"We are very proud of our history,” says Mick Box, “but it is equally important to keep producing new material. This new album, ‘Outsider’, is very much a rock album in true 'Heep' style. It shows that we still have the same passion and energy for our music that we have always had.”
“True Heep style”, eh? What does that mean?
You get a lot of the instant melodic charms, for which the band have been renowned over the decades. Plus those vocal harmonies that set them apart from everyone else.
So, does it sound like they’ve tried to copy what’s been done before?
Well, to some extent, yes. There are moments here when you can almost hear the band trying just a little too hard to stay committed to what they think are those old Heep values. It’s always good to hear a band’s trademark sound, but not if it strays too close to being formulaic. Thankfully, this is rare on Outsider.
What have they done that marks out the album as being different to recent Heep releases?
It’s heavier for a start. Mick Box is a man unleashed, and some of his riffs and solos are blistering. Always undervalued as a guitar god, he really shows his mettle (and metal) here. Listen to Speed Of Sound or Rock The Foundation… now that’s a guitarist completely off the hook and zipping across the strings. Because of this, Phil Lanzon’s keyboard playing has been taken up a notch. The interplay between the pair is, at times, spectacular.
Bernie Shaw’s vocals. How do they sound now?
Surprisingly, better than ever. Age and experience seems to have given him a welcome edge. He has a menace here that’s never really been heard before in the studio. Is Anybody Gonna Help Me has Shaw coming across as fed up, cynical, and this gives the song extra flavour. The man is no longer just a very good melodic rock vocalist – he’s got character.
How does the sad loss of Trevor Bolder affect the album?
Unless you are a bass aficionado, you’ll not notice any real difference in what’s on the album. Behind the scenes, Bolder’s death will have affected Heep, and let’s not underestimate his musical contribution. But new man Dave Rimmer fits right in, and his relationship with drummer Russell Gilbrook is smart, flexible and suits the sound.
So, is it worth bothering with this album?
Yes. It’s the best Heep album in two decades. Here’s a veteran band who have really pushed themselves and not settled for anything that’s merely ‘decent’. They wanted to make an album to get noticed for the right reasons. They’ve done it. No, it’s not a reinvention, but it is a reinvigoration.
Outsider is out Monday June 9.