Review Summary: Uriah Heep’s debut will rock your balls off, grow them back, and then rock them off again.
If you’re a fan of the works of a certain Charles Dickens, you may be familiar with the name Uriah Heep. He happens to be the obsequious antagonist of the latter portion of Dickens’ 1850 novel David Copperfield
. Heep is a lanky albino whose appearance is frequently emphasized in a negative fashion by the author. The character exemplifies humility and is always eager to please, often employing a sort of catchphrase in referring to himself as “very ‘umble.” Very ‘eavy… Very ‘umble happens to be the UK title for the band Uriah Heep’s debut. In the United States, it’s self-titled and features the replacement of the track “Lucy Blues” with “Bird of Prey.”
For those that aren’t aware, Uriah Heep is an immensely influential (while still obscure and critically snubbed) English rock band. Their sound is often said to be a precursor to British heavy metal as it was known in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Though, Uriah Heep’s tendency towards the more progressive and inclusion of jazz and folk elements makes it hard to label the band. The group’s music happens to be far removed from the image of Dickens’ homely “yes man,” always oscillating between bold and beautiful. The Heep’s first release is no exception. Their self-titled debut is heavy, progressive, soulful, and wholly original.
From the opening keyboard riff of “Gypsy,” it becomes apparent the listener is in for something special. They aren’t let down as the bass joins in, followed by the drums. Added next is delightful lead guitar. Then at just over one minute in, the song erupts. David Byron’s vocals hit like a Mac truck driven by Jason Statham geeked-up on speed and Red Bull. The head-banging riffs played in their rich guitar tone paired with the sublime, almost operatic vocals all while Ken Hensley is putting on a demonstration of how to kick ass on a keyboard, is an overdose of awesome. There isn’t much time to scrape bits of brain off the floor after your mind is blown by the opening track before the band keeps rocking in similar fashion. Reprieve is offered in the hauntingly beautiful “Come Away Melinda,” a dark folk ballad about a family torn apart by war. Uriah Heep continue to mix up, fusing blues and jazz to their powerful sound.
The album is just littered with sweet licks, memorable solos, and early cases of guitar harmonies. It remains puzzling after hearing Uriah Heep why Mick Box isn’t recognized as the innovator that he is. Byron, too, is severely underrated in his craft, delivering a truly top-notch vocal performance that is obvious influence to the likes of Iron Maiden great, Bruce Dickinson. Ken Hensley’s keyboard and organ work is rich and diverse with so much to offer the listener. The duo of Paul Newton and Nigel Olsson on bass and drums respectively is understated yet effective. All musicians seem to bring something to the table in terms of songwriting, which, in turn, makes for a dynamic and enjoyable album. Uriah Heep leave little to gripe about here. A strong first impression indeed.
The band goes on to churn out many more great albums and cement a great legacy in rock history, but they never quite manage to replicate the magic, the timelessness of their first. Uriah Heep’s debut somehow manages to be fun, intellectual, and emotional all at the same time. Most people will go their entire lives not knowing the likes of this band, but those that do will swear by them. And this album. Heavy? Yes. Humble? Not so much. But then, rock was never meant to be humble anyway.