Woe to you, Oh 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 13:18
This week marks an unusual holiday — or unholy day — that only comes along once every 100 years: the Day of the Beast, 6/6/06. For some it is a day to fear, when the Antichrist of Christian mythology will finally be revealed. For others it is a time of hope and celebration for precisely the same reason. For me, it is a time to rock. The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden's third studio album, was released in 1982. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson had just joined the band, and Maiden was at the height of its powers. My best friend Mike and I listened to the entire record every day after school for months. We would sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the record cover, trying to decipher its hidden meanings and getting off on the comic book/metal imagery. As true fans and converts, we felt compelled to spread the word, or at least show how cool we thought we were.
So one morning before school, we took a black Magic Marker to a couple of white T-shirts, writing three big 6s on the fronts and "The Number of the Beast" on the backs. We were so proud of ourselves walking to school, but our bubble was burst as soon as we got there: The teacher sent us straight back home to change, telling us, "Some of the other children might find it offensive." Mike and I both played it off like we were innocent little rock fans, with no intentions of offending or converting anyone to Satanism. We were just celebrating our favorite band — and song.
The title song in question is, to my mind, one of the most rocking ever recorded. Maiden bassist Steve Harris wrote it, and it is a true metal classic: heavy riffs, strong, catchy hooks, and vaguely sinister metal lyrics. The words put the listener straight into the narrator's mind, witnessing the dawn of Hell on Earth: "Torches blazed and sacred chants were praised/ As they start to cry, hands held to the sky/ In the night, the fires burning bright/ The ritual has begun, Satan's work is done."
Dickinson invokes dark, paranoid imagery as if channeling Poe or Lovecraft, and when he spits out the chorus of "6-6-6/ The Number of the Beast," he conjures up all that is implied in the evil numerology: the tension between the narrator's juvenile fascination with evil — much like our own — and the higher impulse to overcome and reject it.
"But I feel drawn to the chanting hordes / They seem to mesmerize, can't avoid their eyes."
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