Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 10: Iron Maiden, "Number Of The Beast"

Artist: Iron Maiden
Album: Number Of The Beast
Year: 1982
Label: Sony

Though genres shift and change as time progresses, it is almost ways the initial, pure form of the style that endures the longest, as it is this to which the initial fans were drawn.  It is also within this pioneering sound where one can find the links between bands that existed decades apart, as this form serves as a common thread across time.  In both of these cases, it is rarely more true than one finds within the genre of heavy metal, and even four decades after the term was first being widely used, the core form of the style remains largely the same.  However, there are also few genres of music that have been subject to as much criticism over the years, and yet even as this continues, heavy metal continues to be the sound of choice for countless music fans across the globe.  Though there have been many iconic names in heavy metal throughout its existence, few command the respect and status across the generations as one finds in a band that almost perfectly defines the style: Iron Maiden.  For more than thirty years, the band has been one of the most powerful, wildest groups on the planet, and yet that have done so without very much radio support.  Reaching what is without question their creative apex in 1982, Iron Maiden released onto the world what remains one of the greatest heavy metal records in history: Number Of The Beast.  Filled with some of the most memorable songs in the history of the genre, Iron Maiden perfectly captures everything it means to “be” heavy metal within every moment of the entire record.

Though it is often mistaken, the opening reading from The Book Of Revelation found on the albums' title track that precedes the music was NOT performed by Vincent Price, but by a man named Barry Clayton, who the band asked to read it in a “Vincent Price” style.  As soon as he completes the reading, “Number Of The Beast” formally begins with what has become one of the most iconic guitar riffs in music history, and is easily the stand-out moment of the entire album  The energy that can be felt throughout all of Number Of The Beast is largely due to the power of the duo of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith; and their sound remains unparalleled to this day, and in both the speed and tone, Number Of The Beast quickly establishes itself as a true heavy metal masterpiece.  Along with their progressions, once the rest of the band joins in, i is the full power of Iron Maiden that is nothing short of stunning, and their mastery as a band becomes abundantly clear.  The rhythm section of bassist Steve Harris and drummer Clive Burr have rarely sounded better, and they help to build an overwhelming sense of tension and grandeur as the songs progress.  Harris is able to even give the songs a distinctive groove, and the fast repetition of his playing is one of the keys to the overall tone on a number of the tracks.  Similarly, it is the force and emotion with which Burr approaches the arrangements that embodies the sound every metal drummer strives to achieve.  It is the way in which he seems to almost bounce across the songs that makes it so significant, and yet the sheer power in his performances cannot be ignored.

However, while the musical performances throughout are absolutely that of legend, there may be no other vocalist in the entire history of heavy metal that can compete with the singing here by the one and only Bruce Dickinson.  Utilizing the entire vocal scale in a way unmatched by any other singer, the drawn-out wail that he supplies at the top of the songs is without question one of the most memorable moments in all of music history.  Following this, Dickinson delivers what stands as one of the most impassioned and absolutely mesmerizing vocal performances of all time, and even those that are not huge heavy metal fans must give ample respect to his vocals on “Number Of The Beast.”  Easily keeping pace, if not surpassing his bandmates in terms of pure energy, Dickinson is clearly letting the music take him as it wants, and this leads to some of the most stunning vocal progressions ever recorded.  Whether it is in the powerful, aggressive verses, or the soaring bridge and chorus sections, throughout the album, he gives what is clearly “the” performance of his career, and on many levels, it is these vocal tracks that define the heavy metal singing approach.  Yet it is also within the lyrical content of Number Of The Beast where one can find the projected definition of “heavy metal,” and it is Iron Maiden’s unrestrained, unsubtle words that not only fueled their fans, but loads of controversy at the same time.  As if the albums’ title was not clear enough, the lyrics to the songs spin a dark tale of nightmarish run-ins with The Devil among other similar themes, and yet there is an almost upbeat tone to the song that never ceases.  It is the fact that Bruce Dickinson is able to take this subject and make it so much more powerful through his vocals that pushes Number Of The Beast into a musical category all its own.

Yet it was also the subject matter of “Number Of The Beast” that incited the ire of countless “music watchdog” groups across the globe.  Easily painting the group as worshipers of Satan, this fact alone personifies much of the image of heavy metal in general, and yet at the same time, it was this same aspect that made their fans even more dedicated.  While these “watchdog groups” soon had a wide range of bands to harass, it was Iron Maiden that took the brunt of their hate-speech throughout the early 1980’s, and yet even in the face of this, the song continued to find success.  This, in many ways, is the most obvious evidence of the songs’ greatness, as the truly special songs in history will find a way to rise, regardless of the circumstances it is given.  As the decades have passed, Number Of The Beast has continued to grow in stature, and it stands today as one of the most highly revered albums in the entire history of heavy metal, with new bands spinning their own covers.  The songs have also found its way into many parts of popular culture, and in the current day, the subject matter has become almost ignored due to the sheer force and talent put forth within the musical performance.  Each of the band members is in top form on Number Of The Beast, and yet one can also sense that they were having quite a good time during the recording session.  Whether it is this uniquely positive feeling, the masterfully executed musical arrangements, or the breathtaking vocal performance, there is perhaps no other song in history that better defines the term “heavy metal,” than one can experience on Iron Maiden’s monumental 1982 album, Number Of The Beast.

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