Into the Wild
posted on 7/2011 By:
For forty-two years, Uriah Heep has rocked right along. It hasn’t all been easy living, of course – those early 70s records that are almost universally recognized as the top of the Heep are long past, and the band has only founding guitarist Mick Box remaining from its halcyon days. But with Into The Wild (their twenty-third studio album) as proof, that’s not to say that Uriah is irrelevant or over-the-hill. In fact, Wild shows that it’s quite the opposite – I admit that I’ve not kept up with the latter-day Heep efforts, losing track of their work somewhere post-Abominog and catching back up with 2008’s Celebration, an album of re-recordings of past glories by the current line-up. My personal wanderings notwithstanding, Into The Wild is the sound of a veteran band still strong and stable, albeit one markedly stripped back from the Byron/Box/Hensley heyday.
Opening with the fist-in-the-air stomp of “Nail On The Head,” Into The Wild establishes itself out of the gate as a straight-up classic-sounding British hard rock record. Between the Heep’s trademark B3 organ, Bernie Shaw’s gritty vocals and Box’s swaggering riff-rock and underrated soloing, Heep circa 2011 is a dead ringer for some middle ground between Deep Purple and UFO. Largely gone is the epic expanse of a "July Morning" or a "Magician's Birthday," and in its place sits the blustery straight-forwardness that characterized the band's more direct efforts, with only the occasional nod to any previous progressive tendencies. Bits of Byron-trademark soaring harmonies and Hensley's epic pomp-rock do show up, albeit sparingly, confined to the stellar “Trail Of Diamonds,” which is Wild's most obvious attempt at conjuring the demons and wizards of their distant past. Produced by Mike Paxman (who also handled Celebration, as well as recent albums by Status Quo and Asia), Into The Wild sounds full and pristine, but not slick or shiny. Shaw’s vocals especially stand out, powerful and streetwise, far more akin to Gillan or Mogg than to the soaring operatic style of David Byron. (Honestly, I feel for Shaw – he's been in the band since 1986, serving eighteen years longer than Byron, but he's forever compared to his predecessor. It's important to note that that eternal juxtaposition is more a testament to the high quality of early Heep and to Byron's idiosyncratic vocal arrangements than it is any reflection upon Shaw's abilities -- he's a great vocalist, and had he come around fifteen years earlier, he'd likely be remembered as fondly as any other 70s-rock screamer.)
Downsized though their scope may be, Uriah Heep still brings the rock, and Into The Wild features no shortage of standout guitar- and organ-laden tunes -- the title track’s down-tempo chorus sits snugly in a driving tune that would’ve fit well on Fireball; the 6/4 riffage of “Money Talk” twists nicely, the album’s lone odd-time moment; “Southern Star” sports another great sing-along chorus atop an ascending riff and nestled between dreamy and drifting verses; “Lost” spirals through some stellar guitar-organ interplay, second to “Diamonds” in past-Heep leanings and sporting some killer riffs reminiscent of early Rainbow. All in, Box and keyboardist Phil Lanzon have penned a damn solid set of tunes, although some moments may tread too closely to the radio-ready sounds of AOR for the more prog- or metal-obsessed listener just now catching up or digging in. (“Believe” and “I’m Ready” are among the most blatantly commercial offerings – neither is a clunker, and in fact, both are great for what they are, but they’re definitely on the arena-rock side of the spectrum. Late entry “T-Bird Angel,” on the other hand, stalls out beneath the weight of cars-and-girls guitar-rock cliché.)
Since kicking back into gear in the mid-2000s after a decade off, modern Uriah Heep has actively sought to re-capture the spirit of their earlier days, and though their current sound remains distinctly streamlined from the Byron days, the Heep is still standing strong, forty-two years into their journey. Any fan of classic Heep – and really any fan of 70s hard rock in general – should find more than enough on Into The Wild to earn this one a solid spot in their collection. A bit more humble, a bit less 'eavy, but still damn good.
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