Iron Maiden - The Number Of The Beast


Woe to you, Oh Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the beast
with wrath, because he knows the time is short . . .
Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast
for it is a human number, its number is Six hundred and sixty six.

Revelations ch. xiii v. 18.


      Metal, particularly 80s metal, has been stereotyped by its enemies as being stupid in every sense of the word. It is attacked as being unintelligible music put out by anti-intellectual rockers and embraced by an audience too dumb to know any better. With its pulp fiction lyrics, big drums, and plodding guitar riffs that were seemingly tailor-made for headbanging, Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" is a prime target for this sort of accusation. Despite the Beavis and Butt-Head image that some people have of metal, the genre is neither inherently nor predominantly dumb. Yes, there will probably always be bands like Venom, who write songs about worshipping Satan and drinking the blood of infants, but there will also be better bands like Queensrÿche and Dream Theater who sing about far less base topics. One of the greatest metal bands of all-time has consistently defied the vapid generalizations that plague their genre: Iron Maiden. The combined heavy metal melodies with progressive rock sensibilities to craft epic songs about historical events, classical literature, and a variety of other topics.

      Iron Maiden released their self-titled debut in 1980. The album was rushed out, but the single "Running Free" went Top 40 in their native Britain. Iron Maiden's second album, 1981's Killlers, was even bigger and gave the band their first taste of international success. Propelled by songs such as Poe-inspired "Murder In The Rue Morgue",The album peaked at #12 on the U.K. charts and broke the U.S. Top 100. Following the release of Killers, the band embarked on their first world tour. Iron Maiden was on the rise. Then, in predictable Behind The Music-style fashion, the band almost fell apart. Following the conclusion of their 1981 tour, lead singer Paul Di'Anno parted ways with the band due to arguments about his rampant drinking. In general, this type of thing generally ruins a band's career. Most bands who have replaced lead singers (Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, Journey, and Van Halen 3 to name a few) have failed to replicate their commercial success or retain their drawing power with new singers. This is because the vocals are generally the most easily identifiable attribute of a band. Both Queen and The Doors have tried touring in recent years and nobody gave a shit. You know why? Because no one wants to see Queen without Freddie Mercury. Ian Astbury, no one wants to fucking hear you sing "Light My Fire". Do "Fire Woman" and "She Sells Sanctuary" or get the fuck off of the stage. Every once in a while though, a band manages to achieve equal or greater success with a new vocalist. This effect is known as The AC/DC Factor. When Iron Maiden hired ex-Samson singer Bruce Dickinson to replace Di'Anno, they quickly became one of the biggest metal acts around. Di'Anno had been an adequate singer, but he was absolutely nothing compared to the powerful operatic voice of Dickinson. Maiden's first album with Bruce, 1982's The Number Of The Beast didn't just equal the success of Killers; it far surpassed it. The drama and passion that Bruce added to the music brought the band to a whole new level. The Number Of The Beast peaked at #1 on the U.K. charts and #33 on the U.S. charts, thus cementing its place as one of the greatest metal albums ever. What makes it so great? Well I guess I'll have to try and explain it. This time around, I've decided to do things a little differently. Instead of speaking about the album in general, I'm going to do a track by track review:


       1. Invaders - In addition to Bruce being a far superior singer to Di'Anno, another reason why Maiden was able to withstand a singer change was that bassist Steve Harris is the band's primary composer and lyricist. He would also appear to be a very well-read man. The album's opening track, "Invaders", is about a Viking invasion of Anglo-Saxon England. Two such invasions occurred, both before the end of the first millenium. The first invasion occurred in 865 A.D. when the Vikings conquered the two of the three competing English kingdoms, Mercia and Northumbria. The Vikings almost managed to conquer the third kingdom, Wessex, but ultimately failed. After being driven into the marshes by the invading Vikings, King Alfred the Great was eventually able to drive the invaders back. Under the leadership of his son and eventually his grandson Eadred, the Viking were pusher ever northward and eventually into the sea. By 955, King Eadred had united England and centralized the monarchy. Unfortunately, England's newfound unity and stability would not last. A second wave invasions began in 991 and ended in 1016 when Canute the Great became ruler of England. Upon his death in 1035, England would once again fall into disarray. This paved the way for William of Normandy's 1066 conquest of England. Although the band proudly waves the Union Jack around in concert, their songs seem to focus on the failures of British military forces rather than their victories: one of Iron Maiden's trademark songs, "The Trooper", is based on "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Lord Tennyson. I guess the moral is that metal loves a good tragedy. "Invaders" provides the album with a strong, aggressive opening that immediately draws you in. After that first moment when Bruce comes in on vocals, Paul Di'Anno officially became nothing more than a footnote in the history of metal.


       2. Children Of The Damned - This is a song about Children of the Damned, the quasi-sequel to the classic British horror film Village of the Damned. The movie is a Cold War-era sci-fi tale about six creepy children with mysterious and dangerous powers who several different nations hope to obtain and exploit. The children gather together in a church, whereupon realizing the destructive abilities they possess and failing to discover the reason for the existence, they destroy themselves. The song's lyrics are a reference to this ending:

Melting his face, screaming in pain
Peeling the skin from his eyes
Watch him burn according to plan
He's dust on the ground
What did we learn?

       While the movie itself is horribly depressing, the song itself is mostly just dramatic. Without Bruce's vocals, this would be a rather unspectacular song. As it stands, it is a decent song, but it still one of the weaker tracks on the album.


       3. The Prisoner - This song opens a clip from the classic 1967 TV show of the same name... because it's about the show. Coincidentally, this is the second song on The Number Of The Beast whose subject matter has been parodied on The Simpsons. The creepy British schoolchildren in a movie called The Bloodening that Bart and Lisa watch on TV in Episode #214 "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken" bear a strikingly resemblance to the freaky kids in the two Damned movies. Meanwhile Episode #254 "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes", Homer ends up trapped on an island in a The Prisoner tribute that guest starred Patrick McGoohan from the original series. What does all of this mean? It means I have attention deficit disorder, that's what. Like the show, the song's themes of defiance, freedom, and individuality will appeal to anyone who has ever felt trapped within a system of oppression or conformity.


       4. 22, Acacia Avenue - This song was a sequel to "Charlotte the Harlot" from Iron Maiden's eponymous debut. I never really liked the original song, but "22 , Acacia Avenue" is damn catchy. The song is either about a real classy 19th century prostitute or a really cheap 80s whore because she charged 15 British pounds for a screw. The song references the East End which is where the infamous Ripper murders took place, so I'd like to think that it takes place in the 19th century. Let's be honest here: whoring is far more exciting when it takes place in centuries past. The address mentioned in the song has no particular significance. There are nine streets in and around London named Acacia Avenue, making it the British equivalent of Elm Street.


       5. The Number Of The Beast - The album's title track is also the album's most infamous track. "The Number Of The Beast" is the first person narrative of a man who accidentally witnesses a satanic ritual and is eventually mesmerized by it. The song was attacked by critics as being Satanic, which it wasn't. If anything, the song was a warning about the losing battle that many of us fight against temptation and evil. Steve Harris has said that the song was inspired by The Omen II, a nightmare, and the Robert Burns' poem "Tam O'Shanter". It is also reminiscent of the Hawthorne short story "Young Goodman Brown" where the title character falls asleep in the woods and dreams that his neighbors and kin participate in a dark ceremony. I have always wondered why this song doesn't open the album. The song has a spoken introduction which could have worked well as a general introduction to the album. In it, an unnamed British thespian reads an excerpt from Revelations in his best Vincent Price voice. According to Bruce Dickinson, the band had asked Price to do the narration himself but he wanted too much money. Instead, Mr. Price ended up doing a ridiculous rap on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" which actually detracts from the song. It irritates me to no end that Vincent Price couldn't be bothered to appear on "The Number Of The Beast". Price spent his entire career as a character actor. His ghoulish laugh and sinister voice were far more memorable than any movie he ever appeared in, unless you count Edward Scissorhands. He was also a man who apparently had no shame whatsoever, because he found the time to star in an animated series: The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. Aside from rape and Nazism, you can't sink much lower than a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, especially one where Casey Kasem is also involved. Meanwhile Orson Welles, an actor who is almost universally held in much higher regard than Vincent Price, did narrations for not one but TWO songs for the metal band Manowar. Way to be a douche, Vinnie. This song is simply amazing. It starts off slow then starts building up until it reaches 1:18 mark when suddenly Bruce screams and the song breaks loose into a fullblown metal anthem. This song is required listening for anyone who has ever used the word "metal" in reference to music.


       6. Run To The Hills - This is one of the album's strongest tracks as well as one of its most popular tracks. It's about the near-eradication of Native Americans in the 19th century. Half of the song is done from the perspective of the Indians, the other half is done from the perspective of bloodthirsty settlers. The tribal drumbeats and galloping guitar riffs let the listeners feel as though they're right there on the open plains of the western United States. There's some great vocal harmonizing in the chorus and the song quite literally ends on a high note. Every fan of rock, punk, and metal should familiarize themselves with this song. It is indescribably good.


       7. Gangland - A song about seedy criminal underworld where criminals off each other for profit and vengeance. This second person narrative focuses on a gangster with a contract out on his life. In every shadowy alley and every night-blacked street, he sees an impending death from which there is no escape. Only in broad daylight does our gangster get any respite. He could turn stool pigeon and turn himself in, but even that won't save him; stoolies get killed after bed check. It's not one of the best songs on the album, but it is one of the fastest. The opening drumbeat reminds me of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher", even though that song came later.


       8. Hallowed Be Thy Name - Along with "Run To The Hills" and "The Number Of The Beast", this is one of the album's standout tracks and a staple of Iron Maiden concerts. The song is about a condemned man who is about to be hanged for unstated crimes. In his final moments he grapples with terror, anxiety, unrepentance, acceptance of death, and confidence in a better afterlife. The song has a few tempo changes, extended instrumental sections, and an all-encompassing power. It's fucking brilliant.


      This concludes my review of Iron Maiden's The Number Of The Beast. A good concluding paragraph should never openly state its function, but whatever. Since words can never fully describe the power and intensity of music, I highly recommend that anyone and everyone give this album a shot. There are some great melodies on here so even people who don't consider themselves to be metal fans may find themselves liking it because there's really no other mainstream metal actual who sound like Maiden. Some critics have compared them to Judas Priest, but I don't really think that's entirely accurate. Priest was generally faster and louder than Maiden and far less concerned with nuance and melody. Rob Halford's voice is also a lot rawer than Bruce's and some people find his metal screeching a little grating. Maiden seems more like metal version of Yes or Pink Floyd than they do like Judas Priest and even that isn't a fully accurate description. As I said, listen to it for yourself. You shan't be disappointed.


Posted by: Syd Lexia