URIAH HEEP — Demons And Wizards (review)

URIAH HEEP — Demons And Wizards album cover Album · 1972 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
By 1972 the rock music universe began to settle into distinct marketing packages as the free for all 60s experimentation that trickled into the early 70s began to dissipate. Bands that mixed various styles of music were suddenly finding it more prudent to settle on one side of the fence or the other. While some progressively infused heavy rock bands jumped the fence to pure prog (T2, Atomic Rooster, High Tide), many of those bands ceased to exist after an album or two as the prog universe became more sophisticated however as that scenario unfolded the world of hard rock was becoming more popular and as a result more financially viable. While URIAH HEEP straddled both worlds equally on its 1971 bouts with excellence on the albums “Salisbury” and “Look At Yourself,” it wasn’t hard to see which way the wind was blowing with bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin tearing up the charts and laughing all the way to the bank.

And so it was decided that URIAH HEEP would follow their initial inclinations as demonstrated on their debut album “…Very ‘Eavy … Very ‘Umble” that they would hone their musical constructs into the world of hard rock and as the band became more confident of their abilities the band finally found the success that eluded them during the experimental phase with their breakthrough album DEMONS AND WIZARDS in 1972. The band joined the ranks of many of the fringe prog related bands of the era that implemented a more direct heavy rock approach but augmented with a few proggy features which usually included an epic track that delved into greater complexities without what many deemed overweening prog excesses. So in the year 1972 when rock could exist as the bubblegum glam rock of Sweet, T. Rex or Roxy Music, or the over-zealous art rock of prog’s bigwigs such as Yes, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and Genesis,

URIAH HEEP found the perfect middle ground and in the process found their greatest success as well as their only American top 40 single in the form of the 60s garage band meets heavy psyche single “Easy Livin.” The album eschewed the excesses of the past and crafted nice neatly packaged smaller chunks of melodic hard rock mixed with softer acoustic guitar and shifted the emphasis off of Ken Hensley’s virtuosic organ driven antics to the vocal prowess of lead singer David Byron. His vocal style was exactly what the doctor ordered for not only breaking the band into the mainstream but also as a major inspiration for the heavy metal bands of the late 70s and 80s. DEMONS AND WIZARDS found a new bassist in the New Zealand born Gary Thain who had played with the Keef Hartley Band after the departure of Paul Newton who seems to have dropped out of the music industry. Additionally Lee Kerslake replaced drummer Iain Clark. Ironically despite finding more in common with Blue Oyster Cult or the less progressive Mark II lineup of Deep Purple, DEMONS AND WIZARDS displayed the fantasy artwork of Roger Dean on the album cover, who had made his name more synonymous with the prog world with bands like Yes and despite the connotations of a fantasy album by the album cover art, the tracks were really just a collection of feel good songs that had nothing in common with each other. Concentrated and to the point, DEMONS AND WIZARDS cast the perfect hard rock spell that mesmerized the public’s appetite for short no nonsense hard rockers and as the track “Easy Livin” hit #39 on the Billboard charts and the album became one of the year’s best sellers and has sold well over six million copies ever since as well as hitting #23 on Billboard’s album charts.

While there is no doubt that the progressive rock tendencies on the previous albums took URIAH HEEP to a whole new level and that this demoted hard rock style does seem a little lackluster in comparison, DEMONS AND WIZARDS nonetheless emerged as a brilliant slice of early 70s hard rock that still managed to throw in a few proggy touches such as the organ sequences on “Circle of Hands” or the pseudo-prog combo pack of the final two tracks “Paradise” and “The Spell” that appear as a single track on some CD editions. While straight forward hard rock rules the roost on this one, this closing duality found an atmospheric acoustic guitar progression that sounded more like Pink Floyd than Deep Purple but found resolution as things morphed into a honky tonk blue rock based upbeat sequence.

Personally i would’ve preferred that URIAH HEEP had stuck to their heavy prog compositions that they crafted in 1971 as i find them much more interesting than the rather watered down albums that follow but i have to admit that DEMONS AND WIZARDS stands out as the best of the hard rock years that continued throughout the 70s into the modern era. The album not only displayed a band that crafted some of the tightest tracks of their career but also showcases how their melodic hooks are utterly irresistible excellent guitar performances made all the better by David Byron’s phenomenal vocals. This was the first step into a highly successful stream of albums that stacked up in the 70s and although the band’s popularity started to diminish in the 80s the band has remained a popular arena rock act with some of the classic tracks on DEMONS AND WIZARD remaining steadfast crowd pleasers. A step down in the world of prog complexities but the first step in a highly lucrative career. Can’t say i blame them for their decision.
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