I have been well aware of Iron Maiden's existence, and their status as "Metal Gods", for a long time. I don't know why it took me so long to delve into their catalog and actually give them a serious listen, but now that I have, I understand the hype. Although Iron Maiden were clearly influenced by Black Sabbath (and doesn't everything Metal trace back to Sabbath at some point?), they are nearly as influential in their own right. Listening to this album you hear the blueprint for everything from Queensryche to early Pantera. With these vocals as a base, Bruce Dickenson became the most influential hard rock singer since Robert Plant. That's all well and good, of course, but the question is: Does this album, complete with the cartoonish cover art and seemingly clichéd song titles, still hold up as a relevant piece of music today? Resoundingly, the answer is yes.
This is Heavy Metal before the genre had all of the Rock & Roll stripped from it. "The Prisoner" could almost be a Van Halen song, for instance. Because it has those roots, the album is refreshingly soulful and full of rich textures. Not to worry, though, it's plenty fast and heavy. It's just not sludgy and mechanical like a lot of more contemporary metal. The most striking thing about the album is how dramatic and exciting rock and metal music used to be. Nowadays, even the best bands of these genres (Tool, Radiohead) seem to be incapable of the sheer intoxicating fervor of Iron Maiden. That's not to mention how bland and uninspired the less talented bands sound by comparison (Puddle of Mudd, Lincoln Park). Take the chorus of "Invaders", for example. This is a very daring and unconventional approach to the chorus of the album's opening track, and it proves to be a successful gambit. That track crawls under your skin and sticks with you longer than the written-to-be-catchy chorus of the album's big hit, "Run for the Hills". Said hit is also a stellar track, however, as is the haunting "Children of the Damned".
The album's momentum does lull at one point... for all of a song and a half. "Gangland" and the first half of "Total Eclipse" aren't as thrilling as the surrounding material, but Maiden quickly gets back on track with Adrian Smith's dive-bombing guitar run in the middle of the latter song, and they certainly make up for the brief lapse with the epic, album-closing "Hallowed Be Thy Name".
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Number of the Beast rules. If you think that Iron Maiden is hokey, dated or "Satanic", and you haven't actually taken to time to listen to their work, then you are doing yourself a great disservice. Don't confuse this classic with the throwaway nostalgia that was released by scores of imitators just a few years later. Intricate, pounding, powerful and creative - if those are words that describe good music to you, then look no further than Number of the Beast.