DAAARRKKKNEESSSS! NOOO PARENTS!
I know next to nothing about Iron Maiden. I know they were part of the cumbersomely named genre/movement New Wave of British Heavy Metal (or NWOBHM). I know they’re part of a genre that generally needs to work really hard to click with me, since I was averse to it for so long. I know they’ve become more and more polarizing in metal community in recent years.
So bear with me here: for some reason, with this little information that I have, I’ve decided that I not only want to assimilate a good portion of their discography, but I really, REALLY want to like it. Not just because I always try to go into something hoping to enjoy it, though that’s true. Iron Maiden is extremely attractive to me for a single, unfathomable reason: they’re a revered and loved metal band that plasters a colorful skeleton/zombie guy all over their album covers. THAT. IS. AWESOME. No band that does that could possibly fall plague to the metal disease of taking yourself insufferably seriously. But it gets better: in doing my research for this review, I found out he has a name: Eddie. EDDIE. Lamest demon mascot name ever, and therefore best demon mascot name ever!
Album covers are really important to me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever disclosed that before. The more you know!
I was honestly a bit disappointed with this album on first listen, but that wasn’t because of any negativity, it was because of confusion. For some reason, I had no idea how to feel about it. So I listened to it again, as is my custom for reviews anyway. Three listens is generally what I go on.
You know how many times I listened to this album before I realized it was kind of awesome? Seven. SEVEN. The last time it took me this long to get a grip on an album was Funeral. I honestly have no idea why this happened. But it did, and now I’m left with The Number of the Beast, a wonderful album with a few nibbles.
First, the good (as usual). What little knowledge I have of Iron Maiden’s history has told me that this was a transitional album, breaking away from their previous, more gothically influenced tone to a world of fantasy and mysticism. The biggest indicator of this is the brand-new vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, who is flat-out the best thing about the album. His vocal and emotional range is unbelievable, his tone is distinctive and rich, he squeezes every possible ounce of infectious juice out of the hooks, and belts like he’s been doing it since the womb. He’s the Freddie Mercury of metal, and his presence is so elevating the album probably would have worked even with subpar songwriting and riffage.
Thankfully, the riffage is consistently excellent and the songwriting is so intense and melodic it makes you wonder why it’s so respected even among purist metalheads. I mean, these are people who profess to hate all pop, right? With its big, meaty, gravy-covered hooks? Those are all over this album. The massive refrain of “Children of the Damned” is goosebump inducing, especially since most of the rest of the song is much slower than the rust of the album. The title track is also incessantly catchy, and comes complete with a Roger Daltrey-style scream. “22 Acacia Avenue” is the closest the album gets to gritty, with savage energy never letting up for its lengthy run. “Run to the Hills” is, blunt look at Native American genocide aside, one of the most satisfyingly over-the-top metal standards ever. Seriously, that hook has so many prongs.
Two songs REALLY stick out, not just in terms of songwriting but as overall packages. The first is the truly epic conclusion “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, which weaves a creative melody over the thought journal of a man about to be executed. The guitarwork on this song isn’t even the kind that make me want to fist-pump or head-bop, it just makes me want to take off my hat and stand in absolute reverence. Then I realize I’m not wearing a hat. And that’s why I have seven huge clumps of hair missing now.
The second highlight, and one of the first songs that really clicked with me, is “The Prisoner.” Sampling an old TV show for its intro, it tells the story of an escaped prisoner and the surprising exhilaration of his new life as a runner. The hook is big and silly and completely awesome, and Iron Maiden’s trademark “chugging” guitar work, especially in the bass, not only fits the story but is perfectly evocative of unhinged, exhilarating freedom.
So this is all well and good and everything, but there are two weak spots. The first is “Gangland”, which comes near the end. It’s alright, but it’s basically just generic heavy metal. The vocals are good, the riffs are a bit limp, and the lyrics are unremarkable. The second weak spot is the opener, “Invaders”, which is actually pretty good for the most part, but is practically broken beyond repair by a barely-existent chorus with one of the weakest “melodies” this side of “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.” Even Dickinson can’t really do anything with it, and when Dickinson can’t work with your hook, you need a new hook. This one ruinous moment is so souring (especially since it’s on the opening of the album) and reflects so poorly on the songwriters involved that it’s actually the primary reason I’ve denied the album a perfect score. You should have known better, guys.
But screw negativity, because this album rules. The songwriting is strong, the vocals incredible, the storytelling interesting, the playing infectious, and the atmosphere…charming, honestly. This is a charming album. I wasn’t expecting that.
Perhaps it’s a bit early in my listening of them to do this, but…hail Maiden!
Music: 4/5 -1 off for my nitpicks.
Thematic Content: 5/5 I forgot to mention most of the songs on here are narrative, didn’t I?
Lyricism: 4/5 Surprisingly good narratives, too!
Diversity: 2/5 Heh heh…
Resonance: 5/5 ROCK ON BUDD- wait, I already used that…
Experience: D&D with your geekiest friends. So much Red Bull you can barely see straight. The caffeinated whims of the DM seem a lot more epic in the moment.
9/10. Best Song: Hallowed Be Thy Name or The Prisoner