Jacob Zinn :: journalist + photographer

HEAVY Rotation: Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast”

Posted in Heavy Metal, HEAVY Rotation, Music by Jacob Zinn on July 11, 2011

In April 1982, Iron Maiden released “The Number of the Beast” as a single off of the album of the same name. Penned by bassist Steve Harris after a having nightmare from watching Damien: Omen II, the song became a heavy metal classic to fans and the devil’s music to social conservatives.

The Number of the Beast was controversial, to say the least. In traditional Iron Maiden form, the cover featured the band’s frightening mascot, Eddie, puppeteering a red devil (pitchfork and all) from the fingernails of his flesh-and-bones skeleton. But lyrically, the title track was most scrutinized.

The song begins with two Bible verses:

“Woe to you O earth and sea for the Devil sends the beast with wrath because he knows the time is short … Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast for it is a human number. Its number is six hundred and sixty six.”
– Revelation 12:12, 13:18

Then the intro begins a near-five-minute metal anthem so heavy, it requires two lead guitarists. Add the following lyrics from all three choruses:

In the mist, dark figures move and twist
Was all this for real or just some kind of hell?
6! 6-6! The number of the beast
Hell and fire were spawned to be released

In the night, the fires burning bright
The ritual has begun, Satan’s work is done
6! 6-6! The number of the beast
Sacrifice is going on tonight

6! 6-6! The number of the beast
6! 6-6! The one for you and me

The chanting of 6-6-6 and the dark imagery caused American right-wingers to label Iron Maiden as a “Satanic band.” However, the album became a critical success that yielded two other hit singles (“Run to the Hills” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”) that supported their 1982 Beast on the Road world tour.

So, despite the uproar at the beginning, it led to global recognition, a 187-date tour and multi-platinum certification between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Satan’s work is done…



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