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Class 6(66)

Iron Maiden: The number of the beast

22/04/11  ||  Khlysty

Introduction

It was the autumn of 1982 and young Khlysty’s 13th birthday was approaching. Khlysty’s mom asked him what he would like for a birthday present, and –having read in a newspaper a hilarious review, which called it as “perfect for demolishing high-rise buildings”- he asked for Motörhead’s “Iron Fist”. His mom, without knowing the horrors that her actions would trigger, gave him what he asked for and young Khlysty’s world was turned upside-down and round and round! Never before in his life had he heard such a noisy, aggressive and hell-bent take on music! OH, MY GAWD!!! He loved every moment his ears bled when assaulted by Motörhead’s unbridled power.

A few days later, also as a birthday present, an aunt brought him a cassette of a band he had never, ever heard of before. He looked mesmerized on the cover: a skeletal monster puppet-mastering the Devil himself, in a background of fire, obvious death and torture and eternal damnation. Eagerly, young Khlysty pushed the tape inside his boombox, pressed play and… WHAMO!!! His musical paradigm shifted once more in a few days. Motörhead was loud, noisy, filthy, an animalistic take on rock’n’roll. But this one… This one was something else entirely. It was pure bliss: heavy, fast, technical, exciting, full of power and horror and magick.

Little Khlysty was totally and irrevocably hooked to heavy music. He didn’t know shit-all about what this “number of the beast” was. He barely comprehended what the songs were about. All he knew was that no more could he listen to what he was listening before this revelation (and, believe me, he wasn’t listening to shit. His main musical menu was compiled of the works of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Doors, early Genesis, Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, and other giants of the ‘60s and the ‘70s) and not feel that these great bands were simply spineless wimps.

No, heavy metal had poisoned him forever and, although, for a long time he delved into different musical styles –and still listens to a lot of things that most metalheadz would consider shit-, he felt an inner shudder of pleasure whenever he listened to a distorted guitar or a double-bass drum. Sorry, your honour, but it’s not my fault: blame Iron Maiden and the perfection that’s “The Number of the Beast” for what I’ve become…

Songwriting

After virtually playing constantly the tape of “The Number…” for quite a long time, I decided to do a little research on Iron Maiden. I was totally hooked on them and I knew almost nothing about the band. So, how do you research a band in a day and age without the net and Google and Wikipedia? With lots of legwork, that’s how: you search used-magazine bins for references, you go to record shops, you ask the clerks there, you befriend them and, finally, you make them play you “Iron Maiden” and “Killers” and “Maiden Japan” and maybe… just maybe… make you an illegal tape of them, since the label hasn’t put them out on cassette format.

And, then, you go home and you listen to the older records and you understand that something monumental happened between “Killers” and “The Number…”. The obvious change is in the vocals department: from rowdy-boy shouts, the Irons had moved to a much more versatile singer, who can reach easily unheard-of highs, who can easily sing low and menacing, who can do everything in between. So, okay, there’s one big difference. Di Anno’s out, Dickinson’s in and the band has hopped up a whole slew of tiers. That’s easy.

What’s not easily detected is how much the band matured between “Killers” and this here beast. Things that were in seminal form during the first two records, here crystallize in way that’s almost scary to behold. Steve Harris’ songwriting skills seemingly take a quantum leap, from half-formed ideas, tentatively applied to the sweaty, almost punky songs of those first two records, to fully-grown metallic majesty of unparalleled sophistication. Instead of just adding “proggy” parts to simple songs, here Harris creates multiparted mini-epics that ingeniously combine Judas Priest’s early take on metal with his own influences/preferences from the world of progressive rock of the ‘70s.

Also, having a singer with the powers and conviction of Dickinson obviously gives the whole band so much bravado, that’s unbelievable. The guitar leads and harmonies become more and more complex. The rhythm and time-signature changes appear more often and become more demanding. The whole band seems much more focused and creative. Actually, and I know that many of you will shit nails about this, I think that this record is the “ultimate” representation of the band: whatever came next was just refinements on the ideas that were fully opened in “The Number…”. The fast, relentless tracks, the multiparted epics, the moody, scary numbers, everything that Iron Maiden did on future records are fully present here.

What? You want me to score this? Okay, how ‘bout I give it a 10 and be done with it?

Production

Martin Birch erases here all the punky elements that were found on the band’s previous records. Now, everything is huge, shining and more metal than ever. The guitars cut like katanas, the bass is omnipresent, the drums sound like they’re played inside your room and Bruce’s voice comes off strong and undiluted. There only one gripe that I have about the production, which I shall talk about later, but, otherwise, this is without a doubt an excellent job done by one of the best producers in metal. It deservedly gets a 9 and walks proudly away.

Guitars

In my humblest of opinions, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, as units are just competent metal guitarists. But, when working in tandem, they become a fearsome entity: from their trademarked guitar harmonies, to their economic leads, to their dueling riffing, they display here a vast array of musical weaponry to take your scalp with. Their clean tone and clearly-defined playing is the cornerstone upon which Metallica built a few years later their fame and fortune and to give them less than a 9 would be a mortal sin.

Vocals

As I said before, Bruce was obviously the catalyst that moved Iron Maiden up to whole orders of magnitude. His vocal prowess along with his song-writing skills and his unwavering professionalism gave the band a whole different edge from what Paul Di Anno was offering and it was the element that turned Iron Maiden from a promising band to a metallic beast of immeasurable proportions. Also, he can scream mightily, so he also gets a 9,5 and goes to fight some “mighty Norsemen”, haha.

Bass

That’s the gripe I talked about, when dissecting the production. Look, Steve Harris, besides being the soul of the band and a great songwriter, he’s one of the best bass players in the field: fast, versatile, well-defined, with great ideas about how the instrument should be used. But, Steve, please, listen to me: DO YOU HAVE TO RUB IT IN OUT FACES? DO YOU REALLY NEED YOUR BASS TO BE SO FUCKING UPFRONT IN MIX? WE FUCKING KNOW THAT YOU’RE GOD-LIKE ON BASS. NOW, CAN WE HAVE A LITTLE MORE ROOM FOR THE OTHER FUCKING INSTRUMENTS HERE? WHADDYA SAY, EH? Otherwise, everything’s fine an’ dandy with Stevo. How fine? Well, like 9-fine.

Drums

Clive Burr’s work on “The Number…” is mighty fine, as he displays quite a lot of power and versatility. I think, though –especially when I compare his work with that of his replacement-, that he seems a little strained with all this complexity and whatnot. He left after the tour, Nicko came in and everyone was happy as a trout. So, Clive gets an 8,5 for being a good sport.

Lyrics

There are Vikings invading Britain, where they find a village full of mutant children, who keep secret agents as prisoners in a remote island, in a street of which there’s a harlot named Charlotte, who may or may not have dreams about the advent of Antichrist on Earth, but, anyway, Injuns are ascairt of the advent of white men in their lands and there’s a lot of gang-fighting goin’ on and then there’s a guy who’s waiting to be executed and he’s waxing all philosophical about life and death and everything in between and I have just told you all you need to know about the lyrical subject of the record and, thus, I give myself a 9 for being so clever and concise.

Cover art

It’s by Derek Riggs. It’s a fucking 10. Or, maybe, it’s a fucking 666. There, much better.

Logo

I have drawn this logo on so many books, desks, notebooks, schoolbags and every other imaginable surface and still I don’t exactly like it. But, I agree, it’s a fucking trademark of the band and a pretty good at it. But I still don’t very much like it, so I’ll grade it with a 7 and, well, that’s that.

Booklet

7,5. Lyrics, pix, an inflatable Eddie and on my very limited-release copy the phone number of Charlotte, which I shan’t reveal to any of you, so, now, fuck off my back.

Overall and ending rant

I have already written so much that I feel that I don’t have to say much more. “The Number of the Beast” is what a classic should be: a fully-formed statement that stands the test of time and is rightly considered a benchmark for the evolution of heavy music. If you don’t have it, you’re missing an important part of metal’s history and a great record. So, without any delay, I would suggest that you acquire it and enjoy its might.

Post Scriptum

Okay, grouchy old-man Khlysty’s gonna rip a few new assholes here. See, here’s the deal: I know that record labels are facing a lot of problems lately. And I know that they’re trying to lure the great unwashed into buying cds and not illegally download them from the Internetz. That’s okay: I feel no devotion towards labels, but I understand what they’re trying to do. But some things should never EVER be touched in the name of making a buck. For quite some time now, EMI is trying to persuade us of two things: a) that “The Number of the Beast” contains nine songs and b) that the color scheme of the cover is blackish. Both of these are lies.

No matter what the guys at EMI are trying to do, everybody knows that the penultimate track of “The Number…” is “Gangland” and that there was no “Total Eclipse” track when the record came out in 1982. Also, on the cassette copy that I have, along with millions of people who bought the record for quite some time, the color scheme of the sky on the cover is blue-grey, not black-grey. Maybe it was a printers’ mistake. I don’t give a flying fuck. If you label-guys want to retain even an infinitesimal vestige of credibility among those of us who still pay you to buy records, you should immediately treat this record with the respect it requires and return it to its first and finest form.

You want to give us more bang for out money? Okay, give us a double-cd “deluxe” edition of the record and be done with it. But, please, no more of this shit. A classic should be treated as such and not just as a “commodity”.

9,5

  • Information
  • Released: 1982
  • Label: EMI
  • Website: www.ironmaiden.com
  • Band
  • Bruce “Air-raid siren” Dickinson: vocals
  • Adrian Smith: guitar
  • Dave Murray: guitar
  • Steve Harris: bass
  • Clive Burr: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Invaders
  • 02. Children of the Damned
  • 03. The Prisoner
  • 04. 22, Acacia Avenue
  • 05. The Number of the Beast
  • 06. Run to the hills
  • 07. Gangland
  • 08. Hallowed be Thy Name