Run to the Hills
The Number of the Beast by Dream Theater
Given the importance people attach to the role of the vocalist in rock groups, the upward curve that Iron Maiden had steadily enjoyed since their first album in 1980 might well have become a downward spiral with the departure of singer Paul Di'Anno. Echoing Spinal Tap's legendary problems in keeping their drummers, he was already the third singer since their humble beginnings as a pub band. His leaving as the band stood on the cusp of global success turned out to be fourth time lucky for them. And for ex-Samson vocalist Bruce Dickinson, whose sand-papered soaring yowl more than held its own against the blasting and frequently bombastic arrangements. His debut with the band gave them their first No.1 album in the UK and broke them in America.
As the title not-so-cunningly implies, there's the prerequisite dollop of occult-orientated subject matter that you'd expect. What is surprising however is the extent to which their combination of sophisticated arrangements and varied tonal palette lifts what might otherwise be a rather earthbound (i.e. bog-standard) set. The frantic opener, "Invader" flirts intriguingly with jazz-rock fusion whilst other tracks have an overtly prog-rock agenda.
Certainly, a key weapon of bassist Steve Harris, the album's main writer, is the convincing use of multi-movement compositions. Whereas even some of the venerable HM institutions (think Black Sabbath) would struggle to make material that was something more than a collection of minor-key riffs, Iron Maiden pull this feat off with considerable elan. "The Prisoner", (complete with dialogue lifted from the TV series of the same name) could almost pass for a heavy-metal Genesis and even the innuendo-laden "22 Acacia Avenue" has some complex riffing that wouldn't be out of place in Gentle Giant.
The greater emphasis on dramatic narrative (the title track, "Hallowed Be Thy Name" and the top ten single, "Run To The Hills") provide Dickinson a platform to showcase some subtle phrasing that marks him out as a cut above the rest of the balls-to-the-wall competition. Maiden newbies are advised to start their journey to metal hell and back right here.