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Uriah Heep - Salisbury album review

Uriah Heep go big, and present the shape of progressive hard rock to come.

While yet to break commercially, 1970s Heep harboured decidedly epic ambitions. Undaunted by the critical mauling accorded to their Very ’Eavy Very ’Umble debut that summer, and sales figures confining them to the apposite humility of The Kings Head, Romford, come October, the quintet were back in the studio crafting material more uncompromisingly Heep-ish than ever. Keyboardist Ken Hensley’s emergence as a songwriter only intensified the band’s baroque combination of melodramatic heaviness, theatrical presentation and prodigious jazz complexity.

As prog found its focus, Uriah Heep were filling pubs with soaring set pieces better suited to arenas – or, judging by the vocal stylings of frontman David Byron, opera houses. Opener Bird Of Prey retains its startling impact even now. Following a scene-setting Purple-hued riff combination of Hensley and guitarist Mick Box, Byron’s astounding multitracked vocals soar from the mix like a heavenly choir of massed Roger Taylors. Somewhere a light bulb of awe-inspiring wattage ignites above Roy Thomas Baker’s head; Rob Halford recalibrates his range; Iron Maiden find the foundation for an entire world-beating career.

Elsewhere, The Park effects dynamic restraint, Time To Live showcases Box’s fretboard fluidity, Lady In Black keeps an eye on the pop chart and High Priestess provides a neat prog/metal template, before an epic title track closes proceedings over the course of the briefest 16 minutes you’ll ever spend. There’s a second disc of alternative contemporary mixes that are occasionally arguably superior, and the original album’s remaster is markedly crisper. But leaving aside its extras, Salisbury is well worth revisiting if only for David Byron. Sometimes he soars over the top; sometimes his theatricality belongs in the previous decade, with David McWilliams, Paul and Barry Ryan and Scott Walker. In terms of influence, is there anyone more underrated by rock historians? It’s doubtful.