Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bands I Love: Uriah Heep

Uriah Heep: a band that very few people of today's youth knows about, but one of my favorites of the classic blues rock days. Formed in 1969, around the same time as well known acts like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Uriah Heep helped pave the way for bands under the progressive moniker, but still focusing in the blues. Known as "The Beach Boys of Heavy Metal," for their multi-part harmonies and melodic songs, Uriah Heep are still active and touring, releasing their first album in ten years in 2008, Wake The Sleeper.

Named after the antagonist in the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield, right from the beginning the band was knee deep in immense storytelling and imagery. Their first song of their first album, 1970's Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble (released as "Uriah Heep" in the US), titled "Gypsy," is the tale of a young man who falls in love with the daughter of the leader of the Gypsies. After being beaten by the chief, the narrator swears that he will train to fight to come back and win the hand of his love, to be "The kind of a man/That he'll understand." Although the album was panned by critics and sold poorly, it is now seen as one of the foundations for modern heavy metal, and at least sold well enough for the group to release more albums.
Their second release, Salisbury, released in 1971, dove deeper into the progressive rock, with the 16 minute title-track featuring a 24-piece orchestra. This album also presented another amazing song, that continues to be a fan favorite to this day; "Lady In Black." This song is about a man visited by a goddess, this "Lady In Black." She asks him who his enemy is, and he begs her for men "To fight and kill their brothers," and horses "To trample down my enemies." She declines his offer, saying that this is not the way to win, that "There is no strength in numbers/Have no such misconception/But when you need me/Be assured I wont be far away." Then she leaves without another word, and although the narrator's labor is no easier, he feels better about it, knowing that She is there, watching. The song ends with the speaker saying that "...If one day she comes to you/Drink deeply from her words so wise/Take courage from her/As your prize." and to "Say hello for me." I find this song is very poetic, and has a simple instrumentation, with it being mostly acoustic with spurts of heavier sounds. One of my favorite songs of all time.
The next album, Look At Yourself, was released in late 1971, and climbed up the charts slowly, breaking the top 100 (ending at 93). It was a fairly decent album, no truly great songs off it spring into mind, but it was this album which helped launch their best album, just a year later.
In 1972, Uriah Heep released arguably, their best album, Demons & Wizards. Just by the title, you knew what would be the bread and butter of this album. It was their best seller in the United States, reaching 23 on the Billboard Top 200, and also jumped to number 20 on the UK Top 100 (this would later be beaten by three of their next four albums, but they never saw a better ranking in the US). The two singles released were, "Easy Livin'," which became their first US hit, and "The Wizard," another narrative song, although short. The speaker is visited by a mighty Wizard, with whom she shares his wine. While there, the Wizard tells this man about his life, and his dreams for this world. The man comes to realize that they weren't so different, that all everyone wants is to be happy. So the traveler leaves and the speaker is left alone pondering the words of wisdom of his guest.
After this album, the band continued to release albums on average of once a year until the 90's (releasing 17 albums in twenty years), but nothing equaled their Demons & Wizards album (well I haven't heard their new one yet, so there still is hope, but I am doubtful). They have had a few more popular singles, "Stealin'," "Sweet Lorraine," and went on to become quite large in the UK and Scandinavia, but they faltered in the American charts.

Throughout the almost forty years of playing together, the band has changed styles several times. Starting as hard rock/heavy metal, moving deep into progressive rock/metal, and then for a time fading in and out of blues and sometimes even jazz, all the while keeping a hard feel to their music. So although they have experimented with several styles, they still were always Uriah Heep, they never fell off of their own path to become something unknown. So forty years and 21 albums later these guys are still the storytellers they always were, and the foundations of both heavy metal an progressive metal.

Studio Album Discography

  1. Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble - 1970
  2. Salisbury - 1971
  3. Look At Yourself - 1971
  4. Demons & Wizards - 1972
  5. The Magician's Birthday - 1972
  6. Sweet Freedom - 1973
  7. Wonderworld - 1974
  8. Return To Fantasy - 1975
  9. High And Mighty - 1976
  10. Firefly - 1977
  11. Innocent Victim - 1977
  12. Fallen Angel - 1978
  13. Conquest - 1980
  14. Abominog - 1982
  15. Head First - 1983
  16. Equator - 1985
  17. Raging Silence - 1989
  18. Different World - 1991
  19. Sea of Light - 1995
  20. Sonic Origami - 1998
  21. Wake The Sleeper - 2008

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