Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
When the history books are written in years to come, Uriah Heep will always feature heavily having made an incalculable impact on the genre and the music world itself.
With their recent phenomenal headline sets at both Steelhouse and Stonedead festivals reiterating just what a powerful force they are, there’s never been a better time to immerse yourself in their incredible back catalogue and this new box set is a blazing dream for any record collector.
Consisting of their first seven albums, this box set must rank as one of the most beautifully put together releases of the year, each opus presented on a glorious picture disc and with the added bonus of a set of seven t shirts, each featuring the cover art, along with art cards and a certificate signed by Mick Box. The real treasure here though is what lies in the grooves of the vinyl.
As with a lot of bands at that time, the early 70’s were an incredibly fertile era and the albums included here were released between 1970 and 1974. Despite this rapid work rate, the quality of the releases is uniformly high, each having its own highlights and two of the set, in the form of ‘Look At Yourself’ and ‘Demons And Wizards’, are considered by many to be the best the band have done.
Irrespective of this particular line of thought, what you have here is seven discs that provide the basis of a career that has seen the band influence artists like Iron Maiden and Queen to name but two. With the attack of Mick Box’s guitar, the glistening keys of Ken Hensley and David Byron’s soaring vocals, the band cut a mighty swathe and their Prog infused hard rock quickly found an audience for a legion of music lovers seeking something just a little bit different.
Debut ‘Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble’ kicks things off with the classic ‘Gypsy’ in a breathless welter of keys and guitar, the drive accelerated with the insistent riffing of ‘Walking In Your Shadows’. Whilst these and the boogie of ‘Real Turned On’ showed their fiery side, it was tracks like the beautiful Scott Walkeresque balladry of ‘Come Away Melinda’ that highlighted their range and the wide appeal of the well written, well produced material.
Released the following year, 1971’s ‘Salisbury’ built nicely on what the first outing achieved and tracks like ‘Bird of Prey’ and ‘High Priestess’ were heads down hard rock, ‘Time To Live’ was grinding heavy blues with added dynamics, ‘Lady In Black’ infected folk touches and the title track was an epic piece of prog.
The band really hit their stride with ‘Look At Yourself’, released a scant six months later in what was a bumper year for Heep fans. From the opening salvo of the title track and ‘I Wanna Be Free’ blasting from the speakers, perpetual favourite ‘July Morning’ swept in afterwards and caught everyone up in its classically grandiose charms, as evocative as the songs name. A game changing album that marked their ascent to the big leagues, numbers like ‘Tears In My Eyes’, ‘Shadows of Grief’ and ‘Love Machine’ rocked hard and furiously fast pointing the way to the future heights the band would reach.
With a cover by Roger Dean, who also created the artwork for their following release, 1972’s ‘Demons and Wizards’ was as visually eye catching as it was sonically. Chock full of classic tracks, including the turbo charged Heep live staple ‘Easy Livin’, it was suitably the release where their magic truly happened and the stars aligned. The addition of Lee Kerslake on drums and the bass of Gary Thain to the band cemented the line-up and the sense that everyone was utterly focussed lay deep within its core. From the acoustic ‘Paradise’ through to the guitar and organ driven ‘Rainbow Demon’, here was a band at the height of their powers.
The knock-out blow of ‘The Magician’s Birthday’ arrived later that same year and continued the unstoppable momentum built up. There was a Southern Rock feel to the blues boogie of ‘Spider Woman’ as the band once more spread their ever-widening range, diversifying but never losing their sound nor going too far from their key elements. Whilst other bands were happy to find a groove and stick with it, Heep continued to add layers with piano ballad ‘Rain’, the sci-fi keys-soaked rocker ‘Sweet Lorraine’ and the Prog Metal workout of the title track all adding up to a stimulating and immersive listen.
Some felt that with his delivery on tracks like ‘Echoes In The Park’ and opener ‘Sunrise’ that Byron verged into the same territory as musicals like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Hair’ at times but his vocals were a very flexible instrument in themselves, hitting the more showy and dramatic tones needed whilst also being able to deftly handle the rockers. Given that, you can see where Queen, and in particular Freddie Mercury, got their influences from and this range is still a thing of wonder almost fifty years later.
Further experimentation was seen on ‘73’s ‘Sweet Freedom’, the band adding more subtle twists to both writing and performance. Sure, ‘Dreamer’, ‘Stealin’’ and ‘Seven Stars’ were like wrecking balls, but it was in the spacey rock of ‘If I Had the Time’ and the gorgeous acoustic guitar work and percussion of ‘Circus’ that they really showed just how progressive they were in their thinking.
Whilst the release of ‘Wonderland’ in 1974 saw some claim that the band had hit a plateau, this couldn’t have been further from the truth as they brought even more elements in. Whether the constant album/tour cycle of the past few years had seen them somewhat worn down and in need of a break, the work ethic meant they pushed through and there’s certainly a lot to commend this release.
There’s something special here as each member of the band is able to truly shine and from the fast paced ‘Suicidal Man’, ‘Something Or Nothing’ and ‘So Tired’ you get an ideal of the real weight they were capable of, matching anything by bands like Purple or Zeppelin. From those slabs of granite, the band were also able to conjure up something totally different, best illustrated in the lushy orchestral ‘The Easy Road’ which still stands as one of the highlights of this collection.
Overall, ‘Every Day Rocks’ is not just a fascinating look at the early evolution of the band but also a blueprint for artists to follow and as such Heep were probably one of THE most influential bands in rock. There’s a joy here in listening back to these albums, wallowing in the nostalgia that their sound brings whilst marvelling at the craft is a rewarding way to spend a few hours of your time.
In a career that is still as vibrant as ever, Uriah Heep deserve a place in the collection of any self-respecting music fan and this lavish box set is the ideal starting point. Very ‘Heavy, very ‘Humble and very good indeed, they’re the real deal.