Friday, December 16, 2016

LET THEM EAT METAL #2: The Number of The Beast by Iron Maiden (Restriction 666 released. Dimensional Interference Field Depoyed! NOW ENGAGING THE BRUCE ENGINE! IRON MAIDEN, ACTIVATE!)

In the days of yore, when pop music meant something, it was filled with nourishing musical ideas and showed the tides of progress.  But then something happened, the ability for it to fill our soul has nearly vanished, and the masses are starved on good music.  There’s the occasional quality track that stays good after multiple spins, but it has gotten to the moment where even good pop music gets stale.  We live in a white-bread world in mainstream music.  However, there’s salvation from the drek that the masses need to know about.  In the words of Marie Antoinette, or more accurately The Rods quoting her: “LET THEM EAT METAL!”

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, and deviants.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream like an air raid siren in rage or frustration.

This series is dedicated to the best that heavy metal can offer.  As you will read, I will take you on a journey though the annals of heavy metal’s storied history from its beginning in early 70s, its crystallization in the late 70s and early 80s, its breakthrough into mainstream conscience in the early to mid-80s, its maturation in the late 80s and 90s, its dominance (sort of) in the 2000s and even today, and the rare moments that very few talk about unless in the company of like-minded fans.  Not in that order, but I’ll be looking at the footnotes oh metal history in the order I desire.  In short, this new series is about metal, plain and simple.

Today, we dive into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, one of the most important movements, if not the most important, in heavy metal’s storied history.  As a result of poverty ravaging Britain in the late 70s, many young males were destitute, ostracized by political corruption, and had the sense that they’d never amount to anything in life.  Due to this, punk rock and heavy metal became popular with them, and at some point, they mixed, leading to punk’s energy and DIY values being used to make technical, melodic, and ultimately escapist music that allowed the people of London and other towns ravaged by recession to have a creative outlet.  What ended up happening was a music movement driven by guitars, drums, shrieking, the occult, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, comics, cartoons, anime, manga, art, comedy, and so on; effectively geek rock as a last resort due to poverty, a style driven by nostalgia, curiosity, and college education and experimentation.  Technically, the NWOBHM would count as the first nerdy heavy metal movement as well as the first major movement in general, due to its sense of companionship, brotherhood, and inclusiveness (as far as the 80s could go) as well as the zines, publications, and meetings that occurred as a result.  There are many sources that I can find detailing this, but I can say that if this happened today as it did in late 70s and early 80s, then you’d see comic and anime conventions booking White Wizzard, Enforcer, Cauldron, Skull Fist, Stryker, Steelwing, Holy Grail, and other bands that emulate Judas Priest, Accept, Saxon, Diamond Head, Motörhead, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Venom, early Def Leppard, and today’s band, Iron Maiden.

Iron Maiden, named after the torture device thanks to bassist/founder Steve Harris saw the film version of the book The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas, formed in the late 70s with Harris and guitarist Dave Murray being the only members of the prototypical lineup at the time.  In 1980, with singer Paul Di’Anno, guitarist Dennis Stratton, and drummer Clive Burr, they released their eponymous debut album Iron Maiden, featuring songs like “Running Free,” “Prowler,” “Sanctuary,” and “Phantom of the Opera.”  A year later (and replacing Dennis Stratton with long-time guitarist Adrian Smith), they released Killers, which featured “Wrathchild,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “Purgatory,” and was ultimately their last album with Di’Anno.  After that, and to pursue different directions that their previous singer couldn’t go (plus drugs affecting his stage presence), they hired Bruce Dickinson as singer, and the result what The Number of the Beast.

There’s a funny story with this album for me.  Beforehand, my true first exposure to Iron Maiden was Guitar Hero, like Judas Priest, but the entry was Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (the first one I made sure to get, and the first I got for my Nintendo Wii), and that’s where I first truly heard the title track while trying to beat it (I can play it in Expert Mode in that and in Rock Band, if you’re wondering).  After that, it would be almost a year and a half before I bought the album.  That time was when I got Guitar Hero Metallica, and that was also after first using to get albums (Holy Diver by Dio, Dr. Feelgood by Motley Crue, Nevermind by Nirvana, and All Hope is Gone by Slipknot were the first).  Due to the game, I was so impressed with Metallica’s work outside of the hits from their 80s work that I decided to buy them consciously (not Kill Em’ All at the time, due to having more interest in the other three due to some of those hits, like “One”, “Fade to Black”, and “Master of Puppets”, the very first Metallica album was a senior year present in high school from one of my teachers).  Alongside Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice For All was this rocker, and I got into trouble with family members over it after the fact.  That was the only con.  Why?  The albums were great.  My first Metallica album was Death Magnetic, and those three blew it out of the water completely.  As for The Number of the Beast, it was also an ass-kicker, but I, like most listeners, graduated to the title track, “Run to the Hills”, and “Hallowed Be Thy Name” as the songs played the most, but I have listened to it back to back at points. 

How will that affect my review of the album?  Let’s see for later.  However, let me point out beforehand that this album is considered the third greatest heavy metal album by IGN and the second greatest by (Links here:,  Keep that in mind until the end.

Here’s the album review, track by track based on the 1998 version I got from that time, then a summary of the rituals that have taken place over the time on this album:

1.    Invaders:
Let’s get this out of the way: it’s not any of the iconic songs on the album.  What I mean is that most people tend to ignore this track, as well as the first 4 due to certain factors, such as the first few tracks not being not as strong as the rest of the album (with one exception).  However, this starts with a bang, starting with a pummeling opening before entering a song about the invasion of early, Saxon-filled, England by the mighty Vikings.  The verses include lines that come out of a bloody historical action movie and portray the invading Norsemen as savages (not sure if Sean Rankin will approve of this).  Also, there are key changes throughout this song, with the pre-chorus and chorus being at different keys from the verses, and the guitar solo played in two different keys.  Overall, it’s a good start to a legendary album, but the biggest critics of this track include two groups: RazorFist and Iron Maiden themselves, the latter feeling that they didn’t put enough effort into it.

Wait a sec, a song about Vikings invading England in the time-period, and the band doesn’t like it?  It’s not as if they’re nerds or anything, right?  Right!? 
Well, very few rockers can do an epic song on kazoo.

2.    Children of the Damned:
Going from aggression to showing their softer side, Iron Maiden march on with “Children of the Damned.”  As a result, I feel obliged to make the following reference:
Yes, I’m sure you’re asking what rocket chairs have to do with British metal.  Well, in an earlier episode of that series, Iwasawa wrote a ballad that she planned to play during the latest Girl Dead Monster show at that moment, and if I went further, someone reading this will start crying.  This is not a serious blog until I discuss darker lyrics (wait for that), this is supposed to be fun.  Like that clip.

However, it’s weird to go from “Invaders” to this.  With its acoustic intro interspaced with melodic guitar lines and Bruce Dickinson’s vocal delivery, this gives off a sort of mournful feelings towards the titular children, and it isn’t until Bruce sings the title before the songs starts to sound more metal.  If there’s another song this sounds like, it’s “Children of the Sea” by Black Sabbath, with the similar tones in the beginning.  Then after the second chorus, the song picks up in speed, aggression, and leads up to a melodic heavy guitar solo that showcases Dave Murray’s and Adrian Smith’s guitar techniques and talents.  In short, the song gets heavier as it goes on, getting more aggressive while continuing the sorrowful tone of the beginning.  Is it perfect?  Not really, but it is a great tribute to the movie of the same name.

Wait a sec.  So their tribute to “Children of the Sea” by Black Sabbath is based on the movie of the same name and its prequel Village of the Damned?  Two movies that were adapted from The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham?!  And I thought I was a dweeb.

3.    The Prisoner:
If you’re not sure what’s going on here, here’s a hint:
Starting with an audial sampling from the TV show of the same name, this epic rocker (in that it’s a little over 6 minutes long) begins its defiant assault on the musical landscape of 1982.  Based on the same show, the lyrics detail the escape of a man from his captors and his desire to stay a free man rather than a number (it makes sense if you’re British).  As a result, the riffs are straightforward and aggressive, the drums from Clive Burr are equaling pounding, and the guitar intro before the solo is the kind of rocking that Iron Maiden excels at.  You may not realize it initially, but the heaviness comes from Steve Harris’ bass playing while Dave Murray and Adrian Smith go for more melodic guitar work, even in the riffs.  This is an excellent example of that.  Also, Bruce Dickinson sings really well here. 

An epic metal anthem with progressive arrangements that’s named after a British TV series?  I know that’s not as nerdy as the other tunes they’ve done, and even later, but for international audiences, this is geeky.

4.    22 Acadia Avenue:
Another 6-minute rocker!  This time, instead of history or literature, Iron Maiden continue the “Charlotte the Harlot” saga.  With a pummeling guitar riff, loaded with palm muting and power chords, a thick bass line, and pounding drums, it sets up Bruce Dickinson’s musical storytelling, telling the listener where to go for a good time, or in this case, a one-night stand with the other major character they created alongside Eddie the Head.  Said person Bruce is singing to may in fact by Charlotte, detailing how her life is turning to sex-crazed debauchery that’s leading to ruin, and how her life will lead to regret, shame, and disease.  Included in his performance is lower singing, shouting, high melodic singing, and ear-curdling screams.  There’s also a guitar solo that showcases the melodicism of the guitarists playing in the band, but I get this sort of feeling that this is definitely primarily an Adrian Smith solo based on the notes. 

Like I’ve mentioned, this is a sequel to “Charlotte the Harlot” from their first album and continues that tale.  You know there’s a lot of people that take continuity seriously, and they aren’t usually casual music fans.

5.    The Number of the Beast:
You know your song is terrifying when it’s written by your key songwriter after a dream like this:
Except it was influenced by Damien: Omen II and Tam o’Shanter by Robert Burns, and the nightmare went more like this:
As for the bone-chilling scream that would come from any nightmare, it’s in the song.  Technically, it’s more of a frustrated “you have got to be kidding me” high-pitched wail that kicks this song into overdrive.  It’s the result of all the buildup created from Bruce Dickinson’s lover, then high, vocal delivery paired with a distinctive intro riff that’s effectively part of metal-riffing 101 for guitarists everywhere.  When that scream ends, the rest of the song becomes a hard and heavy trip through hell and back, detailing the story of a man witnessing a Satanic ritual, but being too terrified to do anything until it’s too late, when even he decides to join the twisted madness.  Hell, EVERY riff in this song is awesome, and there’s two guitar solos that are just awe-inspiring in their technique and crafted to melt faces.  In short, I could go on, but it’s a classic that has been talked about to death already.

But everything about this song, including the Vincent Price-esque narration, and its video, featuring Nosferatu and Gojira, screams horror fanboys in my opinion.

6.    Run to the Hills:
Do I have to also go into depth about this song as well?  I really don’t due to how legendary it is.  But for the purposes of this review, I have to.  As for the song itself, it begins with probably one of the most iconic guitar licks ever recorded.  During this, we get a verse from the point of view of Native Americans seeing the European (and White American, we’re definitely NOT innocent here) settlers invading their homeland and attacking them.  The next two verses are from the other perspective, the settlers attacking the natives, and they paint a gruesome and horrifying tale about the atrocities towards another group of people with lyrics that highlights the savagery of the attackers (gee, I wonder why “Invaders” felt redundant despite being on the same album and NOT being about aliens).  The second verse and onwards are based around a galloping rhythm, fitting the thematic nature of the song and giving the song a faster feel once takes us from the victims to the attackers, emphasizing their cruelity.  All of this leads to one of the most iconic choruses in heavy metal: “Run to the hills/Run for your life” repeated as if the natives need to adopt the Joestar Secret Technique due to what their up against.  Plus the guitar solo and the vocal delivery in the bridge also help elevate the song from great to legendary.  I can say more, but it’s the whole package as far as 80s metal goes in pure quality, accessibility, and status.

Despite slightly more universal lyrics, the song’s music video does have me questioning how seriously they take things outside of scary music.  It would make them look like film nerds if they actually intended to use Buster Keaton movies for a music video.

7.    Gangland:
Here’s Tulio to sum up the album at this point:
If you’re wondering, this track is the latter.  It starts off as generic punk-tinged metal that’s typical of the NWOBHM, but not any of the good stuff.  The drums the only good thing here, but the guitars and bass are lacking and basic compared to the last 6 songs, Bruce doesn’t sound good here, and the lyrics are pretty mediocre compared to, again, the last 6 songs.  Plus, any chorus from a metal band that has “dead men tell no tales” and does not either strike up a fun image, an image of piracy, or both is a crime.  And it makes the band look nerdy in the worst way possible.  Plus the guitar solo is surprisingly bland from IRON FRIGGIN’ MAIDEN!  The worst part was that Adrian Smith wrote this with Clive Burr; he should play better on his own songs.  Apparently this was chosen over the next track to put on the album due to time constraints.  That’s the worst part, and even the band hates this track.

So the band doesn’t like this track, too?  So do I.  Thankfully, the next track is MUCH better.

8.    Total Eclipse:
If you went with the 1998 version of the album, this succeeds “Gangland” but precedes “Hallowed By Thy Name.”  The original version omitted this, and the badly thought-out “Gangland” goes into “Hallowed be Thy Name.”  Before I talk about that legend, here’s “Total Eclipse,” the lost track.  Compared to the mediocre track chosen over it, it starts with a guitar and drum intro that better suits its epic feel.  After that is a tale of probably the absolute worst solar eclipse that can possibly occur according to these guys.  Unlike normal eclipses, the sun is not just blocked, it just vanished!  It’s as if the bad future of The Matrix has occurred and is leading to essentially the Apocalypse.  One that has elements of an Ice Age, but, in this song, we’re completely screwed.  This.  Is.  Awesome.  Heavy.  METAL!  Plus the performances from everyone, from Bruce Dickinson’s vocal delivery, Bruce Murray and Bruce Smith’s guitar riffs and solo, Bruce Harris’ basslines, and Bruce Burr’s drum work, are absolute gold and not the painful, agonizing failure that was the previous dud, and proof that… I need to improve my understanding of philosophy.  Excuse me for a sec:
(Plus, I’m aware that Iron Maiden are not even from Brisbane or Melbourne or Sydney).

9.    Hallowed Be Thy Name:
If I listened to the 1982 version of this classic, then this would have succeeded “Gangland,” and the contrast in quality would have caused whiplash.  As for this review, remember the scene in Angel Beats! I was referring to?  This is like that, except from the point of view of a man on death row about to be executed.  Yeah, it’s that kind of song.  To start, we have an acoustic intro that includes bells in the background, Bruce Dickinson singing in his lower register, and giving off this sense that this man know he’s going to die that day.  Then the rest of the band kicks in when the first verse ends, and the acoustic line becomes a harmonized guitar lick before entering one of the many melodic riffs in this track.  Then Bruce sings the next verse with more ferocity, creating the feeling that the man is completely terrified, feels like he’s having a serious nightmare, and doesn’t know what to do.  Then the riff from earlier is modified into a beautiful harmonized guitar line.  Next, the final verse is about being on the gallows, accepting that you’re ultimately screwed, and probably laughing, crying, or both, about how life is some weird joke on you (it can go further with you being a barnacle in the next life).  After that ends, the guitar line from earlier returns, a new one is played, then the riff that goes into the amazing guitar solo kicks in.  After that ends, we get a harmonized version of the first riff, and we end with Bruce Dickinson wailing the title of the song twice.  At that moment, the center of the story was finally executed, and we end with a big rock ending.  Bam!  That’s the song.  A true classic of heavy metal.

An amazing song to cap off their foray of bookish, progressive, and terrifying heavy metal mastery.  How is everyone doing after all the reveals and writing I’ve made about this?

Don’t get me wrong, this is effectively a heavy geek rock album.  Not to say that it’s bad (me and RazorFist are two different people with different tastes), I think it earns its classic status due to how bold it was.  The imagery associated with the album is both nerdy and taboo.  The cover is the stuff of legends and the kind of imagery that Derek Riggs is famous for, with the Devil in control of Eddie the Head, but Eddie is the true puppet master with the hellfire in his hand.  The production from Martin Birch walks the apealling line between clean and raw, clear and aggressive, commercial and niche.  The musical elements, the talent that went in, the technicality, and the discovery of Bruce Dickinson as a powerhouse vocalist at the time are to behold, even on the lesser tracks.  And for the lyrics, there is nothing wrong with being kitsch and geeky, metal is inherently a music genre made of nerds.  They fit each song well.  This is an album that all walks of life can enjoy, after they’ve developed a strong appreciation, love, or understanding of heavy metal (I’d recommend Piece of Mind, Powerslave, or Somewhere In Time if you’re a virgin to Iron Maiden).  If there are any best tracks, “Children of the Damned,” “The Prisoner,” and “22 Acadia Avenue” are worth checking out, while “Total Eclipse” is a good song, but the winners are the title track, “Run to the Hills,” and the epic “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”  Those three are essential metal anthems for a reason.  For the worst, “Invaders” is meh, but that’s no issue as the album goes on, but “Gangland” is enough to keep this from being the best metal album of all time, and why Metallica’s ode to loss of control Master of Puppets beats it for the top spot on most lists (and why Piece of Mind would rank higher on my personal list of best albums of all time).  However, I respect this album and understand its appeal thanks to when it initially came out (that’s another bag of worms for another day).

Also, Rest In Peace Clive Burr (1957-2013), you kicked ass on this album and anything you did with these bookish Brits.  May you rock hard in hallowed halls of Valhalla.

Final Rating: 8/10 (A flawed heavy metal classic, but a classic for a reason).

Next time on Let Them Eat Metal: Hall of the Mountain King by Savatage

Until next time, this is the Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and Eat Metal.

All used references are done under the rules of fair use and are owned by their original creators.

No comments:

Post a Comment