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Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast Turns 40: Bruce Dickinson Reflects

"Maiden was a different animal -- we were so fierce and snarling and snapping at everybody"

Bruce Dickinson (photo by Kevin RC Wilson) and The Number of the Beast (inset)
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    Certain years have seen the release of an overabundance of classic metal albums. And 1982 was undoubtedly one of them. Case in point, the arrival of Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance, Venom’s Black Metal, Scorpions’ Blackout, Kiss’ Creatures of the Night, and Accept’s Restless and Wild all within that particular calendar year. However, most metalheads would probably agree that the top metal release of ‘82 was Iron Maiden’s tour de force The Number of the Beast — which celebrates its 40-year anniversary on March 22nd, 2022.

    Lead singer switches in already established rock bands seem to not work out far more times than they do. But Maiden were one of fortunate ones — when Paul Di’Anno (who provided vocals for Maiden’s first two albums, 1980’s self-titled debut and 1981’s Killers) was replaced by former Samson singer Bruce Dickinson in late 1981.

    With their new vocalist singing in a more operatic style than his predecessor, Maiden — whose lineup at that point consisted of Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, bassist Steve Harris, and drummer Clive Burr — began working up new material shortly after their new bandmate’s arrival.

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    “We had most of the songs and we were rehearsing them,” Dickinson told Heavy Consequence while discussing the 40th anniversary of The Number of the Beast (watch above). “So, we thought we had a fairly good idea of what they should sound like. [Producer] Martin Birch showed up for a couple of days of rehearsals, nodded his head, and went, ‘Yep, yep. OK. Fine.’ And then we started recording it.”

    The band eventually started recording early in 1982 in a section of Morgan Studios in London, called Battery Studios. But it’s not to say that the sessions were all business.

    “There was kind of a big party atmosphere throughout the whole thing,” recalls Dickinson. “In fact, we actually made a wall of those 7-pint beer cans — the entire wall of the control room was a pyramid of kegs of beer that we had drunk during the proceedings.”

    “We would be up until 4 or 5 in the morning, after we had finished recording, listening back to what we had recorded, until basically the producer said, ‘Right. You need to go to bed, because you’re going to come back and do this all again tomorrow.’ There was a really great vibe.”

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    The singer also recalled unexpected surroundings. “I did most of my vocals in a dilapidated kitchen. It had been stripped out, and there was nothing in there, except a lot of wet plaster on the walls… and me. So, to say there was a natural echo would be an understatement!”

    At this stage of Maiden’s career, the band was still young and hungry, as Dickinson recalls “Maiden was a different animal — we were so fierce and snarling and snapping at everybody.” Maiden’s aggression was definitely captured on such tunes as “Invaders,” “22 Acacia Avenue,” “Gangland,” and especially a tune that would go on to become an all-time classic, “Run to the Hills.” The group also showed they possessed a melodic side on “The Prisoner,” and hinted at their future specialty of penning epics, with the over seven minutes-plus album-closer, “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”

    However, with such song titles as “Children of the Damned” and the title track –– plus the album’s awesome eye-popping artwork by Derek Riggs (which saw the band’s mascot Eddie working Beelzebub like a puppet amidst an Armageddon-like setting) Maiden were erroneously labeled “Satanists” by certain overzealous religious groups in the U.S. at the time.

    The unexpected press coverage and hoopla along with Beast being such a strong album, MTV airing the videos for “Run to the Hills” and the title track, landing spots on arena tours (opening for the likes of Scorpions, Rainbow, 38 Special, and Judas Priest), plus appearing on such high profile festivals as the Day on the Green in the U.S. and headlining a night on the Reading Festival in the UK made Maiden one of the world’s top metal bands. As a result, The Number of the Beast topped the UK charts, and peaked at No. 33 in the U.S. (eventually obtaining platinum certification in both countries). “We had no idea how big it was going to be,” Dickinson admits. “How big the influence was.”

    In the book Iron Maiden ‘80 ‘81, Anthrax’s Scott Ian recalled what it was like seeing Maiden on the album’s supporting tour (dubbed “The Beast on the Road”). “Initially, it wasn’t that much different when Maiden came back with Bruce on The Number of the Beast and were still playing theaters, because we saw them in the city at the Palladium [in 1981 with Di’Anno], and also saw them at this place called the North Stage Theater out on Long Island [in 1982 with Dickinson] — a small place. So it wasn’t that much different at that point, because it was still on that level.”

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    “Obviously, it was way different a few months later, when they became an arena band. But when they were still playing the same sized places from Killers to The Number of the Beast, yeah, obviously Bruce’s vocals were completely different than Paul’s. But as far as a band and the energy and all that of the band, it was still very similar to me. They did become much more polished on The Number of the Beast, that’s for sure.”

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