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When Paul Di'anno was handed the pink slip in 1981 due to his questionable lifestyle, many Maiden fans wondered whether or not the band would be able to successfully soldier on. As we all know, their fears were allayed when Bruce Dickinson was selected to take on vocal duties. The band not only survived--they flourished. Dickinson's powerful and evocative delivery afforded bassist and key songwriter Steve Harris a larger window for creative songwriting. The rest of the world was not slow to pick up on this, as the album shot straight up to #1 on the charts in their native England while the band found themselves embarking on their maiden (pun intended) stateside tour. As hinted at in the title, the band's third volume still packs a wallop, despite having been released over two decades ago. I can't begin to imagine what people thought of this back in 1982.
Things kick off with the fast and furious "Invaders", an account of Viking conquests. Proto-speed metal is the name of the game here. After hearing ten to fifteen seconds worth of Bruce's wails, it is clear that he was a vital ingredient in the band's metamorphosis from a promising NWOBHM outfit into a worldwide phenomenon. Despite a fractured chorus, the track does a decent job of setting the tone for the rest of album. The second song, "Children of the Damned", begins with a soft, down-tempo intro, to which "Fade to Black" owes quite a bit. In my estimation, this song, more than any of the others on the disc, harkens back to the Di'anno days. After some impassioned, melodic vocals from Bruce, the song picks up the pace, and the listener is treated to a rapid-fire solo. Track number three is entitled the "The Prisoner" and begins with a clip of the intro from the old television program of the same name, followed by some nice groovy percussion work from now-erstwhile Clive Burr. Not to sound nit-picky, but this song has a more commercial flair than anything that Maiden had came up with thus far; the chorus is decidedly catchy and justs screams 'sing-a-long'. Of particular note is Harris's four-string work, pointing to Geddy Lee influences.
Up next is "22 Acacia Avenue", one of the band's more progressive compositions. The sequel to the eponymous debut's "Charlotte the Harlot", it is also a considerable improvement. Bruce's delivery borders on raunchy at certain moments, but that is precisely what this tune calls for. There exist a multitude of mood and tempo shifts, bolstering the song's replay value. After the conclusion of this 6 1/2-minute metal triumph, there follows the song that enveloped the band in controversy. Religious figureheads (known as crackpots by us thinking individuals) wrongfully accused Maiden of Satan worship, pointing their fingers at the title track. Things commence calmly enough with a Vincent Price-esque spoken word section taken from the book of Revelations, but shortly after the 1:15 mark, Bruce lets loose with a scream that would rip Roger Daltrey a new one. The chorus was definitely designed with audience participation in mind, and the song has been a mainstay of the band's setlist to this day. Two back-to-back solos, by Dave and Adrian respectively, round out this classic. Maiden's best-known song "Run to the Hills" calls this album home, and also has yet to be discarded from live performances. It may be cheesy and radio-friendly, but few things get a crowd pumped up at a Maiden gig more than this fun little number and that instantly-recognizable drum intro.
Whenever a Maiden fan is asked to pick out the weakest link from this album, the majority of replies will be the seventh track, "Gangland". I cannot bring myself to disagree with this viewpoint, but the song does not suck or constitute filler by any means. The riffing is relentless and Bruce is in total command here. A noteworthy fact is that Harris does not have a writing credit here; this fun little number was the brainchild of Smith and Burr. "Total Eclipse" was not originally found on the original album, but existed as a B-side. The lyrics revolve around the topic of nuclear holocaust, with an apocalyptic-sounding riff accentuating the verses nicely. It is unquestionably a solid track, but the band have saved the best for last. If ever a heavy metal nation was founded, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" would doubtlessly be its national anthem. Starting off quietly with some clean guitar and tolling bells, Bruce lucidly paints a picture of man reflecting on his last few hours of living. After about a minute in, the killer riffs begin, quickly joined by Dickinson's fiery wails. Two inspired guitar bridges give the listener a chance to catch a breath before the next verse kicks in. The final lines before the guitar histrionics begin are some of my favorites not just in Maiden's catalogue, but in all of metal, period. How can one NOT get a jolt from hearing "When you know that your time is close at hand/Maybe then, you'll begin to understand/Life down here is just a strange illusion."? A grand finale in every sense of the phrase.
In spite of all the accolades I've heaped upon the album, I firmly believe that it still plays second-fiddle to 'Powerslave'. By the time that particular album was released, Maiden had honed their craft to a razor-edge and all but had the metal world's balls in a vise grip. That in no way detracts from 'Number', though. It is still a high pick for the foundation of a metal music collection, and not a half-bad album for rock fans to pick up, too.