Part 5 in my series of Iron Maiden reviews!
IRON MAIDEN – The Number Of The Beast (1982, 1996 bonus disc)
One of Maiden’s greatest album covers happened to house a great album inside. There was a segment of Maiden fans that were very much against the replacement of Paul Di’Anno, but Bruce Dickinson was undeniably the right man for Iron Maiden. Formerly known as the ridiculously monikered “Bruce Bruce” of rival band Samson, Dickinson fit in quickly and triumphantly.
From the first song, “Invaders” (a history lesson on the Norman invasion), The Number Of The Beast does not disappoint. “Invaders” is a storming opening, but not nearly the quality of the next number: “Children of the Damned”. Along the lines of the older “Remember Tomorrow”, this song proved why Bruce was the man for the job. The dramatically powerful music is only enhanced by Bruce’s wail. They nicknamed this man “Air Raid Siren” for a reason. “Children of the Damned” still sends shivers up my spine…
Another classic, “The Prisoner”, follows. Significantly, this is the first Adrian Smith co-write on the album, and in Iron Maiden. He has three co-writes on the record, and Adrian’s writing lent a melodic hard rock side to the band. His composition style is unique from the other members of the band, and identifiable. “The Prisoner” starts with that famous intro: “We want information… information… information!” The band had McGoohan’s permission to use it, and effective it is! It’s a catchy, singalong Maiden song, the kind of thing that worked great live. And Bruce really delivers on that chorus.
Charlotte the Harlot makes her return on “22 Acacia Avenue”. The lyrics boast, “You can tell her that you know me, you might even get in free.” But it’s not as simple and straightforward as that anymore, as Maiden have grown musically, so have they lyrically. Another character, perhaps a family member, turns up and asks Charlotte, “isn’t it time you stopped this mad life?” But if you’re not paying attention to that because the song rocks so hard, I understand. This one too bears the stamp of Adrian Smith who was no doubt responsible for those terrific riffs.
With the addition of Smith and Dickinson, the band had obviously grown and intensified. But the next two songs, opening side two, blew the doors off. “The Number of the Beast” and “Run To the Hills” were a double whammy: two awesome singles in a row that would help send the band off into immortality. I’m not saying that with a shred of hyperbole. If you’re reading this and don’t know these two songs, then I don’t know what’s wrong with the world!
I won’t dwell on either song. Yes, “Run To the Hills” is one that I never need to hear again, but I’m sure glad I heard it the first time. It’s the song that got me into the band. I absolutely loved the video for “The Number of the Beast”, and those chiming opening guitars. Then Bruce screams, and we’re off to the races. Great song, awesome video, funny too. This is the kind of image that people have of Maiden, that persists forever: Bruce, long red hair flowing like a precursor to Axl, that fringe of his in front, and those spiked armbands. Classic!
“Gangland”, the only unremarkable song on the album, is a co-write between Adrian and drummer Clive Burr! My understanding is that with 20/20 hindsight, Steve would have preferred to have “Total Eclipse” on the album instead. “Gangland” does have a good bridge, but is otherwise pretty stock.
Finally, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. I remember this was misspelled “Hallowed By Thy Name” on the old cassette that my buddy Bob had, so I thought that really was the name. “Hallowed” was to be Steve’s new 7 minute epic, something he’d become known for. “Hallowed” is one of the best epics, and something that absolutely required the vocals of Bruce Dickinson to bring to complete fruition. Bruce nails that mournful slow opening, and then absolutely lets rip with some pretty intricate words. Seriously, do you ever try to sing along at album speed? I always trip up words somewhere.
“Mark my words, believe my soul lives on don’t worry now that I have gone, I’ve gone beyond to seek the truth.”
And to sing it at his volume with that much emotion? Unbelievable.
And that’s the album. The 1998 remasters tacked on “Total Eclipse” as a bonus track, and it’s here on my bonus disc. This was the B-side to “Run To the Hills”. My younger sister actually had this single and I don’t know why. (Kathryn, comment below please!) “Total Eclipse” was actually performed live, and can be found on the Eddie’s Archive box set. It’s a mid-tempo rocker with a fast breakdown in the middle, come solo time. It’s catchier than “Gangland”, and is also co-written by Clive Burr, with Dave Murray and Steve Harris!
The bonus CD this time only has two tracks. That’s all they released at the time, two singles, two B-sides. The second B-side is a stunning live version of “Remember Tomorrow” with the new guy singing. I always prefer Di’Anno, because he co-wrote the song, for his voice, and made it legendary to start with. But Bruce is no slouch. Much like Dio used to sing Ozzy’s stuff with more skill and range, so does Bruce in this case.
You’ll notice one guy is absent in the writing credits: Bruce Dickinson. Due to lawyers and rigamarole with his old band, Samson, he wasn’t legally able to write with Maiden. Don’t worry though, he’ll make up for it on the next album!
I don’t want to give Beast a perfect 5/5 score for two reasons. One, “Gangland”. Two, better things were still to come. There has to be room for improvement. Therefore: