But, of course, the rad badness of 666 predates even Maiden, stemming from that eternal bestseller The Bible. The concept of “the number of the beast” (also something a veterinary anaesthetist could refer to oneself as) is introduced in the Book of Revelation: “And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666."
Many interpretations of this passage involve a type of numerology called gematria, where letters are assigned values. “Nero Caesar”, emperor of Rome shortly before Revelation was written, and prone to burning Christians, comes out at… 666. It could also potentially be a coded way of referring to Domitian, emperor at the time of writing, by suggesting he was the same as Nero. Either way, if it’s a bit of emperor-bashing, it reads today as extremely subtle.
However, numbers were written as letters back then, and a lot of meaning was given to what certain words totalled out to. It could have been a memo hidden in plain sight, a way of getting a bit of a “Hey, fuck this guy” message across in a way that only those in the know would pick up on.
But it might not even be a thing. Theologians increasingly believe that the actual number of the beast given in the earliest surviving versions of The Bible is in fact 616, and over the years it was changed due to a) repetition being cool; (b) repetition being cool; and c) the number 888 being associated with Jesus and the all-six version following suit because of d) repetition being cool. You can even get 616 from Nero, if you spell his name in the Latin way rather than the Greek one…
The fact is, there’s nothing metal about 616. 666, though, is a cool fucking number. The combination to the lock of cinema’s most famous briefcase, in Pulp Fiction, is of course 666. There’s not a roller derby team in the world in which someone hasn’t bagsied it, Rob Zombie sells foam fingers emblazoned with it, and a whole host of bands from Rotting Christ to Kreator to Billy Talent to Misfits to Against Me! have named songs or albums after it. When Foo Fighters wanted a number to feature in the title of their upcoming horror movie, they didn’t opt for Studio 999, you know?