When Iron Maiden released their landmark The Number of the Beast album, it not only gave powerful focus to head bangers the world over, it also helped launch what the English press termed ‘The New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ (must they find a pigeonhole for everything?). Iron Maiden took the world by storm and with their uncompromising brand of guitar mayhem, topped the charts and rocked the planet with a series of ferocious live shows that were as powerful as they were controversial.
The Number of the Beast is a worthwhile addition to the Classic Albums series. As per the standard series format, the disc includes interviews with all relevant personnel involved in the making of one of cock-rock’s finest hours. The input from the band’s tight-fisted manager, Rod Smallwood, and album producer, Martin Birch, are entertaining and informative, but the day really belongs to the band. Although at times skating dangerously close to Spinal Tap territory, the guys come across as articulate and entertaining (singer Bruce Dickinson is the only one to have since forsaken his flowing locks – beware though, one should always remain on guard for the appearance of the occasional mullet throughout the viewing of this disc) and share many anecdotes from their time on the road and in the studio.
One of the more interesting tales tells of the band’s controversial tour through the American Midwest. The Christian right, all-round swell humans and defenders of all that is nice, naturally campaigned against the band’s suspect imagery and got busy with a campaign to get the kids to burn their Maiden albums. Imagine their holy horror then when the thick black smoke and noxious fumes of burning vinyl invaded the hearts and lungs of all assembled. The fumes of evil had reached deep within and blackened their very souls! The remedy, of course, was to have their teens smash the records with hammers instead. You want sinister? How about the image of a god-fearing teenager grinning maniacally as he takes a hammer to his record collection in the name of all that is good? Brrrrrrr...
The live performances which feature historic footage from their Reading and Hammersmith Odeon appearances in their zenith year of 1982, portray the band as rock and roll maestros and pack more punch than a sackful of boxers on caffeine. Reminiscent of the big Alice Cooper showcases of the seventies, Iron Maiden combine big guitars with big show theatrics and a tongue-in-cheek sense of the macabre that is never intended as anything more than good fun.
Like most of the Classic Albums series, The Number of the Beast is a wonderful snapshot of not only a band at their peak, but the whole subculture that they helped to fuel. Although understandably biased toward the importance of Iron Maiden’s contribution, the program nevertheless leaves the viewer with the feeling that 1982 was an important year (who woulda thunk it?) in music and that a significant piece has been added to the big rock and roll picture.
I should hardly need to recommend this release to a hard rock fan, as they are probably already tut-tutting through their fringes at the fact that this reviewer has just discovered something that they have known all along (don’t get carried away, now). For too long, misunderstood metal fans have had to endure condescending nods and bed-wetting taunts of ‘serious’ music aficionados as they struggled to be taken seriously. In the twenty-first century, now that those same fans sport reasonable haircuts and don’t actually think that Satan is such a cool guy any more, Classic Albums: The Number of the Beast should help illustrate to their detractors just what they were all banging on about in the first place.
The Number of the Beast
22 Acacia Avenue
Run to the Hills
Children of the Damned
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Run to the Hills
Like the other titles in the Classic Albums series, the sound quality of the present-day footage is excellent while that of the archival variety fares much worse. Still, this remains one of those sins that simply must be forgiven and even the older, live performances still manage to contain the necessary grunt to illustrate the full aural force of the primal bangfest that is an Iron Maiden concert. Although the sound is presented in Dolby 2.0, it is completely adequate for the task at hand and should still be enough to induce a few angry knocks from the neighbours should you crank it up in your one bedroom apartment. Just be careful not to fall off the coffee table during those air-guitar solos...
As before, the interview picture quality is virtually pristine while its older, archival cousin remains a little bit on the soupy side and probably serves more as a reflection of just how far we have advanced technically in regards to capturing live performance and lighting on film. If those all-night stints in front of the television watching Rage on Saturday nights have taught us anything, it is just what to expect from older footage and that it even has some nostalgic appeal for that very reason. In contrast, the interview footage is bright as bright can be and boasts colours of a near pristine variety.
Classic Albums: The Number of the Beast is presented in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.
The extras here mainly consist of another eight interview segments on a variety of subjects from the application of the twin lead guitars to the spooky little coinkydinks that the band experienced while they were on tour. Seemingly cut from the original program in favour of a friendlier running time, these deleted interview segments are a meat and potatoes affair without the added gravy of the archival footage. With a cumulative running time of around twenty-five minutes, the segments are more than worthwhile and a must-see for casual viewers and Iron Maiden fans alike. As an added bonus, a rough cut of the band’s Number of the Beast from Rio 2001 concert release is included here as a teaser. Presented in impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, you too can thrill to the big live sound of Iron Maiden as thousands of bare-chested Brazilians punch the air and leer at the camera.
Quite simply, Classic Albums: The Number of the Beast is essential viewing for heavy metal fans everywhere. While paying homage to the album, the program also heaps enough technical background and musical credibility on the band to silence the most arrogant of music sceptics.
Stand tall, little head-banger...