Retrospective

IRON MAIDEN’S THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST WAS RELEASED THIRTY YEARS AGO TODAY

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Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast. In some ways, it may still be Maiden’s most important recording; when most people think of Iron Maiden, they think of Bruce Dickinson on vocals, and this was his first album with the band. Beast, then, is kind of a “second debut album,” if you will, for Iron Maiden, and marks the true beginning of the band as we know it.

(Beast was also drummer Clive Burr’s last album with the band, but I can’t imagine I’m the only person who constantly forgets that Maiden ever had a drummer who wasn’t Nicko McBrain.)

And it’s really amazing how well the album holds up three decades later. I feel like you hear people talking about three cuts on this release — the anthemic title track, “Run to the Hills,” and the epic “Hallowed Be Thy Name” — all the time (and they certainly seem to be staples of every metal DJ in the galaxy’s playlist), but really, there isn’t a bad song on the album. If “Gangland” doesn’t get you movin’, you have no pulse, and if the opening notes of “Children of the Damned” don’t immediately make you reach for a cigarette lighter, you have no soul.

And I haven’t even mentioned Derek Riggs’ iconic album art — still one of the most recognizable record covers in the history of metal. I wrote about Riggs’ work at great length two years ago, comparing it to the lackluster latter-day cover of The Final Frontier, which, I still contend, was meant to invoke Beast:

“The image is at a slightly dutch angle, which already gives it an off-kilter feel; the album title is written in dripping blood, and is itself not-level; the lighting and even the shade of blue is much harsher [than on the Frontier cover]; Eddie is not just Satan’s puppet master, but he towers so very large over the Prince of Darkness, really driving home the concept that people should be more afraid of Eddie than The Devil; and because Eddie is a humanoid, he can smile as he helps to wreak havoc, which makes him that much more fucked-up, and the fire can reflect in his large eyes. [Frontier‘s] alien mouth and beady little eyes are incapable of expression, so we have no idea if he’s enjoying the performances of his dastardly deeds or not. He might be thinking ‘Is it five o’clock yet? I’ve had a long day and could really use a beer.'”

For the creation of how many metal fans is The Number of the Beast responsible? How many great musicians were inspired by the music it contains? How many amazing artists got into the game because of Riggs’ work? I don’t think we can even measure the impact this album had on metal. Like Eddie pulling Satan’s strings, The Number of the Beast looms over us all.

Happy birthday to one of the best fuckin’ metal albums ever made.

For your viewing pleasure and the ongoing celebration of this momentous release, here’s the full 1982 Beast Over Hammersmith show. I also encourage you to read Corey Mitchell’s hilarious discussion re: people who don’t like Beast, and Justin Foley’s terrific interview with Riggs himself. Enjoy.

-AR

Thanks to Shane Gillis for the reminder!

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