Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Favorite Albums: Uriah Heep - Demons And Wizards

It's been a while, and I have at least two articles that could use my attention, but I just listened to Demons and Wizards by Uriah Heep again and I feel the need to tell you all about this spectacular album. I've already gone into the history of Uriah Heep (way back in January of 2009) so I don't need to go into to much detail on that front. They were/are a British band that is one of the foundations of hard rock and heavy metal music. More specifically, they are the forerunners of progressive rock and - by extension - progressive metal. They were among the first to use dual lead guitars, and layered semi-operatic vocals. Many of their songs were narratives, telling of mystical battles and amazing people; Demons and Wizards was no different.
I like every song on this album (which is why it belongs in the 'Favorite Albums' category), with favorites being "The Wizard," "Traveler In Time," "Easy Livin'," and "Rainbow Demon." All of these songs tell a story, filled with emotion and quite often mysticism.
"The Wizard" is the story of a man living his life, when one day a mighty Wizard comes to his fire. Their the narrator shares his food with his guest, and the Wizard tells the story of his life, his hopes and his dreams. This song was the first single from the album, and even though it wasn't as popular as the second ("Easy Livin'"), it is by far my favorite song on the album, and one of my favorites from the band.
In "Traveler In Time," there seems to be a double meaning. In the foreground, the tale is of a man who is lost in time, struggling to get back to his home, to see his love once more. But the background story, with mention of paying for his crime, being set free, searching for an answer and in the last line "of helping mankind" I believe that the reason the man is traveling through time to to either atone or to fix a mistake he had made in the past. So he journeys to return to his own time, however that it has been altered.
The second single off the album, and one of their most popular, "Easy Livin'," seems to be the most straight-forward song thus far. A quasi-love song about a man saying that his life has gotten a lot easier sense he met the woman he loves. Although not as lyrically deep as "The Wizard," the song has a grooving guitar and drum line, and the lyrics are simple to sing along with - something that would become very popular in the 80's (songs with simple lyrics; read: AC/DC).
My second favorite song, "Rainbow Demon," is another one with simple to comprehend lyrics. The song is about a great warrior (the Rainbow Demon) who "Lives for his sword and his gun." And while there aren't a lot of lyrics (one verse, repeated twice), the music for this one seems to follow the Black Sabbath path of doom metal - of course with the progressive touch of Uriah Heep. The song begins slow and ominous, with not much in the way of actual music, relying heavily on David Byron's vocals, until the chorus when the band all comes in. here the sound is massive and all-encompassing; the layered vocals make their appearance, and the song grows with the second verse, laying it all out there with the final chorus. Then the chorus continues, being repeated a dozen times (it seems like), fading into the nothingness of sound that begins the track. It really is something that is better to hear and behold, then try to comprehend with my words on the screen. Go buy this album, it is worth it solely for this song (and "The Wizard" of course).

My one major gripe about the record - it even being not very major - is about the last song, "Paradise/The Spell." These are two very good and very different songs, that some some reason they decided to jam together as one track. The transition is sudden and sloppy, with the slower "Paradise" being drowned out with the more up-beat "The Spell." It just seems unnatural. In my research I have seen that in later releases the songs have been split, making me wonder where the separation of the songs took place, and how. So, I would be interested in hearing the newer versions of Demons And Wizards, just for that fact. If you are like me and have only the original style, fret not for they are both good songs (with "The Spell" being the better of the two), and outside that 15-30 second smash-up, you would never know they were one song.

I could go on and on about all the songs, and even more in depth about the ones I have highlighted already. Demons And Wizards is Uriah Heep's best album, by far, and one of the golden records of the early prog-rock scene. It belongs in everyone's catalog, and should be one you listen to once a month (for me it joins with The Wall by Pink Floyd and Dream Theater's Scenes From A Memory). The only way this album could be better is if contained "Gypsy" off of their first album, Very 'Eavy... Very 'Umble (labeled as their self-titled in the U.S.), and my all time favorite by the band, as well as one of my favorite songs of all time, "Lady In Black" off of their second album, Salisbury.

Track Listing
  1. The Wizard
  2. Traveler in Time
  3. Easy Livin'
  4. Poet's Justice
  5. Circle of Hands
  6. Rainbow Demon
  7. All My Life
  8. Paradise/The Spell

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