Welcome back! With Killers in the rear-view mirror, we now move on to one of THE most beloved albums in the pantheon of heavy metal, Iron Maiden’s 1982 masterpiece, The Number of The Beast. Despite having to be recorded and mixed within five weeks, there’s not a bad track to be found, and some of Maiden’s most definitive songs are here. It’s a 10/10 album, no notes.
We see the biggest change the band has undergone as Paul Di’Anno is out as the lead singer. In his place is the former “Bruce Bruce” of Samson, Bruce Dickinson. As much as I’ve come to enjoy Di’Anno on vocals, Dickinson was a massive upgrade. He had a much broader, almost operatic vocal range that befit Steve Harris’ increasingly loftier songwriting and better complimented the instrumentation. It was what the band needed to get to that upper-tier “sell the absolute crap out of stadiums” level. Dickinson did contribute some writing to a few of the songs here (namely “Run to the Hills”, “Children of the Damned”, and “The Prisoner”), but because of a contractual agreement with Samson, he couldn’t be credited.
For this ranking, I will include “Total Eclipse”. It was originally a B-side in 1982, but it was added to the 1998 re-release. It may be a controversial decision because of how revered the classic release of the album is, but it’s MY ranking, dammit!
As I mentioned in the Killers ranking column, this was originally set to be the cover art for “Purgatory”, but the band thought it was just too darn good to be used for a single, so they saved it for this instead. Excellent decision because this is ridiculously bad-ass album art. Controversial, too, as it helped stoke some of that ol’ Satanic Panic that was happening a lot in the 1980s. The controversy probably sold a lot more copies, in all honesty.
As with the case for the last couple of albums and for much of Maiden’s ‘80s output, picking a bottom song is quite challenging because the album is so strong. It’s a legit metal masterwork with nothing resembling a skip, but something’s gotta be ninth, and it may as well be “Invaders”. The opening track of the album does a good job of introducing Bruce Dickinson’s vocal style to the world, and he sings the absolute hell out of lyrics inspired by the Vikings (the seafaring Scandinavians, not the football team). Compared to everything else, this is relatively simple and is outclassed by everything else, but as an album opener, it’s punchy, fast-paced fun to whet the appetite for what’s to come.
Coming in at second-to-last with a track that some of the band members actually regret putting on the album. Because of the limited amount of room on the record, the band had to decide between “Gangland” and “Total Eclipse” as to which will be on the album and which will be the B-side on the “Run to the Hills” single release. Basically, it was like the scene in Family Guy where Peter has to choose between soup and salad, but with heavy metal. In their haste, the band selected “Gangland” for the album release. Steve Harris commented that it was a mistake as he believed “Total Eclipse” was much more deserving to be on the album.
I will agree that “Total Eclipse” should have been on the album in favor of this one, but that’s not to say that “Gangland” is bad. Not at all. It’s another breezy track that gets in and gets out without overstaying its welcome. The lyrics are effective in telling the story it sets out to, the chorus is catchy, and the guitars and drums are lively.
7. “22 Acacia Avenue”
The second part of the “Charlotte the Harlot” saga, it’s the second-best one. Titled after the address where Charlotte, ahem, conducts business, this has a pretty fun vocal performance from Bruce. While being a tad longer than it really needed to be, we still get some sweet guitars, tempo changes, and a driving beat that gives way to howling solos.
6. “Total Eclipse”
As discussed before, “Total Eclipse” was relegated to B-side purgatory in favor of “Gangland”, but the 1998 reissue added it to the album, and it makes Beast that much stronger. It’s a very underappreciated track, so I’m glad that Maiden re-mastered the song and released it as a stand-alone track in 2022 so that it can reach more ears. Centered around post-nuclear war ecological collapse, it’s one of many Iron Maiden doomsday-themed songs. Everything from the instruments to the vocals conveys the requisite level of dread the subject matter demands while still being sonically satisfying. The guitar work in particular is stellar, going from one meaty riff to another. Absolutely give this a listen if you’ve not had the chance.
5. “Children of the Damned”
“Children of the Damned” is based on the classic British horror film of the same name featuring those creepy-ass kids with the freaky eyes. It starts off much slower and melodic and, as the second track after “Invaders”, serves as a stark contrast to the opener’s frenetic pacing. Whereas “Invaders” shows off Bruce’s power, this one shows off more of his range. As the lyrics escalate, so does the music as the pace quickens and builds to an appropriate crescendo.
4. “The Prisoner”
Based on the 1960s British TV show, “The Prisoner” is a seriously underrated track from this record that finishes just outside of the medal position. People will always go to the top three, and for good reason, but you shouldn’t sleep on this one. Memorable drumming from Clive Burr leads to some delightfully crunchy riffs and a catchy-as-hell chorus. Maiden added this one to their Future Past tour setlist in 2023, so I’m glad that “The Prisoner” is getting some deserved time in the sun.
3. “The Number of the Beast”
I totally knew what the top three tracks were going to be, but it was a matter of what order they were going to be in. The titular track and one of the most well-known Maiden tracks (and a Halloween favorite), “The Number of the Beast” starts off with a Vincent Price-esque narration of the Book of Revelation by actor Barry Clayton (the band did want Vincent to do it, but the “Price” of £25,000 was too dear for the band).
After that is done, we start in on that incredible riff, and the excellent guitar work continues throughout. Bruce Dickinson’s vocals are at first subdued, but he just lets out *that* improvised scream in a pitch he has yet been able to replicate. Bruce continued to deliver a powerhouse vocal performance throughout while blistering solos and frenetic drums pushed things along. “Beast” generated a ton of controversy and pearl-clutching because of the occult nature of the lyrics, and the band were falsely labeled as Satanists as a result. It was really just Steve Harris writing about a nightmare he had from watching Damien: Omen II before bed.
2. “Run to the Hills”
It’s “Run to the Hills”, guys! What could I even add about this? THE song that a lot of people associate Maiden with, their examination of American colonization and the treatment of Native Americans starts with instantly recognizable opening percussion that gives way to an infectious riff. However, once we hit Clive Burr’s appropriately-galloping drums, the band kicks it up a level with some true heavy metal urgency, and we get yet another quintessential vocal performance from Dickinson.
This is one that you’ll see on a billion “Best Ever” lists. “Best Hard Rock Song”, “Greatest Heavy Metal Song”, “Greatest Barbershop Recording”. Well, maybe not so much that last one.
1. “Hallowed Be Thy Name”
You know you have one hell of a track (and album in general) if the iconic “Run to the Hills” is only number two, but “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is just that damn good. Taking the top spot here is the first of the quasi-traditional album-closing Maiden epics, and one that a lot of people will say is the best epic they’ve ever done. Written from the perspective of a prisoner awaiting execution, I love the ominous opening that builds atmosphere and leads into those awesome guitars. It’s complex in its themes and composition, haunting, and manages to be a gripping listen. It’s yet another consistent live favorite, like the others in the top three, and probably a top-five Maiden track overall (though I change my mind about that stuff pretty much every day).
More of Ryan Ranks coming soon to CGCM Rock Radio/Website: Ryan Ranks