Familiar music tropes don’t have to be cliché.
Twenty-five studio albums into its career, Uriah Heep proves that its glory days aren’t a thing of the past. There have been uneasy passages in the hard rock outfit’s nearly 50-year career, but in recent years guitarist Mick Box (the sole holdover from the so-called classic era) has led the group through a series of ace records that restore our faith in the Heep as a group that never gives less than its best.
Cut from a cloth that’s not dissimilar from Deep Purple with crunchy keyboard passages (handled here by Phil Lazon, a member since 1985) and wailing guitar lines nestled between billowing bits of bruised blues from vocalist Bernie Shaw—Living the Dream—is proof that familiar music tropes don’t have to be cliché.
“Grazed By Heaven,” which kicks off this platter, has all the guts and glory one would expect from a collective trekking to the studio for the first time. There’s a hunger to the rhythms and lyrical passages that could strike fear into the hearts of lesser rockers. That can sound like blissful hyperbole but there’s a lingering sense that Box is poised to prove his band can retain its rank among the world’s best even if it’s now approaching the late stages of its career.
Witness the titular piece, in which the quintet (rounded out by drummer Russel Gilbrook and bassist Davey Rimmer) lays waste to its gear with a ferocity that Heep had not yet reached on classic albums such as Look at Yourself or Demons and Wizards. There is something to be said for experience and wisdom and perhaps nowhere is that as evident in the Heep oeuvre as here.
This is a group that arrived in the same batch as progressive heavyweights Yes and the boogie-down stylings of Wishbone Ash and those genetic elements rise up during pieces such as the eight-minute “Rocks in The Road.” If full-on prog was never what Box and the band excelled at, they still managed to show a deep affinity for its unexpected twists and turns while keeping the fantasy references tastefully in check. Imagine progressive rock as imagined not by kids who’d sung in the Anglican choir or studied at the Royal Academy but by blokes who’d crawled from the alleyways of Birmingham and into the rock ‘n’ roll limelight.
Of course, Heep originated in the more urbane and storied London, but it was never afraid to be grittier than its counterparts, something that becomes apparent throughout numbers such as “Waters Flowing” and “Knocking at My Door.” There are some more predictable moments, ones that are more workaday than technicolor, including “It’s All Been Said” and “Goodbye to Innocence” but even there one can find reason to celebrate the sheer loudness and unrepentant glee heard in a band that’s weathered myriad storms in its long run.
There’s little chance that this will find an audience with metal heads brought up in the wake of Slipknot and Korn but perhaps it will trickle into the imaginations of elder rockers who crave a brand of music filled with a temperance of anger and soul. And if this is someone’s first bout with Uriah Heep, here’s hoping they work backward and find the many highs and lows spread across a career most groups can only dream of having.