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I was a seven year old Catholic school boy when Number of the Beast came out. It was after seeing some seventh grader walking around wearing an Iron Maiden Number of the Beast tee on a dress down day when I was first exposed to this band. The next time I was perusing Tower Records, I went to look at all the Iron Maiden records and saw it again among the other ones as well. I was far from being a metalhead at this time but I was utterly fascinated at how heavy this band must have sounded like to go along with their awesomely metal looking cover art. Yes, this was the first real metal band I ever encountered, at least visually. I knew of this band even before I had heard of Black Sabbath. It would still be awhile before I was allowed to listen to the music behind the records. I think there are many who encountered Iron Maiden this way when they were very young. It was a true grabber. And so, what did this album finally sound like? It sounded like and still sounds like the embodiment of heavy metal. We think in visuals and when the term 'heavy metal' comes to mind, I think of Number of the Beast.
What can be said about the album that hasn't been said already? There is no denying it is a classic. That's for damn certain. But is it their best? No, it is not but it's up there. Number of the Beast is more classic than it is the very best. It's the inauguration of an era. It's heavy as hell but it never blew my socks off quite like Judas Priest did. It's fast and has an adventurous zeal to it. This album like every other one they did was written and recorded to be played live in concert and that's another great plus with the album. I would have loved to have heard these songs played at their show.
The production on Number is an absolute dream in no small part due to producer/engineer Martin Birch who seemingly was a sixth member of the band in the studio. Every instrument is crisp and the Steve Harris' bass pervades with hard focus throughout every song. Adrian Smith and Dave Murray add punch of physicality in their playing.
Invaders is the first track and it's trademark Maiden. It almost sounds like Ides of March at the beginning. The theme of battle is pretty cool and sets the table for everything else on the menu. As Bruce Dickinson's first song on an Iron Maiden record, it does well to bring him in with great command. Children of the Damned bears more than a striking resemblance to Black Sabbath's Children of the Sea with its acoustic intro and heroic atmosphere. Power metal never had it so good up until now. The Prisoner has a fabulous mid pace action with the drums. This song centers the album with its theme of fugitive psyche. I haven't had the privilage of seeing the band live but if I did, I would have hoped this was on the set list. While I loved the opening riff of 22 Acacia Avenue, the song is not a standout. The one small knock on alot of Iron Maiden albums is that they are slightly filler prone. I would say that this album is the least guilty of this but 22 Acacia Avenue and especially Gangland fill that quota on here although they are one of the better tracks in question in that regard.
My favorite thing about Iron Maiden is that their title tracks are almost always the best songs on their records. They seem to be in the middle of the albums and they always deliver the metal goods. It's thought they are the main course. When I look at the album covers, I can always put the song to the art. Number of the Beast is no exception. It's the best song on the album. Bruce Dickinson makes that awesome scream to launch the rest of the head banging glory that the song deserves. And then of course we have Run to the Hills which is the band's most famous song. The local radio stations where I live don't regularly play Iron Maiden but when they do, Run to the Hills gets the nod. I will say that it's a great song to play in the car but by no means is it even close to the best one by them. I think it has the right amount of length and catchiness that has made it the hit that it is. Hallowed Be Thy Name would probably be their second most well known song and probably their most venerable on the concert set list. It's another great classic that is a metal encore song if there ever was one. Bruce's crescendo that leads into the main part of the song is the most memorable. It never loses momentum and the guitars on here will stay in my memory for a long time. The influence on this one can be heard in many a thrash metal band to come.
Reflecting back on my heavy metal memories, this album will always stay with me. Those who don't appreciate this album were probably not around at the time when it made its debut or they just were oblivious to heavy metal in that period. Not only is there nostalgia here but there is replay value. Iron Maiden have the longest lasting influence in metal today and it would be a shame if you don't at least give it as many chances as you can to admire its spirit.