole, the album is worth getting – if only for the last track. This album contains the last traces of the Killers sound and the subsequent release totally sheds any association with the debut or the sophomore release. Although recently the album has come under criticism for being repetitive, these views are all but biased – there is great variety to be found in the album and it is evident to any listener when he actually listens to it.