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Uriah Heep - Wake The Sleeper CD (album) cover


Uriah Heep


Heavy Prog

3.42 | 196 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Wake up! (Set your sights)

The album title is self evident, as Uriah Heep finally release their first album of the 21st century, some ten years after "Sonic origami". There is just one line up change to report, with Russell Gilbrook replacing Lee Kerslake on drums. Kerslake was recently granted voluntary early retirement on the grounds of ill health, having been with the band since the "Demons and Wizards" album was released in 1972. Apart from the change of drummer, this line up has now been together for over 20 years, displaying a stability the early versions of the band could only dream of.

The delay in recording "Wake the sleeper" was put down to long running contractual issues (i.e. finding one!). The album was actually recorded about a year ago, but further turmoil within the band's new record label meant it was delayed further so that the appropriate promotional effort could accompany its release.

The album has 11 tracks in all, the first eight of which are written by the long established partnership between guitarist/ founder Mick Box and keyboard player Phil Lanzon. Lanzon contributes one further track alone, while Trevor Boulder writes the remaining two.

The album opens with what is (if memory service me correctly!) the first ever instrumental by the band. Well actually it isn't, because this the title track features ah-ah vocals and a refrain of the title, but the focal point is the blistering guitar work of our Mick, whose trademark wah-wah sound ensures that there will indeed be no sleeping for the next hour or so! The following "Overload" is very much in the mould of tracks such as "Between two worlds", being an organ driven wall of sound number. The lyrics warn of the dangers associated with the digital age such as isolation and the inability to separate reality from fantasy. Phil Lanzon adds some really spicy keyboards here, his contribution overall being far more up-front than of late.

Successive tracks such as "Tears of the world" and "Light of a thousand stars" confirm that this is very much business as usual for Uriah Heep. The emphasis on multi-part harmonies, swirling organ and distinctive guitar solos is very much still the core value for the band.

Lyrically, "Book of lies" is interesting. There is a lot of anger and grief on the part of either Box or Lanzon about something which has been written about them. One can speculate that the culprit may be Ken Hensley, the only member of the classic line up not to get a name check in the sleeve notes, but such speculation may of course be wide of the mark. "What kind of god" is undoubtedly a highlight. This highly progressive number is lyrically an update on "Wake up (set your sights)", but builds majestically to an ah-ah backed guitar crescendo.

The first Trevor Boulder number "Angels walk with you" is really the first song to slow things down, and even then only marginally. The song has a bluesier, funky feel more in line with the Coverdale era Deep Purple style. Boulder's other composition for the album, "War child" closes the album by returning us to a powerful anthemic style number.

Those who enjoyed the relatively recent albums "Sonic origami" and "Sea of light" will not be disappointed with "Wake the sleeper". The difference here is not in the style, but in the quality of the songs and their arrangements. The band have used the inordinately long gap between albums to nurture the songs and to develop them into well crafted pieces. There is a confidence and a commitment to quality throughout this album which sets it apart from any other Bernie Shaw era release.

For me, this is not an album which looks backwards though. While the songs here are undeniably through and through Uriah Heep, music has moved on a lot in the near 40 years since the band first upset the critics. This is without doubt music for 21st century. What unfortunately will probably not change though is that the commercial music press will remain stuck with their preconceptions when presented with a new Uriah Heep album.

Lyrically, there is far more emphasis than usual here in getting across various messages. Virtually every track has a moral or a story to tell. Musically, there are no real surprises, except perhaps the complete absence of anything soft or ballad like whatsoever. Right from the earliest days, there has been a policy of including at least one chance to pause for breath, but this album rocks from start to finish. In the fullness of time, I expect that this album will find its place in the history of the band well towards the top of any favourite album charts. The sleeper is well and truly awake!

The sleeve illustration is a wonderfully atmospheric picture of a female deity by the Greek born artist Ioannis (who now lives in the USA). Ioannis has provided covers for many bands including King Crimson and Deep Purple. The photo of the band on the back of the booklet is equally atmospheric, apparently portraying the members as Marlon Brando's official henchmen!

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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