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Six Six Six: 35 Years Of The Number Of The Beast

Posted by Thomas Spillane on

The Number Of The Beast has become known as Iron Maiden’s seminal work, and for good reason.

From start to finish the record immortalises everything Iron Maiden have been about, and has provided a blueprint for almost every album since. Almost every song on the album have become classics of the Iron Maiden canon as well as cementing the band in heavy metal history.

Perhaps that most notable change on The Number Of The Beast to the band’s previous albums was the change of lead singer. Bruce Dickinson has become an integral part of Iron Maiden, his voice a signature feature of the heavy metal legends, but before the release of The Number Of The Beast, nobody had heard him with the band. Iron Maiden had made two albums previously, Iron Maiden (1980) and Killers (1981), with vocalist Paul Di’Anno. However, due to performance issues from alcohol and drug abuse, Di’Anno was let go.

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Dickinson’s influence can be heard all over The Number Of The Beast, but due to contractual issues with his former band, Samson, he could take no songwriting credit. Dickinson considered this a “moral contribution” to the record. The vocalist later told Billboard that he had imagined what it would be like to sing for Iron Maiden before he had the chance to join.

“Oh, I did that the first time I saw Maiden play, in Camden [north London] at the Music Machine. It was like a four-act bill, we were supposed to be headlining and Maiden were third on the bill. They turned up and it was clearly their audience. Everybody left as soon as they'd finished.

I stood at the back watching and thought, ‘Christ, this is a great band. Imagine what I could do if I was singing with that band.’”

Also admitting to being a little cocky back then, Dickinson said that when he was asked to audition for the band, he laid down some ground rules. Talking to Ron Smallwood, the soon-to-be lead singer of Iron Maiden told the band’s manager that he was going to get the job, and before he did they had to make sure they could handle his creative input. He wasn’t going to roll over like Di’Anno.

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Now cemented with their classic lineup (excluding drummer Nicko McBrain), Iron Maiden went to work on their third album. The sessions for The Number Of The Beast were different to the band’s first two albums as songwriter and bass player, Steve Harris, had pretty much no material going into the recording sessions. This meant that the writing phase of the album went for longer than scheduled for, forcing the band to record the whole album in only five weeks. While talking to Ultimate Classic Rock though, Harris said they have more or less recorded every ensuing album in the same way.

“The weird thing is that all of that material was written in a two or three week period, because that’s all of the time we had. So that put us under so much pressure, but that dictated the way we’ve recorded everything since. We thought, ‘Well, that’s the way we work well, under pressure, obviously,’ so that’s what we’ve done ever since. We’ve just allowed ourselves a specific time of period to write and that’s what we do. So we don’t ever write on the road, we just write right there [in the moment] and it’s worked well for us ever since!”

This method has definitely seemed to work for the band, who have gone on to become one of the biggest heavy metal acts in history. The Number Of The Beast really was the beginning of the band’s road to success, with songs such as “Run To The Hills” and the title-track becoming top ten singles in the U.K. However, when talking to Classic Rock, Dickinson exposed some regrets the band have about track choice as well as milestones they achieved in the writing of the record.

“The one mistake we made was putting ‘Gangland’ on the album instead of ‘Total Eclipse’. We picked ‘Gangland’ because it was the first thing we ever recorded together properly. But the rest of the album was fantastic. ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ was a precursor to ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’. That song, and the whole album, took Maiden to a different level.”

The Number Of The Beast is one of the most influential heavy metals of all time. Thirty-five years onwards and teenagers are still picking up this record and playing it at full volume. A truly timeless album, Iron Maiden’s magnum opus will be remembered in another thirty-five years to come.

What’s your favourite moment from The Number Of The Beast? Let us know!

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