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Thursday, 6 December 2012

Iron Maiden - Number of the Beast (1982)

The first metal album I ever bought was Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. It was during my first term at secondary school and my mum was in hospital, so I stayed with my aunt, uncle and cousins for a few weeks. During this time, they had previously booked an overnight trip to Cherbourg in France for a bit of booze cruise. After some scrambled last minute arrangements with the ferry company, the invitation was extended to me.

We travelled from Wolverhampton to Southampton by car, and when we stopped at a service station on the way down I did my usual thing of browsing through the tapes and CDs hoping to find a bargain. However, as always, the selection was limited. I had a bit of cash in my pocket that I was dying to spend, so I grabbed the only thing that I found vaguely interesting: a tape copy of Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast for five pounds.

The trip was actually pretty crap. Unbeknownst to my aunt when she booked the trip, Cherbourg was a) quite horrible, and b) all shut up on a Sunday. I enjoyed Southampton, mainly because I spent a lot of time with my cousin playing on a Mortal Kombat 2 arcade machine. The ferry was fun to explore, and I remember feeling pretty smug that my cousin and I got to watch Demolition Man in the on-board cinema even though it was a 15. I listened to Number of the Beast endlessly on this trip and over the weeks that followed and invested in the CD a few years later.

Number of the Beast opens with ‘Invaders’, an incredibly naff metal stomper that can’t help but bring to mind Spinal Tap. I’d forgotten just how ridiculous Dave Murray’s guitar solos are: an over-the-top and self-indulgent widdle-fest. ‘Children of the Damned’ is a little better. It’s one of those slowed down, heart-felt metal ballads with acoustic guitars during the verse, and then big rock riffs during the chorus. Things go a little downhill as the song picks up pace for the extended guitar solo.

Sampled from the TV series of the same name, ‘The Prisoner’ opens with Number Six’s plea of “I am a not a number, I am free man” being drowned out by sinister laughter. This song has a really nice groove to it, with a driving drumbeat and dirty guitar riffs holding it together before the song kicks into gear. It’s fast-paced and energetic, and the chorus is as catchy as hell – a great song.

’22 Acacia Avenue’ is hilariously bad: chugging guitars clash with Dickinson’s wailing, which sounds particularly strained in this one. This is one of those songs which oozes cheese from every pore, a bit like one of those stuffed crust pizzas.

The titular ‘Number of the Beast’ begins with Barry Clayton reading lines from the Book of Revelations before hitting one of the most iconic metal riffs of the 80s; Dickinson’s vocals are excellent here. I love the way the song is structured, and constantly pulls you along. Even Murray’s guitar wankery has its place here.

‘Run to the Hills’ is an absolute classic. It’s cheesy, daft and campy, but I love it. There’s this perfect mix of naff ingredients that create something better when combined: the galloping rhythm section, Dickinson’s banshee wails about how bad the white man is, and the dirty guitar solo – it’s so wrong, but oh so right.

‘Gangland’ is rather dull when compared to the last couple of tracks. It’s incredibly generic and instantly forgettable. The same can also be said of ‘Total Eclipse’ – yawn inducing, unimaginative bilge.

Album-closer ‘Hallowed be thy Name’ opens with an intricate guitar riff held together by the toll of death bells which give the song a rather creepy atmosphere. Like ‘The Prisoner’, this song has a fantastic groove that provides the perfect backdrop to the shredding guitar riffs and Dickinson’s almost operatic howls. It’s a great way to close the album.

I’ve got to admit that I’m on the fence with this one: it’s an album of such contrasting quality that it is difficult to give it a fair assessment as an album. Tracks like ‘Run to the Hills’ and ‘Number of the Beast’ are perfect metal. But then there is a hell of a lot of filler. Out of the nine songs on the album, I count four that I genuinely like, and two of those are excellent... I think it’s one for the charity shops... actually, screw it, I’ll keep it.

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