Reckoning the Number of the Beast - The 30th Anniversary Part 1
“When I first heard the intro to “The Number of the Beast,” it scared the shit out of me... And I wanted more.”
In March of 1982, Iron Maiden recreated itself with their release of “The Number of the Beast,” an album that immediately entered the vanguard of heavy metal’s assault on popular radio, the conceptions of heavy metal to that point, and everything that wasn’t nailed down.
Armed with new singer Bruce Dickinson, the band used his full-bodied, rallying vocals to stir the pot of underground music and create not only the band’s own showcase piece, but a permanent pillar of heavy metal’s own private gospel.
To lead off this week paid in reverence to an icon of all that we as metal fans hold dear, I turned to fellow Bloody Good Horror pundit Joe for his impression, and to do me the honor of leading off the tribute. Joe, let me get out of the way, and please set the stage for the week that is to follow:
When Drew first mentioned to me that this year’s tribute was going to be the classic Iron Maiden album "The Number of the Beast", which celebrates it's 30th anniversary this year, I got really excited. I was three when the album first came out so I'm not 100% positive when I heard it for the first time but I know it came into my life when I was pretty young. At the time the heaviest music I had heard was Slade's "Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply", which was the 3rd cassette tape I ever bought. So when I first heard the title track from Maiden's album come out of my brother’s boom box I was pretty frightened and confused. Frightened because of Barry Clayton’s classic introduction to the song and confused because I had never heard anything else like it. Yes I still listened to other types of music after that, most of which I'm embarrassed to admit now, but from then on I was what the kids called a “metal head”. A style of music that over the years has been both a gift and a curse.
The thing that’s always amazed me about this album is how it, namely the songs “Run To the Hills” and “The Number Of the Beast”, has fans who like so many different genres of music. Even in the metal community which has countless sub-genres the songs fall into a small group of tracks, like “Ace Of Spades”, that just about everyone has some sort of affection for.
But there’s a lot more than just two great songs here. From the moment “Invaders”, the first track on the album, kicks you in the face all the way until the end of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” Maiden keeps you interested. There’s isn’t a track in the bunch that can be called a throw away. Something I’ve grown to appreciate more and more over the years after paying for albums and ending up only liking 2 or 3 songs. “The Number Of the Beast” and “Run To the Hills” are great don’t get me wrong but for me “The Prisoner” ranks up there with the best of them and is a perfect example of why Iron Maiden is the smart man’s metal band. That song was a classic to me long before I knew about the TV show it’s based on. I can’t think of any song that more perfectly closes out a record than “Hallowed Be Thy Name”. I’ll admit that when I was a kid I mostly stuck to the two most well known tracks from the album but the first time I listened to “Hallowed” I was mad at myself for ignoring it for so many years. To say it’s epic is an understatement.
It would be a shame to not at least mention the album’s artwork here. To a 5 year old (I think) me Derek Riggs’ depiction of Maiden’s classic mascot Eddie controlling Satan like a puppet might of been the most evil thing I had ever seen. The obvious assumption to a toddler like me was these guys obviously hang out with the devil. The rumors on the playground that they forced people to kill puppies before they’ll go on stage only fueled the fire in my head. It wasn’t until years later that I read that a bunch of adults actually thought the same things I did.
What else can you say about “The Number Of the Beast”? It’s a classic. It opened up a whole new world of music for me. Yes that genre of music probably kept me single into my early 20’s but I’m not bitter about that. It’s an album that truly stands the test of time. One that I’ve probably listened to more times than anything else in my collection. It's one I will automatically load on any new computer or phone so I always have it on hand. I'll never get tired of hearing any track from it. Alright maybe I’m a little bitter about the no dates thing but I’m willing to let it go.
In an attempt to capture the inimitable impact of that record as we embrace the 30th anniversary of that release, I went on a journey to talk to as many friends and musicians and professionals as I could to see what people’s reaction was to “The Number of the Beast” some three decades since its arrival. The quote at the top (from Matt Duncan of DC4,) was a fairly common reaction from people, and what struck me was how many individuals had close, personal memories about how that album came into their lives, incorporating family members, things they were eating or drinking, jobs they were working and even who they were making out with when they first heard it.
This week promises to be an adventure, as personalities from all over have come forward to help me pay tribute to the album that is “The Number of the Beast.” Over the course of this week, we’ll talk to dozens of talented individuals and experts about what that album was, is and forever shall be. I encourage you take the album out, listen to it in the dark, and record your own reflections in the comments as we take this journey. After all, the objective here is, if I have any luck at all, to get people talking about Iron Maiden and listening to music and sharing it with others. Make this a community effort, won’t you?
”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