With their first release in 1980, Iron Maiden had the potential to be an incredible heavy metal band. They had a similar sound to Judas Priest, using multiple guitarists and lyrics revolving around serial killers, war, and European history. In 1981, Iron Maiden ditched original vocalist Paul Di’Anno and picked up Bruce Dickinson, a move that ended up launching the band into heavy metal immortality. With Dickinson, the band released The Number of the Beast in 1982. Often viewed as one of the most essential metal recordings of all time, The Number of the Beast truly introduced the world to Iron Maiden.
Side one starts with an Iron Maiden classic titled “Invaders”. The song showcases the classic rhythm section of bass and drum: Steve Harris and Clive Burr. The two are often overshadowed by Dickinson, especially on this album, but are crucial components of Maiden’s early success. The song discusses the potential problem of invasion: describing the Nordic invasions of England. “Children of the Damned” is the second song on the album, giving a nod to Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Sea” from 1980. The song is vintage Maiden and sounds good. Harris writes the vast majority of the band’s songs, but the third track “The Prisoner” was mainly written by one of the band’s guitarists: Adrian Smith. The song features audio from a show also called The Prisoner and has a nice chorus from Dickinson. Rounding out side one is “22 Acacia Avenue”. Often noted as the second song of ‘The Charlotte Saga’ along with “Charlotte the Harlot” and “From Here to Eternity”, “22 Acacia Avenue” tells the story of a prostitute and the dark lifestyle of such an occupation.
Side two opens with the title track “The Number of the Beast”. The song is one of Maiden’s most recognizable and popular, featuring one of the band’s greatest riffs. The lyrics are somewhat controversial, describing satanic gatherings. Dickinson’s vocals are yet again incredible in this song. After is a song titled “Run to the Hills”. Another classic and popular Maiden track, “Run to the Hills” describes the conflict between Europeans and Native Americans. The song features more incredible instrumentation and some high vocals from Dickinson. The seventh track of the album is “Gangland”. Often described as the weak point of the album, “Gangland” still has highlights. Most notably, Burr’s drumming intro is strong and the lyrics are powerful. Closing out the album is possibly the greatest Iron Maiden song of all time: “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. The song’s intro is incredible, one of my personal favorites of all time. The buildup is tense, featuring great lyrics, and inspired guitar work. About a minute in, Dickinson belts and holds some incredible notes and the song truly explodes. Burr’s drumming combined with Smith and Dave Murray’s guitars sounds fantastic. The lyrics are truly powerful in this song, describing a man who is about to be executed. The man is scared to die, and has a conflict with himself: why am I scared to die when I believe in an afterlife? Throughout the song, the man questions why he would die if a god exists, yet eventually embraces death. The last lines of the song are in past tense, likely to explain that the man was executed, but continues on through spirituality. All members of the band sound excellent in this song. Murray and Smith showcase an incredible duel guitar setup while Harris fills the song with his bass. Burr left the band after this album, but will certainly be remembered by this final song. Overall, I think this song alone makes the album worth a listen. The band themselves probably agree, as they have played it on nearly every set list throughout their long history.
As a whole, The Number of the Beast is one of the best early classic metal albums. Featuring some of Maiden’s biggest hits, the album has received positive reviews for years. Dickinson makes his presence known, belting out incredible vocals throughout, telling original Maiden fans that the band made a good move. As always with Iron Maiden albums, the artwork is superb, displaying the band’s mascot Eddie yet again. This album launched Maiden into super stardom and is worth at least one listen.