URIAH HEEP — Very 'Eavy... Very 'Umble (review)

URIAH HEEP — Very 'Eavy... Very 'Umble album cover Album · 1970 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
While Black Sabbath usually gets credit for launching the world of heavy metal music, it was actually Led Zeppelin’s debut in 1969 that emerged a year earlier that really hinted at the possibilities of taking 60s blues rock and making it louder, faster, dirtier and darker. Several acts quickly took that to heart and developed some of the first hard rock bands that were the proto-metal blueprints for the future. Black Sabbath made the biggest impression in the dark occult and doom metal fronts but bands like Deep Purple and URIAH HEEP took the 60s blues rock of Blue Cheer and Vanilla Fudge to the next level.

URIAH HEEP had its origins with guitarist Mick Box who formed the band Spice that stemmed from an earlier band called Hogwash. The Spice band sort of evolved into URIAH HEEP as new members kept joining and eventually led to the earliest formation that would continue to tour under the space moniker but after recording half of the debut album…VERY ‘EAVY…VERY ‘UMBLE the name was changed to URIAH HEEP. The band’s unusual name was chosen from the well known character in the Charles Dickens classic novel “David Copperfield” and likewise the equally bizarre album title to comes from a phrase used by the Dickens character that provided the band name.

This debut album was released as …VERY ‘EAVY…VERY ‘UMBLE in the band’s native UK however in Canada and the US it was released simply as URIAH HEEP with a completely different album cover and one different track. The UK release which has become the standard featured lead singer David Byron covered by cobwebs whereas the US version had some sort of Chinese dragon looking monstrous centipede or perhaps it was a monster from a Godzilla flick. Not sure. Likewise, the UK version featured the fourth track as “Lucy Blues” and the US version inserted the track “Bird of Prey” which would also be the opening track on the band’s second album “Salisbury.” Sounds like the Americans got screwed out of a track, huh?

While not as progressive as the following two albums, …VERY ‘EAVY…VERY ‘UMBLE joins the early pack of harder edged rock that would provide a blueprint for the heavier rock and metal to come. Lock in step with Deep Purple, URIAH HEEP set themselves apart from Led Zeppelin, Lucifer’s Friend and Black Sabbath by including a talented keyboardist whose sound was a key ingredient to the band’s overall sound. The album is notorious for the review in Rolling Stone magazine where Melissa Mills stated she would have to commit suicide if this band ever made it. Harsh words but the albums wasn’t received too well at the time but then again Deep Purple’s “In Rock” which is now considered a classic was also panned by the critics. The reason they are critics and not musicians! Burn!!!

The opening track “Gypsy” debuts URIAH HEEP’s classic sound already in tact. A powerful combo pack of heavy bombastic guitar stomps fortified by guitar distortion that took hard rock to the next level. Since this was still on the cusp of the 60s, the overall sound contains a number of influences including acid psychedelic rock, blues and folk. While the guitar, bass and drums provide the dominant rhythmic heft, the true star belongs to Ken Hensley’s massive organ presence that features extremely innovative and aggressive improvisations around the main melodic drive and of course i’d be remiss not to mention the operatic vocal style of lead singer David Byron whose style was emulated in the future heavy metal scenes that then evolved into the more sophisticated forms of metal such as power metal, symphonic metal and other styles that focused on high pitched melodic vocal styles.

While Deep Purple started out as a progressive rock band that mixed psychedelic 60s rock with classical music, that band morphed into a straight forward hard rock band with classical influences. URIAH HEEP’s debut showed the band more as a hard rock band with a few progressive influences that would lead to the more complex albums that followed before settling into a standard hard rock band of the 70s. While the tracks mostly cruise on standard 4/4 time signatures, there are some off-kilter insertions of prog sophistication but most of that would be put on hold until the powerhouse prog classic “Salisbury,” the band’s second album, however …VERY ‘EAVY…VERY ‘UMBLE was still a more difficult listen than many other rock albums of 1970 since it changed styles and required a more active listening approach.

URIAH HEEP’s debut album, whichever title you happen to experience with the one differing track is an excellent music experience even by today’s standards. Unlike Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, this band still had its hooks into heavy blues rock much like Wishbone Ash and some of the tracks like “Real Turned On” sound like much of the boogie rock of bands like Foghat, Little Feat and countless others would crank out throughout the 70s but URIAH HEEP displayed a more virtuosic approach with Mick Box’s excellent guitar work, Hensley’s manic keyboards and Byron’s excellent vocal range. Sorry Melissa Mills from Rolling Stone. Maybe instead of killing yourself because of URIAH HEEP’s success, you should open your mind to the new possibilities of how music evolves. The rest of the world has and even though this didn’t blow many away at the time of release, it has now gone down as a classic albeit overshadowed by the better works that followed. Excellent debut!
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