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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Iron Maiden, "The Number of The Beast"

Iron Maiden
"The Number of The Beast"
EMI (1982)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Argue with me if you will, but there were ultimately three bands and three steps in the creation of metal music as we know it today. The first was Black Sabbath, which made rock heavy. Next is Iron Maiden, which added speed to the heaviness. Finally, Slayer made it brutal. The other two bands will get their due at some point on this blog but this is Maiden's moment to shine, and what better way to examine Iron Maiden than by looking at its landmark album, "The Number of The Beast?"

"Number" was Maiden's third album, and it served as a catalyst (although not an all-out turning point) for the group. It was the first album for new vocalist Bruce Dickinson, who was replacing the substance-addled Paul Di'Anno, and primary songwriter and bassist Steve Harris took a more complicated style to composing tracks. Both changes resulted in the keynote sound of modern Maiden.

The complexity is best displayed in in the album's three singles (and three of Maiden's best known songs). The title track opens with a tough riff in 5/4 timing, a signature that is far from unheard of but also far from common. It's fast enough to be exciting, but keeps the listener in suspense as Dickinson details his stumbling upon a satanic cult. "Run to The Hills" employs a familiar Maiden tool: the gallop. "Galloping" is a simple repeating of triplets to create a sound reminiscent of the running of a horse. As such, the riff is put to good use in this tale of Native American oppression and "riding hard on the plains." "Hallowed Be Thy Name," the album's closing track, has the most impressive collection of different riffs and accompanying solos, and deserves the same attention that "Beast" and "Hills" have received thanks to the era of guitar-based video games.

It's interesting to note the layout of the track listing on the album. Although the four tracks on the A-side of the disc are worth hearing, all three of the eventual singles were on the record's B-side, almost keeping the patient listener is suspense for the hits.

Despite the structural superiority of this record's tracks, most will recognize it for Dickinson's debut, which isn't too unfair. Dickinson is one of several defining voices that would forever associate quasi operatic-style vocals with heavy metal (perhaps right behind Ronnie James Dio), and inspire more to mimic the form in later power metal. That style is in full swing on the album, on each of the tracks mentioned already, and is especially present on the ballad-esque "Children of The Damned," which is less crowded with guitars.

Dickinson had left the fellow English metal band Saxon in order to fill the Maiden role, and Harris may have took a jab at Saxon with the lyrics of the opening track, the otherwise boring "Invaders." The plot follows the invasion of Vikings in England, and contains the line "The Saxons have been overpowered/victims of the mighty Norsemen." Maiden is not Nordic of course, but hey.

Upon the album's release, metal fans everywhere rejoiced. Naturally, conservative Christians claimed the band to be Satanists, despite the title track's lyrics which are openly anti-Satan. The protests at concerts may have done more good than harm for the band, making them the symbol of rebellion that youth love. Either way, "Number of The Beast" cemented the band's destiny as legends.

INTERESTING FACT: Although Maiden may not have had any interest in Satan, the dark lord seems to have taken interest in the project. The band reported flickering lights and cold spots in the studio, which is debatable proof. This however is fact: Producer Martin Birch had a car accident during the recording period. The bill to fix the vehicle? £666.66. Awesome.

"The Number of The Beast"

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