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Uriah Heep - Demons And Wizards CD (album) cover

DEMONS AND WIZARDS

Uriah Heep

 

Heavy Prog

4.07 | 735 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars It is almost inexplicable why Uriah Heep never achieved major success in the Americas. The band, and particularly this album, had all the prerequisites for the New World market: highly melodic songs, intricate arrangements, but most importantly – the ability to flat-out rock, led by the gravity-defying vocals of the late David Byron. In fact, it was mostly the stoners that could be found with a Uriah Heep 8-track in their car in America back in the 70s though, or at least that was the case in my part of the country.

Too bad, because this is a band with a fascinating (and at times morbid) history, and widely rumored to be much of the inspiration for the Spinal Tap movies of the 80s. For my money Demons and Wizards is their best studio album. There is an impressive range of styles demonstrated here, from progressive to metal to pseudo-classical to art rock fantasy music, to 60s throwback. With a few minor exceptions, the production is also top-notch – there are a couple of feedback glitches in Circle of Hands that are a tad distracting, but that’s about it.

Byron’s voice on “The Wizard” pretty much set the bar for all art and metal rock male vocalists that followed in my opinion. His sense of both melody and timbre are almost breathtaking. The music itself isn’t very complex, with just some strumming guitar, mildly whining keyboards, and basic drums. Byron’s vocals are clearly the difference making this song work. The wizard would of course become a recurring character for the band, and this song became an instant signature sound.

“Traveller in Time” is also not a particularly complex tune, but the keyboards give it a much richer feel than what the rhythm section is able to do. This is a song that sounds dated now, but was very much in the vein of the Byrds, and even a little bit of early Aerosmith. The sound off this song was copied a lot by many bands in the later 70s.

“Easy Livin’” is the most energetic and most recognizable song in the Heep catalog. The Hammond organ, simple percussion, and driving bass-drum rhythm are still infectious today. This is a three minute blast of energy that should have propelled them to permanent stardom. Interestingly, this was by far their biggest hit in America, but not in Europe. The style is much closer to blues-based hard rock or even metal than it is to a progressive sound.

“Poet’s Justice” is another slightly bluesy song, particularly with Byron’s vocals. This is typical blue-collar rock from the early 70s, distinguished largely by the fantasy theme and a couple of interesting tempos changeups.

“Circle of Hands” is one of the more ambitious tracks on the album. From the opening somber Hammond chords, to the mystic one-liners (“skies full of eyes, minds full of lies”, “cold spirits plan, searching the land for an enemy”), this has the feel of a tale of an epic journey. It isn’t really, more of a kind of Blues Image or Joe Cocker hippy tune, but the extended play and heavy organ give it a bit more substance than similar music that was en vogue at the time.

“Rainbow Demon” is another heavy, moody song, and this one is complete with mystic lyrics telling the tale of the rainbow warrior. This one is all heavy organ and bass, with some somber vocals that would have made Ronnie James Dio proud.

The short “All My Life” is pure blues guitar with very little organ, and is a song that was almost definitely intended for live performances. This is a love-you-at-least-for-tonight song of unbridled lust, with some vocal gyrations by Byron and a freakish but harmonic all-male vocal backing that makes this kind of a fun song to listen to.

“Paradise” isn’t really paradise at all, more like a sad, gloomy breakup ballad. This is a partially acoustic number, with Byron wrapping his voice in a gentle echo that gives this a more tender feel, but also serves to make it sound quite dated now. This is a nice song, but not really typical Heep fare.

I’m not sure what the band was trying to achieve with “The Spell”, a seven and a half minute tirade about some scheming witch who is apparently plotting destruction –

“Seems I made it just in time to use my reason and my rhyme to save us from the evils of your mind;

I will cast the spell, be sure I'll cast it well. I will light a fire kindled with desire - I'll fill you with fear, so you know I'm here –

and I won't be treated like a fool”.

Apparently whoever pissed off Byron in ‘paradise’ is still after him. This isn’t really a progressive type of song either, but the extended piano tracks, spacey vocals, and complex drums makes it feel like a profound statement, which is good enough, I suppose. The honky-tonk piano ending is a bit odd though.

Demons and Wizards is a solid offering from the band, and one of their most recognizable albums. They get an extra nod for the excellent Roger Dean album cover as well. These guys will never go down in history as one of the progressive rock giants of their era, but this is a highly melodic album, easy to listen to, and a great example of the blend of art rock and blues from the early 70s. Four stars is the right way to rate it.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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