In 1969, Mick Box and David (Garrick) Byron formed Spice as the predecessor to Uriah Heep. Since its 1970 debut album, …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble, critics and fans have long overlooked Heep. Yet Heep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin ushered in heavy metal in what was the first British wave. Although Heep has not gained the notoriety of their compatriots, a 45-year history, 24 studio albums, and 18 live albums stand the test of time. With their June 2014 release, Outsider, Uriah Heep has upped their game in the face of tragedy. The May 2013 passing of long-time bassist Trevor Bolder caused many to question vitality of Heep. However, the core of founder member Box, long-time vocalist Bernie Shaw, and keyboard-wizard Phil Lanzon have been together since 1986. Only Bolder's death and the forced physical retirement of drummer Lee Kerslake in 2007 have caused changed personnel. That group of musicians has proven to be polished and exceptional. The addition of Dave Rimmer on bass has gelled a modern and precise rhythm section that recalls earlier Heep incarnations. Outsider is the finest Heep release since the golden years of 1970-76 and the classic Heep lineup of Box, Byron, Ken Hensley, Kerslake, and Gary Thain.
The album, co-written by Box and Lanzon (except for “The
Outsider,” which adds a credit to Lanzon’s son) opens with the fast-paced
"Speed of Sound." Swirling Hammond organ, precise bass lines,
and stacatto drumming give way to modern Heep. Shaw’s smooth vocals are backed by Bob Daisley-esque bass,
giving way to multi-layered harmonies.
Elements of "Bird of Prey" and "July Morning"
surface in the bridge, recalling Heep of the earliest days – replete with “ahh
ahhs” and “ah ahhs.” "One
Minute" follows with a mellow piano opening and emotive vocals that
hearkens back to "Rain,"
"The Easy Road," and "Confession." The tune evolves into a
“Nail on the Head” clone, with a catchier repetition. As the first single, “One Minute” has achieved significant
UK airplay in heavy rotation on Planet Rock. Rimmer’s presence changes the background vocals, with a
higher pitch present. Though not
Byron, Hensley, and Kerslake high, it is a crisper, more prominent backing than
on 2008’s Wake the Sleeper and
clearer than on 2011’s Into the Wild.
"The Law" has elements of early 1970s Bad
Company’s “Burnin' Sky” with a riveting bass line. Again, the structure turns to a more modern Heep sound when
Shaw’s vocals start. To his
credit, Shaw has developed timbre and his own sound since his debut on 1989’s Raging Silence. The bridge has a searing guitar solo
from Box. It is as if he is reinvigorated on this album. For a man
who turned 67 earlier this month, his playing is irrepressible. Truly the
king of the "wah-wahs." And the “ahh ahhs,” including the ending
build up, will please every long-time Heep fan. The title song, "The Outsider", is a quick-paced
tune that features Box's best solo since the halcyon days of …Very 'Eavy …Very 'Umble. Lengthy and
creative. Simply masterful.
For metal aficionados, the song also recalls the structure and template of Iron
Maiden's "Aces High."
Many will call "Rock the Foundation" cheesy, but
while the chorus lyrics lack substance, it is catchy and will stick in your
head. The soulful bass line in the
chorus will remind many of Thain.
Rimmer’s bass flexibility to mimic differing styles meshes well with
Gilbrook’s jazzy and powerful pounding of the skins. The vocal change in the bridge gives way to a short guitar
solo that could have expanded to the full bridge. “Is Anybody Gonna Help Me?”
recalls the Demons and Wizards days. Anyone older than 40 will hear “Circle
of Hands” and “Rainbow Demon” embedded in a modern Heep-sound. Lanzon’s keyboards recall Hensley, Jon
Lord, and the other Hammond masters.
“Looking at You” most reflects the Heep sound of recent years but still
injects the harmonies that resulted in Heep being called the “Beach Boys of
Heavy Metal” in the 1970s. The
“ahh, ahh, ahhs” offer a tip of the cap to the classic albums with a Deep
Purple Hammond twist in the bridge backed with a bass line that could come from
“Can’t Take That Away” has a great guitar and bass start,
with a song structure that is strikingly similar to that of “Tears of the
World” off of Wake the Sleeper. Yet
“Look at Yourself’, “Love Machine”, Easy Livin’,” “Something or Nothing,” "Time of Revelation," and “Everything in Life” surface in the classic Heep percussion shuffle
pattern. And plenty of
“wahs” in the searing guitar solo.
“Jessie” will remind some of “Smoke on the Water,” but Box’s guitar
sounds straight out of 1983 and Head
First. Driven by a consistent
bass line, the song brings Hammond leads to a memorable chorus. The bridge solo recalls the piercing
solo from “Sweet Talk.”
“Kiss the Rainbow” has all of the elements of 1973’s Sweet Freedom. The subtle guitar under the keyboard lead kicks into a
driving pace and an urgent chorus.
A closer consideration of song structure will make modern Heepsters
think of “Overload” off of Wake the
Sleeper with classic background vocals, a “Sweet Freedom” build up, and a
swirling piano transition to a dual-tone bridge. And “ahh, ahh, ahhs” for good measure. “Say Goodbye” evokes “Suicidal Man”
from 1974’s Wonderworld with a nifty
bass punch that has similarities to that in UFO’s “Lights Out’” in parts. As is consistent throughout Outsider, the song has a surprising and
refreshing pace and tone change. The guitar rev up in parts will make Heep fans think of the
start of “Too Scared to Run” off of 1982’s Abominog
at a slower pace. Gilbrook’s
drumming in the bridge is unexpected and creative. And more “ahhs.”
Outsider rocks as
Mick Box said it would. With clean
production from Mike Paxman, inspired guitars, a return to more classic
keyboards, powerful drumming, and melodic bass lines, Uriah Heep has
acknowledged its past while moving forward, 45 years and counting. With a Times Square billboard, European
charting and airplay, and an 18-month world tour, ‘Appy Days are clearly ahead.