Classic Albums – Iron Maiden: Number Of The Beast
Directed by Tim Kirby
Starring EDDIE, Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, Steve Harris, Clive Burr, Martin Birch, Rod Smallwood, Nicko McBrain, Ross Halfin
Isis Productions/Eagle Vision
Originally Released: December 4, 2001
When Netflix added nearly all of the Classic Albums series to their streaming collection last week, it was inevitable that I would draw attention to the series in this review. The big question for me was: which Classic Albums episode do I review? Being a music geek, and especially (first and foremost) a Metal Head, the choice was incredibly tough. With bands such as Metallica, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Rush, and many more among the features now online, it took me a while before I settled on a title.
Favorably rated as one of the most memorable and cornerstone albums in Metal history, Iron Maiden: The Number Of The Beast now seems, in retrospect, the appropriate selection for this review. The band is frequently cited as one of the fundamental acts that bolstered the genre of metal, having blasted onto the scene among the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal – and they continue onwards to this day, renewing their legacy with new releases that strengthen their music identity.
Aside from being a historically important album for the Metal culture itself, for Iron Maiden; it was also a release of major significance. After parting ways with original vocalist Paul Di’Anno, Number Of The Beast featured the debut of Bruce Dickinson, formerly of Samson – who would stay on to become the longest running singer of the band. His air raid vocal style would push Maiden further than ever, reinforcing their sound and identity even further; and would become uniquely identifiable to their material.
The Iron Maiden feature of Classic Albums zones on this historic release, which moved the band from being considered part of the NWOBHM, to an internationally recognized Metal act. Essentially, the format is the same as it has been for all of the Classic Albums chapters: rather than focus on the history of a band, focus on what many consider being their signature album, and highlighting how they got to that point and how everything came together.
It is magnificent seeing interviews with the members of the band in the episode. Bruce Dickinson, as ever, is as eccentric as he is a phenomenal vocalist – faithfully reenacting fun moments on the set of The Prisoner, the television series upon which the Maiden song was based. Steve Harris is hysterical, prone to throw in some fantastic one-liners. Meanwhile, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray provide some insight as well; and they even brought back former drummer Clive Burr for some discussion too.
The band’s longtime mascot, Eddie, makes several appearances through the show – including a vastly amusing moment where he delivers cups of tea to Steve Harris. The Eddie feature runs through, peaking when the band begins to discuss how elements of albums and album covers make their way into becoming parts of the stage show, as they recollect their own reactions from seeing Eddie onstage for the first time. Current drummer Nicko McBrain also reveals that it was him who was “cast” to dress up as the Devil from the Number Of The Beast album cover and frolic around onstage to torment audience and band members alike.
The highpoint of the episode, of course, is the manner in which the band members provide insight into how the songs were developed, and the thinking that went into the structure and meaning. Additionally, producer Martin Birch returns to the mixing board, and isolates specific tracks from songs that might surprise even the most dedicated of fans. Tell me you don’t get knocked back off your seat when you first hear Harris’ bass harmonics isolated from "Hallowed Be Thy Name".
Though the episode doesn’t go through every single track on the album, it does dissect the major ones. "Children Of The Damned" gets a good looking into, as does "22 Acacia Avenue" with Steve Harris embellishing more mythos on the legend of Charlotte the Harlot. The big ones, of course, are the title track of the album, as well as the first single release, "Run To The Hills", a song that would firmly plant Iron Maiden on the map of Metal History.
There is some time devoted to Iron Maiden touring the USA for the first time, with particular attention paid to the American overreaction that lead to the protests against the band, alleging they were Satanists. While some American bands during the Eighties received these accusations quite seriously, Iron Maiden perceived the conservative reaction as mere silliness and ridiculousness, wisely dismissing the claims made by the fundamentalists.
If there is any criticism I have about the Number Of The Beast feature by Classic Albums, it would be that there was not much dedicated to the departure of original vocalist Paul Di’Anno. Much is explored about why Bruce Dickinson replaced him, and how well he fit with the band; but the change in personnel is fairly glossed over as simply a “change in personnel”. There’s no discussion as to why Di’Anno left the band, and why the band opted to progress without him.
At the end of the day, the Iron Maiden episode is undoubtedly one of the best from Classic Albums. It’s a rare insight into a band reflecting on how they broke through from a small movement to the worldwide stage, complete with memories expressed, both in sincerity and in wonderful humor. If you’re a Metal Head, do yourself a service and watch this one as soon as possible.
The Classic Albums series in and of itself is a must-see for music addicts. Outside of Metal, there are also features on acts from other genres including Duran Duran, Frank Zappa, Phil Collins, and many others. The series drills down into the important releases in music history, and though many might have some disputes on which albums were selected, you cannot argue against the in-depth focus each segment dedicates to its subject. If you’re a music lover, then you better be sure to check ’em out while they’re up on Netflix.
UP THE IRONS!!!!!
Overall Rating: 4½ out of 5