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When the average member of the general public hears the words heavy metal one of the first names they should be able to reel off associated with the genre is Iron Maiden. This band has been around now for several decades and continues to influence many a band to this day. Albums such as “The Number Of The Beast”, “Powerslave” and “Piece Of Mind” are rarely missing from people's lists of their favorite metal albums and the band are seldom left out of a list relating to favorite bands.
Out of all of their albums the most popular would be The “Number Of The Beast”. This garnered the band a lot of attention through its controversial title track and the two highly regarded songs “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “Run To The Hills”. It served as the perfect album for vocalist Bruce Dickinson to begin his career with the band on a high note and is one of a number of releases that many would say could contest to be the best metal releases ever. From the fast paced introduction of Invaders this album reeks heavily of grandeur and marvel and it delivers this spectacularly. Eight songs make up this forty minute slice of greatness and every one of them is more than enough to keep the listener interested.
Not one member of the band could be considered dispensable and nor do they slack off for “The Number Of The Beast”. The drumming is intense and varied from the quick beats that are pressed upon the listener by the opening song Invaders or the slower title track. Long before the band employed a trinity of guitarists; they proved their ability to create a well-paced and masterfully crafted release with just the standard two. Both Dave Murray and Adrian Smith contribute heavily to the overall sound of this release as should be expected from a metal release. Whether they are playing the slower clean guitar sections to “Children Of The Damned” or the lightning fast soloing found on “Hallowed Be Thy Name”; the performance of the duo never dips in quality.
The bass performance on “The Number Of The Beast” is as good as has come to be expected from Steve Harris who wrote the majority of the songs that make up this release single handedly. His rumbling bass lines are constantly audible and contain a strong amount of musical intelligence behind them. The bass to this release does not follow the generic formula of following every note of the guitars as has become the norm of metal in recent years but actually endeavors to break free of these chains. “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is Harris' best contribution to this album both as a writer and performer. It is a seven minute long streak of genius opening with some bells ringing and developing as the song progresses into an absolutely epic creation with many speed changes and some of the best riffs found on the album.
It was on this release that the air raid siren himself Bruce Dickinson was accepted into the fold and stands tall as one of his greatest achievements to date. Whilst his predecessor put in some strong performances; Bruce easily shows himself to be a marvelous replacement and far out strips him. This album even continues a successor to an earlier song that allows Bruce to continue the story of a prostitute named Charlotte started on the song “Charlotte The Harlot”. The song that arguably makes the best use of Bruce's operatic vocals is “The Prisoner”. This is the first of three songs that stretch over the six minute mark and never does it let up in intensity. The energy that is spilled into the vocals as the drums and bass gallop forward before the chorus is absolutely incredible but it is during the chorus where Bruce really displays his strengths. He holds some fantastic notes for a couple of seconds at a time before ending on a sharp note by barking the word "out" with a lot of conviction.
“The Number Of The Beast” contains four tracks that are often considered to be among the band’s finest (Run To The Hills, the title track, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “Children Of The Damned”) but the other songs that make up the album do not interrupt the flow of the album either. The aforementioned album opener Invaders kicks things off to a great start with a fast pace and a collection of stupendous riffs and “The Prisoner” continues this as mentioned. “22 Acacia Avenue” is the song that is most in line with the band’s previous material both in the nature of the introduction and the chorus as well as the fact that it continues the story of Charlotte. The only song of the original eight (“Total Eclipse” was later added on a re-release) that could be considered filler is “Gangland”. Following on from “Run To The Hills”; this song merely feels like a bridge between that song and the monumental closer “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. As the second shortest track on the album it can merely be seen as an interlude but has some good riffs as well.
The lyrical content on “The Number Of The Beast” is also absolutely top notch and is arguably one of its strongest points. Never on this release will you find a generic line and there is not an unnecessary lyrical contribution in sight. Each song’s lyrics feels focused and draws up a complete portrait of what they aim to portray; be it Norse warfare (“Invaders”) or an escaping prisoner (“The Prisoner”). The peak of the quality in the lyrical content on “The Number Of The Beast” is on “Hallowed Be Thy Name” which stands as just another reason why it could be seen as the finest thing on the album. It tells the story of a prisoner’s final moments before execution and the thoughts that pass through his head and has a lot of emotion behind it whilst being written in a tight fashion.
“Tears fall, but why am I crying?
After all, I’m not afraid of dying,
Don’t I believe that there never is an end?
As the guards march me out to the court yard,
Somebody cries from a cell “God be with you”.
If there’s a God then why has he let me go?”
The song contains deep religious lyrics that question religion and the morality of both the prisoner’s actions and guard’s actions without ever throwing any direct accusations. They are, in my mind at least, some of the best lyrics in all of metal and stand testament to how good a lyricist Steve Harris actually is.
“The Number Of The Beast” is rightfully considered to be a metal classic in my opinion. This is an album that has both a tight instrumental performance and a marvelous vocal performance from Dickinson. The lyrical content is strong and the guitar work intense; with the bass and drums complimenting it perfectly. Bruce Dickinson was the perfect choice of a vocalist for this style of music and this is the definition of the word “masterpiece”.