Graded on a Curve:
Uriah Heep,
Demons and Wizards

Who was it who said, “He came to mock, but remained to pray?” It doesn’t matter. But such was the case–to a degree any way–when I decided to “relisten” to Uriah Heep. I’ve always loved “Easy Livin’,” but when I was but a teenage droogie I plunked down some hard-earned money for a Uriah Heep 8-track that quickly made its way to the bottom of my 8-track pile. And I haven’t thought of them, except to chuckle at their risible swords and sorcery pretensions, since.

So imagine my surprise when I turned on 1972’s Demons and Wizards–chortle, chortle–only to discover I rather liked the thing. Sure, the lyrics are the work of somebody who has spent far too much time amongst hobbits. And David Byron’s histrionic tonsils–his voice has more octaves than there are steps on the stairway to heaven–occasionally make Geddy Lee sound like Paul Rodgers. But I’ll be damned if Demon and Wizards doesn’t have something up its sleeve–namely some good songs featuring some dandy playing. It’s not some progressive rock nightmare, it’s a rock ’n’ roll album, at least in its better moments, and Demons and Wizards has plenty of very good moments.

Demons and Wizards is fantasy-drenched right down to its head shop cover art by the infamous Roger Dean, and I expected to hate it for that reason alone. There’s nothing I despise more than your standard dungeons and dragons imagery, and Demons and Wizards has all the makings of a dungeon torture device. Things start inauspiciously enough; LP opener “The Wizard” boasts some awful lyrics featuring “a magic man” who wears “a cape of gold,” and I wanted to call it a day right then and there. Then I realized “The Wizard” might as well be a Styx song, and I have a perverse liking for Styx. There was, absurdly, hope in the air.

“Traveller in Time” is a mid-tempo rocker and not much to write home about, although I like the “funky” break with its freakout guitar and “‘eavy” organ. I can almost see myself in a bean bag chair in 1972, stoned out of my mind and thinking, “Groovy!” “Easy Livin’” is, of course, one of the greatest songs of all time, or at least one of the top 100 songs of 1972; the organ is out of this world, the band kicks the melody down the road at a brisk pace, and the high and low vocals complement one another quite nicely. And at two and half minutes it might as well be a punk tune–its concision speaks volumes about the band, really.

“Poet’s Justice” succeeds by not being even half as awful as you’d expect it to be based on its title; if you can ignore the lyrics (I like to half hear them, and by so doing end up with happy-making lines like, “Shine hard, expectant moose”) you might even find yourself enjoying this baby. Mick Box takes a nice solo turn on the guitar; Ken Hensley does the same on organ. While poor Gary Thain–doomed to be electrocuted on stage at a concert in Dallas attended by my pal Steve Renfro–plays some nice melodic bass.

“Circle of Hands” is a cool, organ-besotted thing, portentous as all hell but in a likeable way. This is heavy metal with soul, Byron’s “sensitive guy” vocals offsetting the song’s big bottom. “Murder the dawn/ Spreading the scone” can’t be what he’s singing but it’s what I want to hear, and you know these guys are, like, deep when he sings, “Today is only yesterday’s tomorrow.” Ponder that on a whopping dose of LSD, why don’t you. Unlike “Poet’s Justice,” “Rainbow Demon” doesn’t rise above its awful title; it drags along like a tumbrel bearing you to the gallows or the guillotine, it doesn’t matter much which. It too is heavy metal; you can almost hear Bad Company on the horizon. Unfortunately, that band that more readily springs to mind is Spinal Tap.

“All My Life” is a vamped-up prog-rock lark, and I like it; this baby could almost pass for something off Edgar Winter’s They Only Come Out at Night, and that’s a compliment. It’s truly funky, and I even dig the high-pitched vocals–Byron takes the song out with a series of piercing screams, like some demon bird from Middle Earth come swooping down to carry off your bong. “Paradise” is pretty and slow, mellow you know, and features Ken Hensley (I think it’s old Ken) doing a spot-on David Bowie imitation. It’s really rather uncanny, really; you should give it a listen.

As for “The Spell” it’s Uriah Heep’s “Stairway to Heaven” in so far as it has, you know, parts. Part one is jumpy, silly almost; part two features a long guitar solo over which a choir of angels sings. I guess you could call it Pink Floydesque, if Floydesque is a word. Part Three is, like, deep and thought-provoking, at least in intention. I didn’t do much thinking while listening to it. Still, it’s not bad–there’s no pain involved, and you’re almost irked when the band reprises part one, with Byron singing about “an army of reality” that I hope doesn’t march into my town any time soon. That said, I like Hensley’s piano, and the way Byron closes the song by shrieking ominously, “You should know I’ll be watching yooouuu!” Be afraid. Be very afraid.

What can I say in conclusion? Not much, except that I’d sooner listen to Demons and Wizards than anything conjured up by Deep Purple, who were also mining that “heavy metal with organ” sound. And Demons and Wizards isn’t Uriah Heep’s only touch with greatness; they produced other songs almost as good as “Easy Livin’,” and you could do worse than give them a spin. Demons and Wizards is rock solid; heck, I’m even developing a schoolboy crush on “Rainbow Demon.” I think I’ll stop listening now. God forbid I should sink into the Middle Earth ooze and find there’s no coming back.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text