Uriah Heep – Wonderworld (1974)

UriahHeep_Wonderworld4 out of 5 Stars!

Uriah’s Heep’s Wonderworld shows a highly talented band at the apex of its career that suddenly found itself in a rather precarious position…and I’m not talking about the various poses the musicians display on the album cover.

After the brilliant album Sweet Freedom, not to mention the string of other high-quality releases that preceded it, Uriah Heep had developed some major dilemmas that threatened its future, what with an endless touring schedule, endless drug addictions, endless personal hassles and tax problems, endless…well, you get it. Therefore, the band, in the midst of its growing (and endless) struggles, and in a weakened condition, battled to keep its upward momentum going and eventually released Wonderworld just prior to its talented young bassist Gary Thain succumbing to ultimately insurmountable drug-destruction.

Although Wonderworld at the time of its release received even more crap reviews from the music press than the usual (and typical) amount of crap reviews “Heeped” upon the band (misspelling and pun intended) for previous albums, it was actually a damned fine release overall, with a handful of magnificent songs that still hold power to the present day. Personally, I find the title track, with the grand and glorious introduction featuring Mick Box’s slamming power chords and Ken Hensley’s Hammond and synth melody, one of the best album-openers in Heep’s history. Indeed, “Wonderworld,” within its mere four-and-a-half minutes running time, seemed to encapsulate all the band’s finest qualities—a Heavy-Prog arrangement with alternating dynamics, a seemingly fantasy-lush atmosphere, Gary Thain’s melodic bass riffs and Lee Kerslake’s thundering percussion, inspirational lyrics, spectacular background harmonies, and a dramatic performance by lead vocalist Dave Byron. Acting as the perfect “bookended” mirror of the opening track, “Dreams” closes the album in a similar bombastic fashion, with studio wizardry adding even more lush vocal theatrics to the already haunting tune.

Sandwiched between these two breathtaking tracks, however, are songs with varying degrees of quality. Although I concede that these tunes as a whole may not be the best material the band ever recorded, the majority of them still work for me (yet I can understand why other longtime fans of the group might not appreciate several of them). For me, however, the highlights include “The Shadows and the Wind,” a slow-building tune that showcases more of Heep’s signature harmony vocals, and “I Won’t Mind,” a lengthy and pounding Blues-Rock number quite different from the type of music that made the band famous. Moreover, “We Got We,” “So Tired,” “Something or Nothing,” and “Suicidal Man” may at first seem nothing more than uninspired rehashes of material found on the previous Sweet Freedom platter, there are enough enjoyable and savory moments, enough sonic “oomph” during each song, to keep me interested. In fact, the only tune that generally leaves me cold after all these decades is the piano-driven and orchestrated “The Easy Road,” but at least it closes out Side A, therefore, it’s easy to avoid. (Sorry, but for me, Heep was all about Heavy Metal/Heavy-Prog grandeur, and light ballads just didn’t seem to fit properly within the band’s repertoire.)

Sadly, Wonderworld would be the final Uriah Heep album to include its classic (and arguably its best) lineup of musicians (with Thain soon to be replaced by the talented John Wetton), and although it may not come as close to perfection as its previous four studio offerings, I still find it preferable to many of the albums that came later in the band’s lengthy and patchy career.

One final note: I know many people utterly detest the album cover, but I find it an absolute hoot, clearly remembering how it captivated me back in 1974 while roaming the aisles of my local record store. If anything, it’s definitely unique and attention-grabbing.

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Omega – Omega (1973)

Omega_14 out of 5 Stars!

This Hungarian band’s self-titled album from 1973, thanks to the fuzzy/distorted tone of the guitars and the use of Hammond organ and early synths, often reminds me of other Heavy Prog bands from the same period, such as Lucifer’s Friend, Birth Control, Eloy, Deep Purple, Warhorse, and most especially, Uriah Heep.

Indeed, the Heep influences here are quite numerous. In general, on tunes such as “After A Hard Year,” the grandiose vocal harmonies are definitely “Heep-esque,” and on one track in particular, “Parting Song,” Omega even adds an instrumental passage taken almost exactly note-for-note/chord-by-chord from Uriah Heep’s classic “Circle Of Hands” fade-out/main melody. The instrumentation on the songs “Delicate Sweep” and “The Bird” are in the same class as that displayed on Heep’s Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble album (or even Lucifer’s Friend’s debut release), and on the lengthier closing tune, “White Magic Stone,” an instrumental riff/passage seems almost like a reworking of Heep’s famous “July Morning.”

Yet, despite all the obvious Uriah Heep flourishes, the band is not a direct clone. The English group had a fuller, grander sound overall, often considered Heavy Metal, not to mention a highly recognizable and flamboyant vocalist in the form of Dave Byron, whereas Omega did not. Overall, the guitars lack Mick Box’s fierce, raw power, and the keyboards don’t have nearly as much force as Ken Hensley’s mighty Hammond, and while the vocals are certainly passable, they are hardly delivered with the fiery gusto as Byron possessed. Plus Omega’s vocalist lacks that identifiable stamp when it comes to his tone, range, timbre, and vibrato. And as far as the music goes, in the periodic softer portions of songs when the band adds Mellotron, influences from other acts such as Procol Harum and the Moody Blues rush to the fore. Moreover, two tracks on the album, “Everytime She Steps In” and “The Lying Girl,” are fairly standard and catchy rock ‘n’ roll ditties, sounding almost like tunes by Kiss, Silverhead, or Mott the Hoople, believe it or not, only with Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych influences—and Heep-like keyboards/synths, of course.

Anyway, several reviewers at various music-related websites have called Omega “The Hungarian Uriah Heep,” and for good reason, as detailed above. Regardless, this eponymous album is a classic of underappreciated and obscure Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych, one I continue to enjoy to this day, and any fans of the aforementioned groups seeking additional music from the early ’70s are likely to appreciate the band.

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Warpig – Warpig (1970)

Warpig_14 out of 5 Stars!

This is a damned decent one-off album from a hard-rocking Canadian band with Heavy-Prog and Psych elements, which was remastered and re-released in 2006 by Relapse Records.

Fans of groups such as Captain Beyond, Warhorse, Deep Purple, Birth Control, and Uriah Heep might appreciate this one, as well as those who might be interested to hear what an evil Black Sabbath-esque guitar riff might sound like with a harpsichord accompaniment.

Seriously, that’s exactly what happens on the track “Tough Nuts,” so the band was nothing if not inventive with its instrumentation.

And since the track “Rock Star” has a similar rhythm and vibe, chord pattern, and guitar fills as Deep Purple’s “Speed King” from the In Rock album, I seriously have to wonder if either band heard the other’s demo tapes prior to their own recording sessions, since both albums came out in 1970.

Regardless, it’s a crying shame Warpig didn’t release more material in the ’70s since the band would have certainly and easily fit in with the aforementioned groups and—perhaps?—taken a magical ride to stardom. With so much creativity on display here, it would have been interesting to see how the band might’ve honed its skills and developed on subsequent albums.

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Eloy – Eloy (1971)

Eloy_14 out of 5 Stars!

When German group Eloy burst out of the starting gate back in 1971, the band’s debut album showcased a sound/style that had much more in common with fellow Krautrockers/Heavy Prog groups such as Birth Control, Epitaph, Night Sun, or Jane—or even British bands such as Deep Purple or Uriah Heep—displaying nary a trace of the Pink Floyd-inspired Symphonic Prog/Space Rock that would encompass the majority of its albums in years to come.

Still, with tracks such as “Dillus Roady,” “Something Yellow,” “Song of the Paranoid Soldier,” “Isle of Sun,” and “Today,” this is one of my favorite Eloy albums and I really enjoyed this riff-oriented period of the band’s history, even though this debut album seems fairly dismissed (and dissed) by many long-time fans of the group’s more famous and polished era.

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Ache – Green Man (1971)

Ache_GreenMan4 out of 5 Stars!

To me, this long-forgotten band from Denmark sounds like what might have happened had Uriah Heep released its debut album, only instead of including Dave Byron, Jim Morrison from The Doors was the lead singer.

Green Man, Ache’s second album, is a collection of Heavy Prog tunes with a wealth of Psychedelic Rock, Classical, and Jazz Rock overtones, not only bringing the aforementioned Uriah Heep to mind on occasion, but also other Hammond-rich groups such as Beggars Opera, Procol Harum, Black Widow, and early Deep Purple, although with a darker, almost Gothic atmosphere.

On this release, the band includes a splendid reworking of The Beatles “We Can Work It Out,” which alone was worth the album price.

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Gomorrha – I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was (1972)

Gomorrha_ITurned4 out of 5 Stars!

Gomorrha was yet another German group that kept getting better and better with each new album, yet sadly disappeared from the music scene way too soon for my liking.

Of the three albums Gomorrha produced during its short duration in the early ’70s, I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was—the final collection—is probably my favorite. The ten-minute opener, “Dance on a Volcano,” immediately showcases the band’s strengths in a rather funky Heavy Prog/Heavy Psych style, and with the fuzz-guitar, and Hammond-drenched arrangement, occasionally reminds me of Gomorrha’s fellow countrymen Birth Control, Night Sun, Lucifer’s Friend, or early Eloy, as well as non-German acts such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Bloodrock. For the most part, this style and appropriate comparisons continue through the remaining five tracks, being especially captivating and effective on “Dead Life,” “I Try To Change This World,” and the oddly named “Tititsh Child.” Only on the title track does the band break from the norm with acoustic guitar driving the proceedings, along with extra percussion instruments, to create a mesmerizing Psychedelic atmosphere.

Overall, I Turned to See Whose Voice It Was is where the band seemed to have discovered the perfect balance of genres to encompass its overall sound, showing the group at its creative peak, which is why it’s such a royal shame Gomorrha disbanded so soon after this collection came out.

(And have I mentioned recently how much I loved Germany’s Brain Records label?)

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Warhorse – Red Sea (1972)

Warhorse_RedSea4 out of 5 Stars!

With Warhorse including Nick Simper, Deep Purple’s original bassist, it’s no great shock that the band sounds similar (eerily so) to Purple itself. Indeed, Warhorse seems almost a cross between Purple’s MK1 and MK3 line-ups—MK1 because the music is a melding of Bluesy Hard Rock and Heavy Prog and has a production quality that reminds me of DP’s self-titled third album, and MK3 since the vocalist, Ashley Holt, has a gruff tone akin to David Coverdale.

Regardless, fans of early Deep Purple will probably enjoy either Warhorse’s self-titled debut, or Red Sea, the sophomore (and final) release, which sounds a tad more progressive to my ears.

Additionally, fans of Bloodrock and Birth Control will also find much to savor, thanks to the Hammond-rich arrangements, the overall guitar style, and Ashley Holt’s forceful vocals.

Note: If hunting for this album, be certain to locate a copy of the “remastered” version, which contains six enjoyable bonus tracks of unreleased material.

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Sugarloaf – The Best of Sugarloaf (1993)

Sugarloaf_BestOf4 out of 5 Stars!

This Denver band from the early ’70s, best known for its excellent (5-Star) semi-Prog-Rock debut single “Green-Eyed Lady”—the extended version getting regularly played on FM radio stations for years to come—never got the recognition it truly deserved.

A cross between Hard Rock and Heavy Prog, Sugarloaf was a band seemingly created especially for keyboard lovers like myself (folks who adore the sound of the Hammond organ), often reminding me of groups such as Bloodrock, Steppenwolf, Argent (the “Hold Your Head Up”-era of the band) or early Styx.

Led by the talented Jerry Corbetta on vocals and keys, the band had a rich, full sound on tracks such as the aforementioned “Green-Eyed Lady,” as well as tunes like the catchy single “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You,” the Prog-tinged “Tongue in Cheek” and “Myra Myra,” the lengthy Hammond-heavy instrumental “Bach Doors Man/Chest Fever,” and ultra-melodic tunes such as “Round and Round,” “Easy Evil,” and “Wild Child.”

Ah, yes, in a perfect universe, Sugarloaf should have gone on to worldwide fame instead of being relegated to history books as little more than a footnote.

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Rainbow – Rising (1976)

Rainbow_Rising5 out of 5 Stars!

A perfect 5-Star masterpiece. To this day, forty-plus years after purchasing this album, I still get chills along my spine and goosebumps on my arms whenever I listen to each of these six tracks, especially the amazing high-fantasy-inspired “Stargazer,” the best and most dynamic song this band ever recorded, and I’m certain I’m not alone in my physical reaction when hearing it.

And to me, each track on Rising is a winner. The opener, “Tarot Woman,” is a feast of Ritchie Blackmore’s awesome guitar, of Ronnie James Dio’s commanding vocals, of Cozy Powell’s slamming drums, of Jimmy Bain’s tasty bass playing, and begins with a rare showcase for keyboardist Tony Carey, while the driving, manic, Deep Purple-like closer, “A Light in the Black,” is another near masterpiece that reigns high on my list of favorite Rainbow tracks, yet often seems forgotten in the shadow of the aforementioned “Stargazer,” which opens the side.

The catchy “Run With the Wolf” features a keyboard lead that sounds eerily similar to a guitar, while perhaps the most immediate song on Rising is the bouncy “Starstruck,” a tune I saw covered by many locals bands in my city through the years—indeed, I had to master it myself for several of my own group’s that insisted on adding it to our set lists. And “Do You Close Your Eyes,” the album’s shortest song that ends Side A, is perhaps the least mentioned track from this album among fans, yet I still find it a pure corker, an overlooked gem.

Aside from all this, I can say nothing detailed or profound about this album’s impact on both the industry or countless other musicians or groups in the genre that hasn’t already been stated thousands of times through the decades, so I’ll simply repeat the two words I hear most often regarding this release, and words in which I completely agree—”Sheer Brilliance!”

So, RIP Ronnie James Dio, one of the finest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock singers in the history of the universe, and RIP Cozy Powell, one of the finest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock drummers in the history of the universe, and RIP Jimmy Bain, one of the finest Heavy Metal/Hard Rock bassists in the history of the universe—the band Rainbow never had a finer line-up of musicians!

(And special kudos to Ken Kelly for creating the stunning artwork, which has to be one of the best album covers of all time.)

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Lucifer’s Friend – An Overview

LucifersFriend_revisedAlbums In My Collection

– Awakening
– Banquet
– I’m Just A Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer
– Good Time Warrior
– Lucifer’s Friend
– Mean Machine
– Mind Exploding
– Sneak Me In
– Sumo Grip
– Too Late To Hate
– Where The Groupies Killed The Blues

An Overview

Lucifer’s Friend is probably one of the most unique bands in rock’s history, seeing that, early in their career, they kept altering their style with each new album.

Formed in Germany back in 1970, they blasted onto the scene with their debut Lucifer’s Friend album, which made quite a few future metal-heads sit up and take notice (I certainly did when I first heard the album a few years later). The album featured wickedly heavy guitar and Hammond organ, driving rhythms, and a wide-ranged English singer by the name of John Lawton who possessed an instantly recognizable voice and could belt out the tunes (including producing killer screams) in a style similar to both Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and Dave Byron (Uriah Heep). And like those other singers, I consider John Lawton one of my favorite rock singers of all time. On this album, the band chose to also deliver eight tracks in the style of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, only with darker, more eerie undertones (probably to fit the name of the band and to match the bloody, sinister-looking cover featuring their hook-handed mascot…a cover that gave me nightmares, therefore I loved it, of course). To my mind, this is probably one of the best early metal albums in history, rivaling Purple’s In Rock and Heep’s Look At Yourself albums, and today, it’s considered a classic Krautrock album. It’s probably one of the best albums I bought in my earliest days of collecting records (and at full import price) way back in the 70s. A perfect 5-Star affair if I’ve ever heard one! Unfortunately, the band never produced another album with the exact same sound.

Instead, they decided to make the first of many changes to come when, in 1972, they released their second album, Where The Groupies Killed The Blues. Here, the band abandoned the Deep Purple/Uriah Heep Hammond-heavy metal of their debut in favor of tunes with more complicated arrangements, the addition of piano & synths, acoustic guitar, strings, etc. and many of the tracks have serious Progressive-Rock tendencies. The abrupt change in sound was jarring to many listeners, including myself, but the album was quite good nevertheless, and although it took some getting used to, it eventually grew on me.

The third album a year later saw yet another change in style. I’m Just A Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer is (for the most part) less complex, more straight-forward hard rock on many tracks, some jazzy influences on others, and a few off-the-wall songs tossed in that definitely lean toward Prog-Rock.

Then, in 1974, the band made the biggest, most jarring change in style yet. The Banquet album is a full-out foray into Jazz-Rock territory with the use of a brass section throughout. Hell, it’s basically Lucifer’s Friend meets Blood, Sweat & Tears. To be honest, I hated the album at the time. The cover was so misleading, showing the band, all dressed in black with their hook-handed mascot nearby, sitting at a banquet table in a gloomy Dracula-like castle, so I fully expected a return to the sound of the cherished debut album, of which I was still so enamored. Therefore, this foray into Jazz-Rock was a total shock to the system (and to my record needle) and everything just rubbed me the wrong way. Indeed, it took me three decades of letting the album sit on the shelf before I once again dared to give it another listen. And what do you think happened? I’ll be damned, but I actually loved it. Indeed, it’s now one of my favorite albums by the band, mostly due to two specific tracks: “Spanish Galleon” and “Sorrow,” both of the songs surpassing the eleven-minute mark and being absolutely the best vocal performances John Lawton ever delivered on vinyl. The rest of the band shines through also, with the energetic instrumentation, complex arrangements, and wickedly wild horn section just adding to the treat.

Then in 1976, the band’s next album Mind Exploding appeared. Thankfully, I remembered thinking at the time, it was yet another shift in style, this time a mixture of Heavy Rock with Jazz-Rock again included on several tracks, and with enough complicated arrangements so that it could probably be semi-classified as Prog-Rock, at least on a handful of tracks. This album grabbed me immediately, and it still remains another huge favorite of mine.

Shortly afterward, something unthinkable happened in the Rock World. Uriah Heep fired their original, long-time singer Dave Byron. But, no shock to me, they offered the job of replacing him to John Lawton. I felt him the perfect choice for Heep, since John’s voice could sound eerily similar to Dave Byron’s. But how would Lawton leaving Lucifer’s Friend affect the band? Would they continue?

Thankfully, they did, and yes, you guessed it, they had another change in style. For the albums Good Time Warrior (1978) and Sneak Me In (1980), the band hired singer Mike Starrs (Colosseum II), who had a voice occasionally similar to John Lawton’s, so that didn’t seem too troubling for me. And for once, the band adopted a similar style two albums in a row, this one more Hard Rock with AOR. And although these albums typically get rated low at various music-review websites, I have no problem with them. In fact, Sneak Me In is quite commendable in my eyes, with many of the songs on offer having memorable melodies. And on both albums, the musicians gave solid performances. Therefore, two decent albums that never got the plaudits they deserved.

Then, a year later, John Lawton left Uriah Heep, and where did he go? Sure enough, he returned to Lucifer’s Friend, replacing Mike Starrs, and once again the band altered their sound. On Mean Machine (1981) they returned with a harder rocking album again, not nearly as heavy as their debut release, but the heaviest album they’d produced in more than a decade. Unfortunately, the album wasn’t well-received and, eventually, the band called it quits. Temporarily, of course.

In 1994, I was shocked to learn of a brand new album from the band, this one named Sumo Grip (and released under the name Lucifer’s Friend II). And with good reason, since several of the long-standing musicians didn’t return for the reunion. John Lawton, however, did return, lending his vocal genius to the tracks, this time more in an lighter, AOR vein. Although the album is quite decent in some respects, I truly find it their weakest work of all. And that seemed to be the end of the band again.


I’ll be damned, but in 2015, twenty-one years after that last album, the band has once again reformed, releasing a “best of” compilation album Awakening, which actually included four newly recorded tracks featuring John Lawton behind the microphone and a return to the Hard Rock style.

And blessing of all blessings, in 2016, a brand new, full-length album called Too Late to Hate emerged, with the band’s sound falling stylistically somewhere between the magnificent debut album and Mean Machine, Hard Rock bordering on Heavy Metal. In truth, this is one of Lucifer’s Friend’s strongest efforts since the early days, and it immediately found a place for itself among the Top 5 of my all-time favorites within the band’s catalogue of releases. Lawton’s voice is still recognizable, pristine, and emotionally charged, although he no longer shoots for the ultra-high notes, which is understandable considering his maturity, while the band’s instrumentation is still amazing, with the new keyboardist standing out as he employs a few unorthodox synth backgrounds that bring to mind the often-strange playing style of the great Colin Towns (ex-Gillan keyboardist). And on the majority of the twelve tracks, not only do the catchy melody lines stick in your head, but the band comes across as a fully revitalized and thriving force, still powerful and hungry to deliver more. Highly enjoyable!

Anyway, the band has been nothing if not experimental and diverse throughout its lengthy and patchy career. Some of their albums remain on my “best albums of all-time list” and I, for one, hope they stick around a while. But now one can only wonder if the band will release new material in future years. And if so, the most vital question remains…in what style will it be? Knowing the band’s unique history all too well, I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess.

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