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So comes the third album. Iron Maiden had enjoyed success with their two first albums. They had even released a live EP called ‘Maiden Japan’ after the second album. The truth is, though, ‘Killers’ was a disappointment after the mindblowing debut album, and vocalist Paul Di’Anno was starting to loose it. Maiden had to cancel several shows because of Di’Anno was getting drunk or worse. They needed someone to replace him. So, they began their search and found Bruce Dickinson. Bruce was at the time the vocalist in a band called Samson, and called himself Bruce Bruce for some reason. Steve Harris and the rest of Iron Maiden was of course very interested in having him join. Bruce wasn’t basking in any particular success with Samson, and thought this could be his way to stardom. He joined, and Di’Anno got the boot. And then Iron Maiden recorded their third album.
“The Number of the Beast” was the band’s breakthrough record. While they grew bigger through the rest of the 80’s, this is the album that really got the snowball rolling. It is considered by rock critics to be their best album, either this or Piece of Mind, while the fans think of it as one of Maiden’s best, perhaps not quite the masterpiece ‘Seventh Son…’ is, but still an incredible record.
The record starts with ‘Invaders’. A fast, upbeat track, it’s a great opener, though not quite the quality that most of the rest of the album possess. There’s a definite improvement in sound over the first two albums, and Dickinson’s incredible voice makes Di’Anno’s voice pale in comparison. Maiden really hit the jackpot with that decision. Song number two, ‘Children of the Damned’, is a semi-ballad. The intro is reminiscent of Metallica’s ‘The Unforgiven’, though if anyone’s ripped of anyone, it’s the other way around. It’s a really beautiful song, and the first song on the album where new vocalist Bruce really shines. Towards the end of the song, it gets faster, and Clive Burr’s drums in that section sounds fantastic. He really was one of the best drummers. Then comes ‘The Prisoner’, a song based on the television series of the same name. Somehow it almost outclasses the song that preceded it, and that’s quite a task. This one is a faster song, with a ripping verse, and a very catchy chorus. The most impressive section of the song is the bridge, though, where bassist Steve Harris outdoes himself. It’s like a leadguitar solo, only on bass. Incredible stuff, really. Track four is named ’22 Acacia Avenue’, the sequel to ‘Charlotte the Harlot’, found on the debut album. The basis for the song was actually something guitarist Adrian Smith brought with him from his previous band, and it was reworked into this song. It starts very slow, with a cool riff, and then it suddenly gets fast. The guitar work is great as usual, and Dickinson’s performance is a treat to listen to. Closer to the end there’s a really great guitar solo from either Adrian Smith or Dave Murray. Although I play the guitar, it’s impossible for me to distinguish between the two. They are both two of the world’s greatest guitarists in the world, so it doesn’t really matter if I can make them apart or not. The song itself is not quite as good as the previous two, but it still has a high quality.
Then comes the title track. This is one of the most legendary songs in metal history, and of course one of Maiden’s best. Not an overly complicated song, but it’s perfectly executed. It starts with spoken word by some guy (I’ve heard it is Vincent Price, but I’m not sure), taken from the Bible, and then the riff kicks in. Bruce starts to sing, and after a few lines it all explodes in a high-pitched scream of fury. Or is it desperation. I’m not sure. It sounds great anyway. And then the verse kicks in, which is so great to listen to, words can’t really describe it. After a couple of verses, two of the most incredible guitar solos comes along. You should really listen carefully when those kick in. The chorus is simple, with only two lines, but still holds up by far. And this is only the second best track on the record! Track number six is probably one of Maiden’s most well-known songs ever. ‘Run to the Hills’. A very cool song, with a galloping rhythm. It’s very repetitive, but it’s so good it doesn’t really matter. You could say it’s this record’s version of ‘Running Free’. Bruce sings REALLY high-pitched on this song, and because of that he sometimes have trouble singing it live. He did it perfectly at the concert I went to in 2000, though. Actually, he’s having more trouble singing ‘The Number of the Beast’, now that I think of it. Anyway, let’s go on with the review. ‘Gangland’ is the next track. Sadly, it can’t compare to the rest of the album in terms of quality. It’s co-written by Clive Burr, and therefore it’s kind of the drums that get the attention. The verse is allright, but the chorus is not good at all. The guitar solos are boring, and all in all it’s better to skip the song.
If you have the ’98 remastered version of this album, there’s a bonus track on it. Track number eight is that bonus track. ‘Total Eclipse’ is a song that was released as a b-side to one of the singles from ‘The Number…’, but it’s actually better than ‘Gangland’. I think it was written at the same time as the rest of the tracks, but somehow it reminds me of the hybrid between ‘The Number of the Beast’ and ‘Piece of Mind’. It’s a bit slower than most stuff on the album, and very moody. I’m glad it was finally included. The last song on the album, track number nine, is ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’. This is arguably Maiden’s ultimate masterpiece. It’s a real epic from start to finish, and was the start of those grand, neverending songs that Maiden concluded their three next albums with. It’s about a man that is about to be executed, and about the thoughts that goes through his head in these last hours. The instrumental sections of the song are wonderful, and it’s the guitars that really makes this song head and shoulders above almost anything else. One incredible riff after the next, mixed with harmonies and killer lead-guitar solos. The end is so perfect it brings a tear to my eye. My God, I’m so impressed!
Phew. I’m finally at the end of the review. This is an album that every metal fan should own. It defined what Maiden was/is all about, and they have kept this going until this day. Of course, they skipped the 90’s, but that’s another set of reviews. My final words must be: If you own this album, you’re one lucky human being. If you still haven’t got it (and NO, MP3’s does NOT count!), you should be ashamed of yourself, confess your dark sin and go buy the album.