After the gritty, unpolished sound of Iron Maiden’s previous two albums, The Number of the Beast (1982) established the trend of wide-ranging, operatic vocals and long guitar solos that would influence generations of bands to come. The introduction of Bruce Dickinson on vocals allowed bassist and songwriter Steve Harris to write material that demanded a wider vocal range to keep up with the intricate instrumentation, cementing Maiden’s sound and earning them the number one spot on the UK Top 40.
The opening track, “Invaders,” began with an explosive burst of drums by Clive Burr, complemented by a rhythmic guitar riff and overlaid with one of Harris’s signature melodic bass lines created a frantic energy that continued for the duration of the song. Dickinson won over fans with a sweeping performance of wails and snarls while delivering rapid-fire lyrics about desperately battling a marauding band of Vikings.
After this barrage, Maiden expertly shifted pace into “Children of the Damned,” a slow groove where Dickinson and guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith showed their emotional range in a performance slower but no less intense than the previous track.
The subject of “The Prisoner“—and the source of its opening audio clip—was the titular 1967 British television series about a captive in a mysterious village. The song expressed determination to overcome obstacles and strive for personal freedom, a message which resonated with metalheads everywhere, coming through especially strongly during the upbeat chorus.“22 Acacia Avenue“ continued the saga of Charlotte the Harlot, introduced in her eponymous song on Maiden’s first album. This one focused on the relationship between Charlotte and the song’s narrator, who started out advertising her services to friends, but by the end pleaded with her to quit and run away with him. The music shifted in intensity, speed, and tone to reflect the turmoil of the narrator. His final plea to Charlotte was bookended by guitar solos: the first was soulful and sorrowful, while the second ended the song frantically.
The controversial title track contained many of Maiden’s catchiest riffs and most impressive shredding solos, plus one long, chilling scream from Dickinson, which he said was born of frustration after he was forced to perform countless takes of the introduction in the studio. The song, which opened with a reading from the Book of Revelation and proceeded to tell a horrific tale about an encounter with a Satanic cult, was misinterpreted by religious groups who labeled Maiden as Satanists. In fact, the song was inspired by a nightmare Harris had after watching one of the Omen movies. According to legend, the album’s recording was punctuated by strange happenings, culminating when producer Martin Birch was in a car accident and was charged £666 for repairs.
“Run to the Hills,” a sympathetic tale of Native Americans hunted by colonists, established a signature Maiden formula: the Maiden Gallop. Burr, Harris, and Smith (on rhythm guitar) formed a driving force that provided momentum while leaving room for Dickinson’s energetic vocals and Murray’s rousing solo to dominate the spotlight.
“Gangland” and “Total Eclipse” (which was originally a single B-side but is included on the remastered album release) were the less standout tracks on the album, but even these merely average Maiden songs were expertly performed and worth hearing.
The album’s epic closer, “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” demonstrated what Maiden can do when they give themselves a few extra minutes to build a powerful exploration of deeper themes. This track followed a condemned prisoner’s struggle to come to terms with his impending execution, bringing together Maiden’s strongest elements. Dickinson began by expressing the prisoner’s heartfelt introspection before a suggestion of the Maiden Gallop pushed him forward on his journey. The musical expression of the prisoner overcoming his fears and embracing his fate came to a head with nearly three minutes of the guitarists demonstrating their considerable chops, punctuated by Burr’s forceful drum fills.
Over thirty years later, the title track, “Run to the Hills,” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name” are still concert staples. The Number of the Beast was a turning point in Iron Maiden’s career which is still a favorite of old fans and an excellent starting point for the new.