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Uriah Heep - Demons and Wizards

2010-03-26 14:26
Demons and Wizards

My first listen of Demons and Wizards happened at age 10, some ten years after its release, courtesy of a prematurely-departed cousin who’d left most of his record collection at my parents’ house.

It may well have been "Demons" that tipped my musical sensibilities so far beyond that pale that I had no choice but to become a music critic in later life. And the irony of it being called Demons and Wizards will not be lost on any kid who was thought of as "different" in a largely Christian conservative high school. Anyway....

Demons and Wizards is an unqualified treasure, a true rarity to be found in the maelstroms and avalanches that were bearing down on rock n roll at the turn of the 60s. By 1972 Woodstock was all but a memory, and rock had already cocked the gun of self-indulgence that it would use to shoot itself in the foot when disco showed its capped teeth a few years later. So it's strange to think that somehow it was this - Uriah Heep’s fourth effort - that got the ball rolling for the largely unfavoured band in the midst of Rock’s great decline.

The balance between the band's musicality and the writers' pop sense (meaning melody, hook, lyric – things that make songs memorable) is met over the nine tracks with nary a bad decision or misguided tangent. In a nutshell, Heep found a way to economise these songs without sacrificing the epic feel of the arrangements.

Seven of the nine tracks come in at under 4:30, and four of those at under 3:30, which for a progressive rock album of the time is quite something. And yet the album has space for a couple of blistering riff and solo runs, the first of which hits you in the head as "Traveller in Time", comes to a close.

There's another clever organ driven shimmy that divides the verses on "Easy Living" and a simple but effective guitar solo on "Rainbow Demon". "Circle of Hands" does wander into a separate instrumental middle, but quickly returns to its chorus in good count. That's pretty much it for any mentionable diversions in arrangement.

The rest is drenched in some finely crafted lyrical mystique. Byron tells stories of mysterious travellers who in turn tell him stories and offer advice; hallucinations (are they?) of cataclysmic but benevolent figures drifting past our largely ignorant existence; moments of clarity that reveal the true enemies of peace and harmony.

The album is mostly thematically consistent along these lines, save a few fun darts into girl territory like "All My Life", which should really be the most covered song in history, if there were any "Poet's Justice" ( see what I did there?).

Sadly, that's not going to happen, and that's one of the problems with modern-day rock n roll bands; they just don't know how to write great rock albums anymore. At least not of the degree to which this writer could say that eight of the nine tracks ("The Spell" feels like an afterthought, really) are genuine album highlights.

Ultimate Uriah
The fourth Uriah Heep album, Demons features the classic line up of Ken Hensley (keyboards), Mick Box (guitar), David Byron (vocals), Lee Kerslake (drums) and Gary Thain (bass). Thain and Byron died in 1975 and 1980 respectively.
They were the first Western band to play in the USSR, under Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. They have sold over 30 million albums worldwide.

Hidden in the Heep
If you can get your hands on an original vinyl LP copy with the gatefold sleeve, you're in for a rare treat. The front cover design by Roger Dean features a hidden erotic image of male and female genitalia.

Read more: Official Website

In the era of rock n' roll excess, economy serves to create one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

What to read next: Kalahari


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