the number of the beast

#666: 666

GETTING MORE TALE #666: 666

“Here is Wisdom, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”

Ye metal fans!  You have all heard of the number of the Beast, but do you actually know what it is?  Iron Maiden mined the Bible for lyrical ideas in the early days.  The Book of Revelation was a favourite of theirs.  Of the Beast, it tells us that we can identify him by his number.  This is not Satan himself, but the first Beast of the apocalypse, the end of the world.  The Beast, it says, comes from the sea.  There are many interpretations of the Revelations.  Three main schools of thought are that these are prophecies of events that already occurred, will occur in the future, or are happening now in the present day.

The Beast will “rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. (Revelation 13:1)”  Scholars say the seven heads represent seven kings.  The 10 crowns are 10 more kings that have yet to be crowned.  With an appearance like that, why do we need a number to identify the Beast?

Relevation is a symbolic book of the Bible and no one really claims to understand it all. The apocalyptic writings say that the Beast and the false prophet will muster the armies of the world against the man on the “white horse”.  When they lose, they are tossed into a “lake of fire”.  Some theologians believe the number 666 symbolizes the nations of the Earth that are in conflict with God.  In the 1980s, some thought that 666 represented President Reagan, whose full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, is three names of six letters each – 666.  Indeed, Reagan changed his Bel-Air address from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668.

With the imagery and mystery inside, the Book of Revelation is great source material for heavy metal lyrics.  The Bible has always been a source for popular music.  Pete Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” around the Book of Ecclesiastes, but Revelations is great for darker themes. Iron Maiden (and even Anvil) made the number of the Beast famous to the secular community.  Every metal head knows the number of the Beast. Or do they?

It turns out, the number may have been wrong all along.  Older and older fragments of the Bible are constantly being unearthed.  The oldest manuscript of Revelation chapter 13 (Papyrus 115) found to date is 1700 years old. This ancient fragment gives the number of the Beast as 616.

Scholars today are split.  Many think 616 is the original number of the Beast, later changed to the more interesting 666 for aesthetic reasons.  Try this trick with a calculator or spreadsheet:  The sum of the numbers 1 through 36 is 666.

If this is true, Iron Maiden has a lot to revise, and metal fans may have some tattoos to fix!

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GUEST REVIEW: Dream Theater – The Number of the Beast (by Uncle Meat)

GUEST REVIEW by:  Uncle Meat

ST NUMBER BEAST_0003DREAM THEATER: The Number of the Beast (2002 Ytsejam Records, Covers Series)

For the most part, Dream Theater is a band you either love or you hate. Some Metal fans are put off by the keyboards perhaps, while many others find Dream Theater hard to listen to because of the effeminate tone to the voice of singer James LaBrie. On the other hand, music fans who are not into the sensibilities of progressive music would label Dream Theater as “pretentious,” or which have you. Most music fans though can appreciate the musical talent of everyone involved. They are also a very busy unit, often branching out into different projects between DT albums and tours.

While still in the band, and then after his departure from DT in 2010, Mike Portnoy has been the busiest of all the DT members. So much so, that while researching to do this review of Dream Theater’s Official Bootleg: The Number of the Beast, I was blown away with how many projects Portnoy has been a part of that I truly love. Simply said, Mike Portnoy comes off as the biggest music fan in the music business. On top of his resume of original music, his obsessively accurate tribute projects can only be pulled off by someone who is an authentic “music geek super fan”. Sound familiar, LeBrain? So yes, this review has morphed itself into a bit of a Mike Portnoy love fest. Check out this list of his accomplishments outside of Dream Theater.

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – The two studio albums with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin are fantastic albums. Their self-titled CD is one of my favorite progressive rock albums. With three subsequent live albums with that lineup and two albums with a name change to Liquid Trio Experiment, that makes seven albums with the great Tony Levin alone.

TRANSATLANTIC – Four studio albums and four live albums with this Prog super group along with Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Neal Morse(Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors) and the bassist from one of my favorite bands…Marillion…Pete Trewavas.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – After the death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, during the writing of a new album, Mike Portnoy stepped in and played drums on their 2010 CD titled Nightmare. He also joined them for a few shows over in Iran and Kuwait for American troops overseas.

ADRENALINE MOB – Two albums with this band consisting of members from Symphony X and Fozzy. I honestly do not think I have heard it so can’t say much really.

FLYING COLORS – One studio album and one live album playing with my favorite musician of all time… Steve Morse. Consisting of Neal Morse again and others, including the incredible Steve Morse Band bassist Dave LaRue. Maybe you should just read LeBrain’s review of this band right “here”.

WINERY DOGS – With a more straight ahead rock and roll approach, the Winery Dogs is his current gig with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen.  [Check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review hereLeBrain]

And that’s just the original music he has been a part of. He has gone to great lengths to put together live shows recreating the concerts of, and playing the music of, his favorite drummers. He has arranged one for Led Zeppelin called Hammer of the Gods. He has also done one for Rush called Cygnus & the Sea Monsters. I actually learned about these while researching the review that I haven’t even got around to yet (yes this has become a much larger project than initially thought), so I am curious to search these out. You should be as well. The one I can comment on is his Beatles tribute called Yellow Matter Custard, named from a lyric within the song “I Am the Walrus”.

Consisting of Matt Bissonette, Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse and himself, this unit recreates what it would have been like to see The Beatles live. A lot of the songs were never played by the Beatles live. I listened to this with a good friend of mine who himself is a great musician and huge Beatles fan. Listening to it brought the Beatles super-fan out of him, most especially loving the somewhat obscure tracks performed live by the band. I highly recommend checking this out if you are a Beatles fan. So that pretty much means everyone.

 

 

ST NUMBER BEAST_0002I can’t believe I am now just starting the intended review, but here goes. In 2002, while touring for the album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater went on a short club tour in Europe where they played a different album in its entirety, track for track. Among the albums covered in this tour were Master of Puppets – Metallica, Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd and Made in Japan – Deep Purple. (Who covers a live album? And one of my favorite live albums of all time? Dream Theater does, that’s who).

On October 24, 2002 DT played a small club called La Mutualite in Paris, France. The album on the menu that night was The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. From the sound of the enthusiastic crowd you can clearly hear throughout the album, this was a well-appreciated re-creation of one of the greatest Metal albums of all time.

The show starts off with album opener “Invaders”. My first impression was how great it sounded. Lively version and a thick guitar sound. Another thing I quickly realized is this: say what you want about James LaBrie and his effeminate style. Not many singers, including Bruce Dickinson himself can sing these songs live. I have seen Iron Maiden play several of these songs live, and even in a reduced key it is a struggle for Dickinson to sing the songs how they are recorded on the album. The opening track just left me looking forward to the rest of the set.

“Children of the Damned” was a joy to listen to, again mostly because of the vocals. This is probably his best singing on the album. Bruce Dickinson would have to get himself on a Lance Armstrong-like drug program to ever have a chance of singing this song in this key again. This song is also where I first really noted one of the truly great and original things about this album. Iron Maiden is a classic two-guitar fueled machine. DT is doing this with one guitar and a keyboard. Check out the twin guitar/keyboard solo in this song and hear throughout as the guitar and keyboard trade solos. A magnificent treat for the ears and surprisingly seamlessly done.

The crowd revs up as the classic Patrick McGoohan intro to “The Prisoner” plays as it is on the album. Chanting along with the intro just before Portnoy launches into the classic Clive Burr drum beat, this makes for a great listen, hearing the energy of the crowd and their appreciation of this show. Awesome version as well I must say.

“22 Acacia Avenue” is another track that is a treat to hear live. Live favorites “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” follow. These two Heavy Metal anthems go over with the crowd extremely well as you would think they would. A case could be made that these back to back songs are the two most popular Iron Maiden songs of all time. Agreed? Discuss….

Coming next is their amazing version of “Gangland”. This is easily the most ambitious moment of the show. Kind of making the song their own, they begin the song off as a piano ballad and then make a left turn and turn it into a progressive, almost jazz fusion-ish groove as the song closes out. Absolutely brilliant and is probably my favorite track on the album. The show ends with a perfect version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and the performance is over.

This is not just re-hashing of a great album. This was a well thought out and rehearsed celebration of this album, allowing true Maiden fans to hear what these songs may have sounded like when the album was toured in the 80’s. A friend of mine scoffed at the idea of DT covering this album and I may have shared some of his trepidation before I heard this recording. After listening to it now several times it has become obvious that this is not only a very relevant capturing of Number of the Beast, but it makes a very simple statement. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the players in Dream Theater have a higher level of musicianship than really any of their peers in popular music. And as listed earlier, it seems that everything Mike Portnoy does comes from the heart of just another music fan like you and I. So who is gonna come along and play one of Dream Theater’s albums track for track? Well Dream Theater of course. Who else possibly could? Good luck with that, Three Days Grace.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Maiden England ’88 (2013 CD reissue)

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MAIDEN ENGLAND FRONT

IRON MAIDEN – Maiden England ’88 (2013 CD reissue)

It only took 25 years, but Iron Maiden have finally released a complete 2 CD edition of their legendary Maiden England recording.  A video was released in 1989, and a truncated CD version in 1994.  These were great, but less than 100% satisfying.

The first thing you notice is the striking cover art.  This is by somebody named Hervé Monjeaud.  It resembles Derek Riggs’ Eddies enough to fit in fairly seemlessly with the 1988 era.  I wish they used the original motorcycle cover art by Derek Riggs, but at least they credit him inside as the original artist.

Also checking the credits, I was pleased to find that the audio was not remixed.  This is the same mix that Martin Birch produced at the time.  The three unreleased songs are freshly mixed by Kevin Shirley, but there’s no tampering.  This is the authentic Maiden England.

Last year when I reviewed every Maiden release in a row, I discussed Maiden England.  Please check that review out if you’re looking for a more comprehensive review of the songs and content. Back then, I gave it 4/5 stars.  I found the sound a tad muddy, I complained about the brief running time, and I didn’t like that the CD did not include every song from the VHS version.  The missing songs were “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “Can I Play With Madness”.  This edition restores them to the running order, and even adds three more songs that were cut completely from the original release!  So right there, two of my beefs have been addressed.

What about the sound?  Bloody great!  Whatever it was about the first CD release, the flatness of it, is gone.  It’s like when you take your car to the wash, how it shines.  Maiden England ’88 sounds so much better than the original CD.  And of course there’s a nice substantial booklet with photos and lyrics.  No notes from Steve or anybody else, disappointingly.  I always like those “producer’s notes” or what have you.  But that’s window dressing, this is really such a pleasure to listen to, I assure you.  As I wrote these words, Dave Murray was wheedly-wheedly-ing in my ears.  And I liked it.

With the added material and fresh sound, Maiden England ’88 takes its place alongside other Maiden classics such as Live at Donington or Rock In Rio.  Of course it cannot usurp Live After Death, nothing ever will.  Maiden England ’88 has some really awesome Maiden material that didn’t make Live After Death, such as “Still Life”, which remains dramatic and stunning.  “Killers” and “Sanctuary” are two other songs that were not on Live After Death.  Not to mention, by 1988 Maiden had two more albums to draw from.  That means you’ll also hear “Wasted Years” and “The Clairvoyant”, songs that stand strong among the old stalwarts.

The three unreleased songs are “Run To The Hills”, “Running Free” and “Sanctuary”.  These were the encores.  They are not mixed onto the end of the show, but follow a pause and have a noticeably different sound.  It’s hard to describe how the sound differs, but you can hear a change.  I’m not sure why these weren’t included on the original VHS.  Surely not for quality reasons.  The running time of the original video was 95 minutes.  Would another 15 have bumped them into a higher, tax, uhh, you know?  (120 minute tapes were common back then too.)

There’s a DVD too, but I don’t have that yet.  One thing at a time!  Send me a copy, EMI, and I’ll be happy to review it!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “The Number of the Beast” (2005 single) / The Early Days (DVD)

Part 34 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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IRON MAIDEN – “The Number of the Beast” (2005 CD/vinyl single)

I’ve decided, much like my idol Martin Popoff, to stick pretty much to audio releases when it comes to this series of Maiden reviews.  To get into video just opens a big can of worms that I don’t think I can handle.  However worth mentioning is the excellent Maiden DVD The Early Days.

SAM_1611A two-disc set, The Early Days combines an excellent documentary with lots of rare early Maiden footage featuring Di’Anno and Dickinson.  Live At The Rainbow, Beast Over Hammersmith (audio available on Eddie’s Archive), Live In Dortmund, and Live at the Ruskin Arms are all a part of this, as well as some videos and Top of the Pops performances.  The documentary chronicles the early days and features interviews with ex members Paul Di’Anno, Clive Burr, Dennis Stratton, Dave Sullivan, Terry Rance, Doug Sampson, Ron “Rebel” Matthews, Terry Wapram and Bob Sawyer.  There are very few members missing from this documentary; most notably singers Paul Day and Den Wilcock, and drummer Thunderstick.

The following year, Maiden re-released “The Number of the Beast” as a CD single, with an advertisement promoting The Early Days on the back.   Therefore I’ve decided to consider this single as promotional to The Early Days, which also contains the video for “Beast”.

The tracklisting is as follows:

  1. “The Number of the Beast” (original version)
  2. “The Number of the Beast” (live at Brixton ’02)
  3. “Hallowed Be That Name” (live at Brixton ’02)

plus videos:

  1. “The Number of the Beast” (Camp Chaos version — essentially has added animations)
  2. “The Number of the Beast” (live at Brixton ’02)

I also have a red vinyl 7″ single with a lovely poster.  This one just contains the two versions of “Beast”.

These live tracks being ’02, they featuring the six-man lineup of Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Janick Gers, Adrian Smith, and Nicko McBrain.

So what can I say as far as an actual review goes?  Well, it’s Maiden live in ’02, two of their all time best tracks.  “Hallowed” in particular smokes with fiery solos by Dave and Janick.  Janick simply burns up the fretboard with the kind of speedy fingerwork that the fans love him for.  Bruce is in top voice.

As a nice little extra bonus single for the fans, I have no complaints.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Best of the Beast (1996 2 CD edition)

Part 22 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Best of the Beast (1996)

I’m not sure what prompted Iron Maiden to put out their first greatest hits disc in 1996, but at least they did it in style.  Originally available as a limited edition 2 CD book set, it was pretty extravagant packaging for the time.   My only beef is by the nature of such packaging, the paper sleeves will always scratch your discs, 100% of the time.

This album was also available in a standard edition single disc, with the songs in a different running order.  I don’t have that one so I’m not going to talk aboot it.

The 2 disc version, perhaps to emphasize that Blaze Bayley is the current Maiden vocalist, starts at the present and then rewinds all the way back to the beginning, closing with The Soundhouse Tapes!  An interesting approach indeed.  As a listening experience I’m not sure that it works that well.

Since we’re starting at the present, the album kicks off with a new song.  “Virus” is 6:30 of same-old same-old X Factor Maiden, but not as good as anything on that album.   It drags and drags for three minutes before finally kicking into gear, but it is otherwise repetitive and boring until then.  Lyrically, it is another attack on the sicknesses in society, much like “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Justice of the Peace” were.

Then back in time one year, to “Sign of the Cross”, the dramatic 11 minute epic from The X Factor, as well as “Man on the Edge”.  (I would have preferred “Lord of the Flies” to “Man on the Edge”, but perhaps “Man” was the bigger single of the two.)

To bridge into the Fear of the Dark album, a new live version of “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is featured, with Blaze Bayley singing.  It’s a good live version, but it’s immediately obvious that Blaze is no Bruce.

Bruce takes over on the next track, “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, and we’re back in the saddle.  Singles (including the popular live version of “Fear of the Dark”) and album tracks are counted down from 1993 to 1986’s Somewhere In Time album, ending disc 1 with “Wasted Years”, a great closer.  My beef here:  I would have preferred the single “Stranger In A Strange Land” to the album track “Heaven Can Wait” (but I know the Heavy Metal OverloRd doesn’t agree with me!)

Disc 2 is the glory years, if you will, everything from Live After Death to the beginning.  It begins with the epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a ballsy move for a greatest hits album, and the live version at that.  Chasing it is the live single version of “Running Free”.  Then we count them down, all the singles from Powerslave to “Run To The Hills”, plus “Where Eagles Dare” and  “Hallowed Be Thy Name” thrown in for good measure.

Then it’s the Di’Anno years, which are given an unfortunately brief expose.  “Wrathchild”, from Killers  is one of the best songs from that era, but the only included track from that album.  Maiden’s first epic, “Phantom of the Opera” and the single “Sanctuary” represent the debut Iron Maiden.  Finally, an unreleased track from The Soundhouse Tapes sessions (“Strange World”), and the rare Soundhouse version of “Iron Maiden” close the set.  To read my review of The Soundhouse Tapes and these tracks, click here.

There was also a 4 LP vinyl edition available, with 7 extra tracks:  “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”,  “The Prisoner”, “Killers”, “Remember Tomorrow”, an exclusive live version of “Revelations” from the Piece of Mind tour, plus the final two songs from The Soundhouse Tapes, “Prowler” and “Invasion”. You can read a story about the 4 LP edition by clicking here.

And there you have it, Maiden’s first greatest hits set, with lots of the hits and plenty of rarities thrown in for the collectors.  I confess that I don’t listen to it often, and this time for this review was the first time in roughly two years.

The cover art was once again by Derek Riggs, doing a sort of mash-up of his (and nobody else’s) Eddie’s.  It’s a suitably glorious piece of art for such a monument of metal.  The inside of the book is loaded with concert dates, lyrics, liner notes, and chart positions, as well as more Eddie’s and photos!

I still want to talk about the single, “Virus”, but I think that it should get an article of its own.  Check back soon for that!

Curiosity: the cover features an ad for the never-to-be Iron Maiden video game, Melt!  Maiden did eventually release a video game, but we’re not going there yet….

For the 2 CD edition of Best of the Beast:

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982, 1996 bonus disc)

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:

4.7/5 stars