Okay ladies and gentlemen…I have had more than a few drinks, the stereo is turned up loud, and I’m ready to continue down the path of classic 1970s hard rock, as initiated all the way back in July of this year when I waxed poetic about the Sea of Tranquility YouTube channel. Let’s keep the train rolling with some of the vinyl I picked up over the last few months, starting with a band I knew by name but was woefully ignorant of musically…the mighty Uriah Heep and their dynamic fourth album Demons and Wizards. I think at this points I’m enough sheets into the wind to do more of a reaction review, even though I’ve heard the record a number of times already. Flare your pant bottoms and grab your wicker basket of wine…it’s time to do this.
It starts with an acoustic guitar, as all things should. “The Wizard” couldn’t possibly start any more classic rock: the acoustic intro accompanied by David Byron intoning about the wizard who came and drank his wine. But you can already hear odd cracks in the perfect classic rock frame: the way Byron’s voice echoes at the end of each verse, and the gradual build in the second verse with the drums (courtesy of drum giant Lee Kerslake). And then that giant break for the chorus, when the electric guitars pop and Byron’s voice blends with the falsetto of the backing vocals (also Byron and the band). It’s magic, pure and simple…the magic of a wizard coming and showing you the way.
“Traveller in Time” is a balls out rocker in its opening seconds…and then Byron’s high voice kicks in with the wan of the guitar and you’re not sure what to make of it, except that it’s catchy as hell. There’s not a lot to Uriah Heep’s song structure” “Traveller” is literally two verses and a chorus of two simple lines, but there’s a power and conviction in its simplicity, and the way the bridge comes in to reinforce that yes: this man IS IN FACT A TRAVELLER IN TIME and if you don’t believe him then you can fall prey to the stellar bass playing of Gary Thain, who makes his debut with the band on Demons and Wizards.
If there’s a “hit” on the album it’s probably “Easy Livin'” and you can immediately hear why. It’s by far the most immediate song on the album, with the keyboards pressing hard against the rolling riffs and the walking swing of the baseline. Listening to it now I’m reminded of how seductive the simplicity of classic crock can be, when it’s lyrically about a man just trying to get by and find his way through the lonely avenues of love. That sense of this music being made for what now in 2021 I can say is the easiest human setting doesn’t make it any less fun to rock out to, and as the funky rock of “Poet’s Justice” comes in with its gang vocals and steady presence of Trains bass – something I’ve grown to love as I listen again and again to Demons and Wizards – I’m now firmly in my happy place.
Also at this point I have to give all th props to Ken Hensley’s work on organ…the man knows his way around a run.
Their prog influences really come to bear on Side A closer “Circle of Hands” It opens with Hensley’s organ and Byron’s voice intoning about beauty’s triumph over evil. I am entirely taken with Byron’s vocals, and when the rest of the band steps in to bring the song into its fullness I can’t help but get a grin a mile wide, especially with lyrics like “…and today is only yesterday’s tomorrow.” The band’s ability to cross proto-metal, prog, and good old fashioned rock and roll feel complete here, even if at his post I still think I prefer the hard rock grandeur of their previous album, 1971’s Look at Yourself.
Hensley continues to shine as the primary songwriter, kicking off Side 2 with “Rainbow Demon.” Here awe have some true grit on the organ before Byron kicks in with some real metal lyrics about Rainbow Demos riding on steeds of crimson fire. There’s a definite Deep Purple vibe to the track, and it stands as one of the heaviest tracks on the album. Great solos, and the more it plays the more I feel Dio’s Rainbow. Maybe it’s the song title…maybe it’s the alcohol, but there are vibes all over the place resonating with me and I’m full in the bag for this album.
“All My Life” is another outright rocker, twin guitars playing up licks after lick before settling into a blissed out blues riff that brings the boogie to the track. As someone who always claims they were a lover of classic rock, I’m now somewhat ashamed I never listened to Uriah Heep until I was 48 years old. Tis is exacerbated by the high pitched whelp Byron gives off in the second verse. Tons of great guitar here, and nothing can overshadow how great (again ) Thain brings the low end attack. Dude is never satisfied simply replicating guitar lines or drums accents. He’s all over the place and it’s glorious.
And now we come to the end, and on my copy of the vinyl (an original US pressing from 1972) “Paradise” and “The Spell” are two parts of a whole. It’s a perfect epic closer, coming in at over 12 minutes and really nailing that early heavy metal feel. “paradise” has that classic acoustic guitar drum that again emphasizes the bass lines of Thain, and Byron is in top form. Lyrically I can’t say this is pure poetry, but it IS very much a part of the quasi-mystical rock lingo Robert Plant made famous with Led Zeppelin.
Despite fans’s efforts to the contrary, the band was keen to acknowledge there was no concept behind Demons and Wizards: it was very much just a collection of songs the band was enthusiastic about at the time. Listening to it now, I can see why. I am completely enamored of what Uriah Heep is bringing to the table on Demons and Wizards…so much so I think I’ll do this again tomorrow with their previous album I picked up for a song a few months back. If you’ve never stepped into the classic hard rock waters of Uriah Heep do yourself a favor: take those shoes off and wade on in. The water’s fine and this is the perfect starting place.