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Uriah Heep - Wizards - The Best Of Uriah Heep CD (album) cover

WIZARDS - THE BEST OF URIAH HEEP

Uriah Heep

Heavy Prog


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4 stars I first came across Uriah Heep's music in my local library, from where I borrowed High And Mighty for a few pence. I was not particularly impressed.

Then, a few months later, I heard Demons And Wizards at a friend's house: I was knocked out by the combination of powerful vocals (David Byron), the inventive guitar work (Mick Box), the roaming bass lines (Gary Thain, who died in 1975), and of course the mighty Hammond organ assault of Ken Hensley (as well as his occasional slide guitar): and more than that, the quality of the songs, and even the album cover! I remember the first time I heard Circle Of Hands, a particularly intense hard rock ballad of the sort that Uriah Heep specialised in. I couldn't imagine hearing anything better (this reviewer was a teenager into Dungeons and Dragons), but then came the superb Rainbow Demon. If there is one criticism of this CD, it is that these two tracks are not on it. But everything else is present and correct. And it is clear that, creatively (and commercially), Uriah Heep peaked in the early Seventies with the forementioned line-up.

Apparently Uriah Heep were never popular with the critics, who tended to prefer their peers such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Perhaps their image was considered weaker, their sound more derivative, even overly melodic for a hard rock group. They come across as being naive both musically and lyrically compared to their (even) more successful contemporaries. Hensley was not a trained musician, and this shows at times, although not necessarily in a bad way. But their seventies material has aged surprisingly well. A lot of their best songs are in 6/8 'shuffle' time, which set them apart from their contemporaries: these include Look At Yourself, Easy Living, Blind Eye, Stealin' and more. In addition, their harmonies were awesome!

Uriah Heep are still going of course, though only Mick Box remains of the classic line-up. The CD is chronological and so there is an interesting historical perspective in addition to the musical entertainment. There are even several live performances.

Standout tracks include: Gypsy, which has a guitar solo about 20 seconds long, and an organ solo at least 2 minutes long: it suggests something about their musical priorities: the highlight though is actually Byron's fantastic vocal: Lady In Black, the 2 chord chant sung by Hensley: Look At Yourself: a BBC session which is as good as the album version: this is as exciting as they get: July Morning (of course): Easy Living and The Wizard: their 2 big radio hits of the early seventies.

After Demons And Wizards, the standard of their albums dropped, with increasingly average songs, and strange chord structures (for those who might be interested in that sort of thing): Sweet freedom and Wonderworld are good examples of this: how many chords can you fit into a single song? They are not bad songs as such, just more laboured and contrived than the earlier classics. On a positive note, Stealin' and Return To Fantasy are both out-and-out belters, the latter peculiarly under-rated.

After Byron left, John Lawton joined as lead vocalist, and Rollin' On and the furious rocker Free An' Easy are as good as the Byron tracks. It is clear though, that without the late Byron, Uriah Heep's sound generally lacked the same power, intensity and charisma. After Lawton's departure three albums later, the prog element of their music also waned.

Following a few lacklustre albums for example Conquest, Uriah Heep re-invented themselves as a stadium-style 80s rock band, rather like a Journey or Foreigner with fierce wah guitar solos setting them slightly apart, courtesy of Mick Box of course. They maintained the fantasy 'demons and wizards' themes to a certain extent. The songs featured here are undeniably quite good (especially Too Scared To Run) but they are harder to love...

But overall this is a good, well-considered overview of an excellent band, and at £5 it represents superb value for money. They were not consistently brilliant, however in their pomp, Uriah Heep would blow most of today's bands offstage, and then some!

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Posted Saturday, October 08, 2011 | Review Permalink

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