If Zep, Purple, Sabbath and Uriah Heep were the four horsemen of the early-70s rock apocalypse, the latter were the knackered old nag struggling to keep pace with the rest. Allegedly.
Recently, Heep have enjoyed a critical rehabilitation, and it continues apace with this reissue series comprising the band’s first 16 albums, from 1970’s …Very ’Eavy …Very ’Umble to 1983’s Head First.
…Very ’Eavy… (5⁄10) may have been greeted on its release by a Rolling Stone reviewer threatening to commit suicide if the band made it big, but its blur of progressive blues and hard rock set the heavy tone. Salisbury (1971, 6⁄10) was more ambitious, taking a turn for the prog on Bird Of Prey, David Byron blueprinting the falsetto metal screech.
Look At Yourself (1971, 8⁄10) came with a mirror cover and a combination of quasi-metal power and organ-fuelled prog complexity. Selling three million worldwide, Demons And Wizards (1972, 9⁄10) was their commercial breakthrough, and for many, their creative high-water mark. It’s neck-and-neck in this respect with The Magician’s Birthday (1972, 9⁄10), complete, as per its predecessor, with a Roger Dean sleeve and concomitant sense of hard rock fantasia.
Sweet Freedom (1973, 7⁄10) was their first US release, and you can imagine its mix of pyrotechnics and boogie appealing to America’s heartland. Uriah Heep Live (1973, 6⁄10) captured their energy before an enthusiastic Birmingham crowd. Wonderworld (1974, 6⁄10) was more of the speed-rockin’ same, with choral vocals to offset the riffy dynamics. Return To Fantasy (1975, 7⁄10) was their biggest seller to date and featured new boy John Wetton, as well as a classic in the title track.
High And Mighty (1976, 4⁄10) was the last album to feature David Byron, signalling a shift towards the mundane and mainstream, Can’t Keep A Good Band Down striking a prophetic note. Firefly and Innocent Victim (both 1977, 6⁄10), with new vocalist John Lawton, proved the drop in quality wouldn’t be vertiginous, with a slew of catchy pop-rockers.
Fallen Angel (1978, 6⁄10) had a commercial sheen, as did Conquest (1980, 6⁄10), featuring John Sloman on vocals. Despised by some, it sounds in places like a metal Supertramp – which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Abominog (1982, 7⁄10) found the band re-energised by the NWOBHM snapping at their heels. On Head First (1983, 5⁄10) they manfully adapted to the new AOR era, even if Equator (1985 – not part of this reissue programme) was an MTV-metal and power-ballad step too far. Still, there’s heaps of Heep to enjoy here.