“The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden
“The Number of the Beast” commences with a couple of quotes being read from the Book of Revelations. The Book of Revelations, as you may well know, is the final major segment of the Bible. And accordingly it is filled with prophecies, being relayed by a 1st century AD figure known as John the Revelator, concerning, most simply put, the forthcoming end of the world.
So there’s a whole lot going on in the Book of Revelations, much of which many people still don’t fully understand. And one of the thematic highlights of the book is what is referred to as the mark or number of the beast.
“The Mark of the Beast”
The said “beast” is basically another name for the devil. And as the story goes, in the last days he will take over the Earth, including the world’s economy. What that means to average folks like you and I is that we would have to worship the beast before being allowed to make any type of economic transactions, such as purchasing food.
And proof that one is in fact a worshipper would be evident by the said individual possessing “the mark of the beast”. The mark in question is actually a number which, as revealed in the intro, is “six hundred and sixty six” (though some editions of the Bible, such as the popular King James’ version, may read a bit differently).
So that is “the mark of the beast” as referred to in the intro of this song and upon which its title is based.
The Number “666”
However, the rest of this piece really doesn’t have anything to do with the Book of Revelations per se. “666, the number of the beast”, is mentioned in the chorus. But what it actually alludes to, within the context of the lyrics, is a concept like some type of mass discontent which apparently has been inspired by devil worship.
Moreover, it is further revealed that this whole narrative is more or less a dream that the vocalist is having. So that’s why for instance Steve Harris feels that many people who spazzed upon release of this track hadn’t actually read its lyrics.
A Song encouraging Satanism?
Indeed, whereas it is understandable why some people may have issues with this song, at the end of the day, technically speaking, it isn’t actually an advocacy of Satanism. Rather, besides being based on a fantasy the vocalist is having, if anything what this piece actually speaks to is the potential of Satanism becoming some type of mass movement and in that regard may have even been foretelling.
And by the time all is said and done, the vocalist gives in to the spirit, if you will, to become part of this movement himself.
So again, this definitely isn’t the type of song that, say an average Christian parent would want their child listening to. It’s clear that Iron Maiden has sympathy for the devil, so to speak, as in not necessarily being against the satanic cause. But in a funny sort of way, they are actually reaffirming what John the Revelator originally put forth so many years ago. And that is the idea of “the number of the beast” ultimately being a reality that none of us can ignore.
Iron Maiden is one of the heavy metal bands who seem as if they have been around since time immemorial. In actuality, the group, which originated in the UK, has been extant since the mid-1970s. And as British rock groups especially tend to go, their membership has remained pretty constant throughout the decade.
In fact four of the five musicians who participated on “The Number of the Beast”, with this song are still down with the crew as of the writing of this post.
And those individuals would be the following:
- Bruce Dickinson
- Steve Harris
- Dave Murray
- Adrian Smith
But the late Clive Burr (1957-2013), who played drums on the track, was fired from the band the same year this track came out. He was actually sacked during an associated tour Iron Maiden was on called The Beast on the Road.
When was “The Mark of the Beast” Released?
Iron Maiden officially released it on 22 March 1982. It is actually the title track from their third album, which was their first to really blow up internationally.
Meanwhile the song itself was a moderate hit, most notably breaking the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart and achieving silver status via the BPI.
Achievements of this Song
To begin with, while this song may not have performed particularly well on the music charts, throughout the years it achieved something even more important. It has been greatly appreciated by fans of Iron Maiden and heavy metal enthusiasts in general.
It has also been featured on a handful of movies/television shows, such as both Sherlock and South Park in 2017. Furthermore, it has been featured on a few videogames, including:
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (2002)
- Guitar Hero III (2007)
Writing of “The Mark of the Beast”
This song was written by the aforementioned Steve Harris, who actually founded Iron Maiden. He wrote it after watching the second film in the Omen horror franchise and subsequently having a nightmare. Moreover, the tune is said to have been inspired by a late-18th century Scottish poem entitled Tam o’ Shanter (1791).
When you listen to the song, you notice it commences with someone quoting a couple of verses from the Bible, specifically Revelations 12:12 and 13:18. This person is an actor by the name of Barry Clayton (1931-2011).
According to Bruce Dickinson, the original plan was to have Vincent Price (1911-1993), an actor who was well-known as being associated with the horror genre, read these verses instead. But the price of his participation was more than the band could bear. However, apparently many people did mistake Clayton’s voice on this track for that of Price’s.
Some More Interesting Facts
The eye-catching cover art to this single was rendered by a British artist named Derek Riggs, who worked heavily with Iron Maiden back in those days. In fact the cover to “The Mark of the Beast” (the song) is said to be the sequel to what Riggs put together for the Run to the Hills, which was the lead single from the same album.
Heavy metal is a genre in which some associated musicians are known to regularly rely on demonic/satanic imagery. And this is apparently one of the songs which helped this category of music earn such a reputation, as stateside it led to Iron Maiden suffering a notable backlash upon its release.
“The Number of the Beast” was the first Iron Maiden album in which Bruce Dickinson served as the band’s lead vocalist.