*** WARNING – This review over-uses the word ‘galloping‘. Message ends. ***
At school I always pretended to like Iron Maiden a bit more than I really did, I was an AC/DC man myself but I found myself envying Maiden’s artwork (take a bow Derek Riggs), T-shirts and hordes of easily-identifiable acolytes. Heavy metal is a tribal thing, it provides insecure teens with an immediate identity plugging them straight into something bigger and more powerful than themselves (which let’s face it is anything), or at least that’s how it worked for me. I loved the whole ‘us and them’ nature of it, pitying all those fools walking around without spiky goblins on their T-shirts, without their feet squelching in sweaty Hi-Tec basketball boots and who were wearing jeans which didn’t cut off the blood supply to their thighs – precisely the same reasons we were pitied back. King of the crop in 1988, before Metallica’s primacy and with AC/DC taking a bit of a quality holiday, were Maiden.
The Number of the Beast is where I started out, someone leant me a copy on cassette; I only picked up my own scruffy second-hand vinyl copy 10 years ago. I quickly reduced it down to two tracks I liked ‘The Number of the Beast’ – complete with fake Vincent Price narration and ‘Run to the Hills’; memorably once included on a benefit LP for the Armenian Earthquake Fund, which amused sick smart-arsed little sixth-formers like me hugely. Ignorant then of the band’s history and this LP’s context as Bruce Dickinson’s first with them, I just took it for what it was and all the things that people loved the band for, his air-raid siren voice , the decidedly sixth-form lyrics, the galloping rhythm section and a certain over-earnestness were in good supply here; most of which immediately turned me off. At the time the fact that Americans had burned copies of The Number of the Beast greatly added to its’ allure, sadly no real satanism was to be found here just one song about stumbling across and fleeing a ritual amongst the songs about vikings, a TV show, mobsters, the oppression of native Americans, John Wyndham fantasies, a lady of the night and a condemned criminal. Hmmm.
Mrs 1537, who saw Iron Maiden at least twice in 80s is, as regular readers know, a somewhat harsh lady prone to sweeping judgements and generalisations, which are annoyingly almost always correct. Her view on her erstwhile idols is that they played ‘spotty boy music’ and she’s right as far as that goes. The jagged, (that word again) galloping rhythms and subject matter do seem more likely to appeal to men of a certain type and age, or certainly did in Carmarthen anyway. Obviously I’m generalising furiously here, but following Iron Maiden always seemed a bit like following a football team to me and probably had a similar overall demographic. Up the irons!
I vaguely remember interviews where band members state that the material on The Number of the Beast was not up to snuff, apart from in a few places and I wouldn’t disagree. If you don’t like metal you won’t like this LP, there’s nothing here designed to sway the floating voter, this is a genre album. I love metal and I have reservations. Writing off ‘Gangland’ which is just dire and ‘The Prisoner’ (fan fave though it is) as tuneless knackers isn’t hard but even amongst the rest the song-writing isn’t even. Take a track like ‘Invaders’, which was not a good opening choice, the bloodthirsty lyrics and attacking riff are fine, but the chorus ruins it, same for ‘Run to the Hills’ where I think the intro is brilliant, right up until the song comes, yup, galloping over the hill like one of the runners-up in a donkey derby. ‘Children of the Damned’ is good Maiden, with a really good guitar solo and ’22 Acacia Avenue’ packs a fine wallop amongst some interesting lyrics.
It is the words to ’22 Acacia Avenue’, subtitled ‘The continuing saga of Charlotte the Harlot’ that gave me the biggest surprise looking at this LP again. Due to a strategic rip and fold in my knocked about copy it read,
Abuse her misuse her she can take all that you’ve got
Caress her moles she always does what you want
Which I just thought was amazing and pretty advanced lovemaking technique in anyone’s book. Sadly, it should have read ‘caress her molest her’ which is far less alluring as far as I’m concerned.
I have, just likeThe Number of the Beast saved the best ’til last – ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ is the best track they ever did. If you like metal you have to acknowledge this as a classic. Bruce Dickinson’s voice, which is a damn powerful weapon not always deployed carefully enough throughout this LP, is just incredible here, the way he sings the line ‘The sands of time for me are running low’ is controlled perfection, pure and absolute. Okay I know it’s overly dramatic and overwrought but that comes with the territory and like all the best metal it does require a willing suspension of disbelief and for me it definitely is up there with the very best metal. Total genius, of a sort.