As we’ve mentioned before on this site, Classic Rock Review does not like to stray too far from mainstream rock and pop when selecting which albums we review. But in some exceptional cases, we feel compelled to explore albums which have had longstanding influence over the passage of time, especially when that influence transcends the specific genre of the artist. The Number Of the Beast is such an album by Iron Maiden. It has been routinely ranked among the greatest heavy metal albums of all time and topped the charts in the U.K., being one of the first albums to move into more commercial territory in a genre that got close to zero airplay at the time. A showcase for producer Martin Birch, the album possesses a crisp yet strong song that jived perfectly with the tastes of hard rock fans in 1982.
For those who were growing tired of the London punk scene by the end of the 1970s, a new wave of British heavy metal was being forged among several bands and championed by a publication called Sounds magazine. Aside from Iron Maiden, one of these bands was called Samson, that band had a dynamic lead singer named Bruce Dickinson. As Iron Maiden was on the verge of international breakthrough following their second major label album,Killers in 1981, Dickinson was asked to join the band to replace lead vocalist Paul Di’Anno. This was an extremely bold move, as the band was well on their way to success, but Birch recognized the importance of a grandiose frontman for what the band was trying to achieve.
The primary songwriter for the band was bassist Steve Harris, who came up with many of the diverse themes on the album, including the controversial title and title song. With the addition of Dickinson and his wide range on vocals, Harris was also free to explore many different styles and genres sonically. Unlike previous albums, most of the material on Number Of the Beast was written in pre-production rather than worked out over a series of live gigs. Because of the complex nature of the songs, the band was left with only five weeks to record, mix, and, master the album after taking so long to rehearse.
The Number Of the Beast by Iron Maiden
|Released: March 22, 1982 (EMI)
Produced by: Martin Birch
Recorded: Battery Studios, London, January-March 1982
|Side One||Side Two|
Children Of the Damned
22 Acacia Avenue
|The Number Of the Beast
Rin For the Hills
Hallowed Be Thy Name
|Bruce Dickinson – Lead Vocals | Steve Harris – Bass, Vocals
Dave Murray – Guitars | Adrian Smith – Guitars, Vocals
Clive Burr – Drums, Percussion
The album’s opening track “Invaders” was actually one of the last songs constructed, hurridly to fill out the album. Although some in the band had lamented that this was not the strongest possible track to open up the album, it performs an adequate task for setting up the listener. For a doomier follow-up, “Children of the Damned” bridges a theme from the past which may have come from early era Black Sabbath, with music of the future like that of later era Metallica. The song is loosely based on the film of the same name.
“The Prisoner” was also inspired by previous pop culture, this time a British television show of the same name from the late 1960s. It features dialogue from that show in the song’s intro. The song was co-written by guitarist Adrian Smith and is one of the finest tracks on the album musically. It features integral guitar work and a very melodic vocal during the choruses. “22 Acacia Avenue” closes out the first side as the second song in the “Charlotte the Harlot” saga, which was originally written by Smith several years earlier, while playing in his old band, Urchin. According to Smith, Steve Harris remembered hearing the song at an Urchin concert in a local park, and modified it for The Number of the Beast album.
The title track was considered by some as evidence that Iron Maiden were a Satanic band, but Harris, the song’s author had long contended that was never the intention as it was inspired by a nightmare. The track opens with a spoken rendition of passages from the Biblical book of Revelations by actor Barry Clayton. The song itself employs and odd time signature, and one of the most famous “screams” in rock n’ roll history.
“Run to the Hills” was driven by a great rhythm led by drummer Clive Burr. It was released as a single prior to the album’s release and was a surprise top ten hit in the U.K. The song attempts to give a balanced view of the disputes that occurred between European settlers in the New World and American Indian tribes during the days of westward expansion, with different rhythms and tempos symbolizing the differing points of view. The closing song “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is one of the most celebrated pieces of the band’s catalog. It opens with a doomy atmosphere before breaking into a sequence of harmonized guitar riffs by Harris and Dave Murray and an strong performance by Dickinson.
Although some moments on the album are clearly stronger than others, the intensity of The Number Of the Beast never lets up. Peerless for its time, the album represented a high-water mark for this style of heavy metal, which would be replicated often throughout the rest of the decade but never quite equaled.