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.

Get The Album Now!

Rough Diamond – Rough Diamond (1977)

RoughDiamond_14 out of 5 Stars!

Rough Diamond was a group that formed shortly after legendary vocalist Dave Byron got handed his walking papers from Uriah Heep. But sadly, the band, also including the accomplished Clem Clempson (Humble Pie/Colosseum) and Geoff Britton (Wings/East of Eden), released only one album before disappearing.

Certainly, seeing as the group was fairly straightforward in its overall Hard Rock/AOR style and not Heavy Metal/Heavy Prog, the somewhat-diverse and moody nine-track collection didn’t bring to mind any Heep “magic,” as many people expected, and it ended up selling rather poorly (or rather, was generally ignored by both Uriah Heep fans and the conservative and lame record company executives).

Regardless, this debut album is still an enjoyable release. Dave Byron’s performance is both up to par with his work with Uriah Heep and instantly identifiable, and the album features numerous tunes that showcased the band’s overall creativity and had true potential to become singles/classics, especially the rockers “Lock & Key,” “By the Horn,” and “Lookin’ For You,” the wonderfully melodic and dreamy “Seasong,” the mid-tempo and bluesy “Scared,” the more intricately arranged “The Link/End of the Line,” and the ultra-tasty “Hobo” with its memorable main riff.

Horribly obscure!

Get The Album Now!

The Byron Band – On The Rocks (1981)

ByronBand_OnRocks3.5 out of 5 Stars!

David (Garrick) Byron, the man, the legend, the vocalist from the classic line-up of Uriah Heep, and sadly, the tragic soul.

After Heep’s disappointing High and Mighty album appeared in 1976, Dave Byron, plagued by personal demons, got dismissed from the group he helped to create, the band that made him famous, and suddenly found himself floundering after a decade without a “musical home.” Almost immediately, however, he formed a promising band called Rough Diamond, but after the group’s sole album went nowhere sales-wise, he once again attempted to find his footing.

Eventually, he hooked up with gifted guitarist Robin George, and along with several other musicians including sax player Mel Collins (King Crimson/Camel), they released a single album in 1981 as The Byron Band called On The Rocks. On this debut, Byron devotees will certainly recognize his signature timbre and vibrato, although the music (as was the case with Rough Diamond) was nothing close to the style of Uriah Heep. Instead, the music on offer here is more like Byron’s 1978 solo effort Baby Faced Killer, which he released after the demise of Rough Diamond, which included a mixture of Hard Rock and AOR material.

Although this new band again proved promising, Byron’s alcoholism had started to take its toll and On The Rocks would prove to be his final release prior to his tragic death in 1985. Thankfully, with his string of classic albums with Uriah Heep, his two solo releases, and those with both Rough Diamond and The Byron Band, he left behind hours upon hours of enjoyable music for fans to savor for decades to come, including Lost and Found, an album of unreleased tracks from The Byron Band that finally saw the light of day in 2004.

So to David (Garrick) Byron, Mr. Wonderworld himself, a powerhouse talent taken way before his time…RIP.

Get The Album Now!

Uriah Heep – Sea of Light (1995)

UriahHeep_SeaLight4.5 out of 5 Stars!

When Bernie Shaw joined Uriah Heep for the Raging Silence album, I somewhat liked his voice, yet I felt his overall influence yanked the band down several pegs in quality, especially after the generally decent “Peter Goalby-era” of the band’s career.  This opinion carried on with the Different World album, which proved even more deplorable and lackluster.  I sighed my disappointment and figured Uriah Heep was done, and for GOOD, this time.

But then came the Sea Of Light album, and d*mn it, I was proven wrong. SOOOO wrong! Bernie Shaw’s performance not only kicked butt, but also now seemed to drive the band forward, or at least back to the place they were right after Goalby joined for the far superior (and re-energized) Abominog release compared to the horrible Conquest period.  In fact, after further listening, I actually believed they may have even snatched onto the mood, creativity, and determination of the mid-Dave-Byron-era of the band, the line-up of Heep that created the classic albums from Look At Yourself to Return To Fantasy. To me, they actually sounded revitalized yet again, ready to kick major ass once more, and full of ideas that had been lacking for many years instead of relying on covering tracks by Argent and The Little River Band. They were finally penning some commendable material, some quality stuff! And best of all, Shaw’s vocal delivery actually sounded about 20 years younger, crammed with attitude and angst and gruff “don’t screw with Heep and rule them out” threats that definitely rang true.

The bottom line is that, with this album, Uriah Heep came back to life (no, rather, ROARED back to life).  Overall the album is loaded with songs of driving metal mixed with strong melodies, repeatable choruses, some progressive touches tossed in for good measure, and everything else that made Heep special many decades earlier. It’s apparently clear, this band once again means business. They are apparently hungry instead of simply going through the motions, and with this album they obviously mean to take back their rightful claim as to being one of the ultimate hard rock/metal bands to have ever existed. Through the decades they influenced many other acts, and finally, d*mn it, they are ready to show the public the reason why!

A Bravo Comeback Album!  This would also prove to be the beginning of another 15+ years of killer offerings—granted, they don’t release new material all that often, but when they do (on Sonic Origami, Wake The Sleeper, Into The Wild, and Outsider), it’s as high a caliber as this release, which apparently proved their muse. Indeed, I now feel that this period of the band’s history borders on my favorite Look At Yourself to Return To Fantasy period of the band. Again, a commendable comeback with long-lasting repercussions and inspiration!

Get The Album Now!

Uriah Heep – High and Mighty (1976)

UriahHeep_HighMighty2.5 out of 5 Stars!

Unfortunately, the “swan-song” release from the Dave Byron-era of Uriah Heep is a mixed bag.

If I was rating Side 1 alone, I’d give the album at least a “4.5” rating, since all of the songs are on par with the best of Heep from the early “glory days.”  Although I was never a huge fan of John Wetton’s “borderline off-key” vocals, the opening song, featuring his voice, isn’t all that bad musically, especially since Dave Byron steps in and sings the bridge section, which saves the track and “ups” its overall rating. Also, “Misty Eyes” and “Midnight” (with its awesome bass riffs, ala John Wetton) are additional tracks that stand right up there with the other “best of Heep” songs. And finally, the last track off Side 1, the highlight song, is “Weep In Silence,” which in fact, is probably one of the best tracks they have ever recorded. It’s also probably one of the best songs to display Dave Byron’s chops as a lead vocalist, with great lyrics and song structure. Definitely one of the highlights of the band’s career.

But Side 2, however, is almost unlistenable, and deserves nothing better than a “2” rating—bordering on amateurish status, probably the worst set of tracks the band ever released, and certainly not songs you might expect from a band of this high caliber, but more from a garage band “attempting” to sound professional.  This is definitely Ken Hensley at his most “uninspired” when it comes to songwriting—you can tell he was on the verge of leaving the band—an “either Byron gets canned or I leave in protest” statement if I ever heard one. Indeed, Side 2 stands about even with the horrific “Conquest” album that came several years later, just cringe-worthy overall, and the album that finally caused Hensley to flee for good.

To have such diverse collections of songs on opposite sides of this album is one of the most bizarre phenomena of this band’s career.

Therefore, Side 1 deserves plenty of praise, whereas Side 2 deserves all the slamming the world can conceive.  A shame, since (as mentioned earlier) the song “Weep In Silence” is probably amongst the Top 10, if not the Top 5, when it comes to the best Heep songs of all time.  It’s a shame that Byron’s last offering with the band is such a mixed bag, especially considering the previous album (Return To Fantasy) was one of their best.