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The Bloody Classics: Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast, 1982, EMI

Track List

  1. Invaders

  2. Children of the Damned

  3. The Prisoner

  4. 22 Acacia Avenue

  5. The Number of the Beast

  6. Run to the Hills

  7. Gangland

  8. Hallowed Be Thy Name

Heavy metal stalwarts Iron Maiden were formed in east London in 1975. Although they were successful from the start, their third album The Number of the Beast was their first to reach number 1 (rather impressively beating both Barbra Striesland and a compilation of Bond themes) to gain platinum status and to achieve worldwide commercial success as well as being their first with Bruce Dickinson on lead vocals. The Number of the Beast has sold more than 14 million copies to date.This becomes even more impressive when you realise that metal bands really struggled to get any kind of radio airplay at all in the early 1980s. They took the album on a world tour and were given a lot of publicity by American conservative Christian groups protesting against the band due to the title of the album. Iron Maiden went on to become one of the most successful metal bands in the world.

Named after a mythical medieval torture device (*puts on medievalist’s hat*: iron maidens were a nineteenth century fiction, there is no evidence at all for their existence in europe at any point before the early 1800s) they have performed live over 2000 times and plan to continue their current “Legend of the Beast” tour in North America this year, and their mascot Eddie (the skeleton) appears on all their album and single covers and at all their shows. The cover art on this album which shows Eddie controlling Satan who is in turn controlling another Eddie was supposed to make the listener question who was being manipulated by who and which one was the truly evil one.

Having already been through a few lineup changes by the time they went into the studio to record their their third album, the band were: Bruce Dickinson on vocals, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith on guitar, Steve Harris on bass and Clive Burr on drums.

The speed of the guitar intro on Invaders is nuts, I feel like this track about the Viking invasion of Britain is exactly what someone who has never heard an Iron Maiden song would assume they would sing about. That’s not a criticism, it just shows that from song one this album is going to be a metal classic. Children of the Damned is here to shock the uninitiated with a gentle start. It may not be as fast and furious, but the content is just as dark as you would expect. There is also an amazing guitar solo, it’s insanely good. The Prisoner, a song inspired by the cult 1960s sci-fi show of the same name is a great noisy monster of a track with more mind blowing guitar work and a strong bassline. 22 Acacia Avenue is the second of four songs (all featured on different albums) about the same woman. Written by Dave Murray, it talks about his conflicted feelings about her work a prostitute. The address of the title represents a cliched image of middle class suburban obscurity (There are more than 60 streets with this name across the UK) which the lyrics of the song obviously go against. The Number of the Beast which is not only Iron Maiden’s most famous song but probably one of the most famous metal songs ever is of course not actually about worshipping satan but rather about a nightmare Steve Harris had after watching the second Omen movie, so it’s really quite benign. Yet again, the guitar solos are phenomenal though. Run to the Hills, about the European colonisation of North America is lead by some brilliant drumming and it’s nice to hear Clive Burr get his chance to shine here. Gangland is another hard rocker but it’s not a screamer. Hallowed Be Thy Name is almost delicate in comparison to what has come before. Lyrically it’s actually a beautiful song about someone facing their final day before a death sentence is carried out. It seems a great way to finish an album that I think even non-metal fans would enjoy with of course yet another incredible guitar solo. It’s a track of the kind of epic length the band are famous for and it remains an almost constant part of their lives shows.

It’s a short album, but they maintain a constant intensity throughout and I almost felt worn out by the end of listening to it. I have to say though, even though I wouldn’t really class myself as a metal fan, I loved it. I really enjoyed all the historical and literary references (a feature of the band’s entire catalogue) and loved the light and shade of Bruce Dickinson’s changing vocal style. Anyone who thinks all he does is scream is just outright wrong, that idea is blown out of the water in less than 40 minutes here. Also, without wishing to labour this point, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are amazing on the guitars.

Iron Maiden were inspired by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin as well as Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep, Jimi Hendrix and a number of blues guitarists. In turn, their influence can be felt in the music of pretty much all other modern metal artists - Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, Slipknot, In Flames to name a few. There have also been numerous Iron Maiden tribute albums released including one made by a string quartet and one by a group of hip hop artists.

They have remained relevant in recent years, winning Best British Live Act at the 2009 BRIT awards (awarded via public vote) as well as winning a Grammy in 2011.

So, if you’ve ever considered dipping your toes into the murky waters of British metal but didn’t know where to start, look no further than this 1982 classic, The Number of the Beast is the album for you.

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