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A year prior, Paul Di'anno had become a footnote in the annals of one of heavy metal's legendary bands. But who was this new guy? Oh sure, he fronted obscure NWOBHM beefcakes Samson, but would he stand and deliver for the rapidly escalating Iron Maiden?
Over the past 27 years, it's safe to say this question has been answered. Bruce Dickinson came, saw and conquered, as early as his full-length debut with Maiden upon which he already has the chops of a seasoned veteran. The rest of the album wasn't too shabby either, as an increased quality of melody and songcraft permeates The Number of the Beast. The s/t debut and certainly Killers had their fair share of memorable tunes, but this is just about perfect, with the possible exception of "Invaders", a somewhat dull track that unfortunately opens the album.
So we'll skip that and move along to the solid steel bliss that is the remainder of this timeless exercise in 'eavy metal. "Children of the Damned" is nigh invincible, proof Dickinson was comfortable over more than triplets and power chords. A flowing, catchy acoustic track which lapses perfectly into a gleaming chorus, with a dual lead rocking bridge. "The Prisoner" makes great use of a sample from its namesake espionage TV show, and then Clive Burr kicks up a storm of rockin' beats, while the song also features some great Harris grooves and licks.
Following this we get the pseudo-sequel to "Charlotte the Harlot", that being "22 Acacia Avenue" with its montage of shifting beats and groove beneath some of Dickinson's most venomous lines on the album. Next up is the title track, one of Maiden's most infamous compositions and in all likelihood the best on this particular album. As much as we'd all like this to be about the devil (including cover artist Derek Riggs), it supposedly isn't. I like to think it's based on the Heinlein novel of the same name (certainly a source Maiden has used for inspiration elsewhere), but aside from the name, it's really not. "Run to the Hills", yet another of their live staples, follows with its elegy to the American Indian. It's rarely left their set in close to three decades. "Gangland" is a balls out rocker comparable to the style you'd hear in other early NWOBHM like Motorhead and Saxon, though hammered with those classic melodies only Maiden was adept at. "Hallowed by Thy Name" is the epic closure to the original album, a lengthy and moodier piece which foreshadowed others to come.
What more to be said for an album which is worshiped by millions of human beings, many of whom consider it their very best. I dare to disagree with such a sentiment, as I found "Invaders" a bit weak and the album not nearly as catchy as the next three. The Number of the Beast is surely the beginning of the band's strongest stretch of material (ending with Somewhere in Time), and nearly every track is an outright classic. With evocative and meaningful lyrics and subject matter, class act riffing and overall amazing musicianship for 1982, they were now the band to beat. Oh, sure, it'd happen in a year or so...but there simply were no other bands of this period as well rounded as Maiden when it came to creating interesting metal music which has survived in the minds of so many until this very day...