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“The Number of the Beast” is widely regarded as one of the landmarks of heavy metal and one of the crowning achievements of Iron Maiden. This record put them truly in the map, selling very well, thanks to the title track and to “Run to the Hills”, the two big hits that made waves within the metal/rock community. But is “The Number of the Beast” good? Is it a masterpiece, like many reviewers already stated?
Meh, I don't think so. I'm a huge Iron Maiden fan, “Powerslave” is my favourite record ever, but this piece just doesn't get me, mainly because of its unconsistency. Everybody knows that Iron Maiden is a band that prefers to write great songs instead of great albums. There are bands out there, like Opeth, that make albums that really sound amazing as a whole, but Maiden just can't deliver a record like that (well, they delivered one, after all, the allmighty “Powerslave”). Unfortunately, there are always fillers here and there that kill the flow, in the majority of the times.
Surprisingly, “The Number of the Beast” has PLENTY of them. The opener is one of them, its chorus must be one of the most annoying choruses I've ever heard (“Invaders!”* childish bass line * “raping!” * childish bass line *). However, this song is very fast and that's one of the main characteristic of “The Number of the Beast”: there are some midpaced tracks here and there (“Children of the Damned”, “Hallowed be Thy Name”), but the majority of them are very upbeat. Clive Burr is the one that contributes the most to this aspect; while he isn't as technical as Nicko McBrain, his performance is simple but catchy and effective. His best performance can be heard on “Gangland”, a drum-driven track, that should work well as an instrumental, as the music is reminiscent of the fantastic “Genghis Khan”, but everything is ruined by the vocal lines and the repetitive chorus. It kind of reminds of Metallica's “My Friend of Misery”, which was also meant to be an instrumental, but, in the end, Hetfield sang on it and ruined the song (not completely though).
“The Prisoner” and “22 Acacia Avenue” follow also the boredom path; the first one has a nice spoken intro and drum lines, but it's WAY too long and that ruins the listening. The same thing goes to “22 Acacia Avenue”, a song that would be much better with a shorter length. The middle section is quite cool though.
Anyways, now the good things... The guitar work is obviously amazing. Iron Maiden is very well known for the twin guitar leads and blazing solos and, hey, this record is great, guitar-wise. There are lots of good riffs and solos present here, from the technical middle section of the afore-mentioned “22 Acacia Avenue” to the unforgettable first notes of the title track, all absolutely top notch. And where would be Iron Maiden without Steve Harris? He is not as present here as on later albums (“Powerslave” or “Piece of Mind”, for example, are more bass-driven than this piece), but he still is audible and his playing is, like always, tasteful, complementing the performances of the other musicians very well and, most of all, actually adding something to the songs.
About the highligts, there still are some here. “Children of the Damned” is not the best ballad ever made, nor the most beautiful one, but it's decent, featuring an excellent performance of an emotional version of Dickinson, an approach that he later used again on “Infinite Dreams”, a track out of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”. It's a worth lisening track mainly because of the vocals, as I've already said, Dickinson doesn't deliver emotional performances too often, so better hear this one. The title track is an authentic classic and, despite I, in the majority of the times, hate the big hits of the metal bands, I must say that I like this one. And, wow, I like “Run to the Hills” too, one of the best tracks of this album. This song really grown on me over the time but now I love it; the fast drumming (and the intro, oh God) and the over-the-top Dickinson performance really please me.
After a catchy meal provided by the “Gangland-666-Run to the Hills” trinity, the Maiden gives us, then, a nice dose of epicness to our hears, with “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, considered by many as the ultimate Maiden song. It begins with a fantastic guitar riff, that, with the help of some cymbal hits, provides a nice and mysterious atmosphere to the tune. Then, the vocals kick in, with Bruce singing calmly – got to love that “the sands of time, for me, are running... looooooooooow!!”. After this part, the song becomes heavier, with a blazing deliverance of great metal guitar riffs by the two masterful guitar players. Anyways, I really like this song, but I don't consider it as one of the best Maiden ever wrote. In my opinion, there are thousands of better Maiden songs out there (”Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Dance of Death”, even “The Legacy”. However, it still wins the prize for the best track of “The Number of the Beast”.
So, this is a typical Maiden album, with too much fillers present; the only different thing is that they are actually worse than the ones on the other albums, so that harms the whole listening experience. Anyways, this record marked the beginning of the golden era of the band, so it's worth listening after all. But if you want the best Maiden record, get “Powerslave” or even “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, which is a bit weaker but still good.
On other hand, there's some good material here, songs like “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “Run to the Hills” are simply great and deserve a listen. And the performances of the musicians are all quite good, so that's another reason to hear this.
Best Moments of the CD:
-the creepy beginning of “The Number of the Beast”.
-the drum intro of “Run to the Hills”.
-the calm section of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.