Album Review: Uriah Heep – Demons & Wizards/The Magician’s Birthday

There can be no doubt that Uriah Heep is one of the most underrated of all the many UK hard rock bands. With a career spanning over fifty years, and still led by the ageless Mick Box, Heep stand alongside counterparts Hawkwind and Deep Purple as legends of the UK rock scene who are still producing quality to this day.

Demons & Wizards was the fourth album released by the band, in May 1972. Probably best known for the tracks “The Wizard” and “Easy Livin’”, whilst a mere six months later the band followed it up with album number five, The Magician’s Birthday. Now there is an opportunity to capture limited edition vinyl picture disc versions of both albums, which feature artwork by the renowned Roger Dean. It is also a chance to revisit both albums – and what a joy that is!

The albums have been remastered relatively recently, but there is still something magical (ahem!) about the opening of Demons & Wizards and the hazy song ‘The Wizard’. The song is one of Heep’s best-known songs and featured dual lead vocals of David Byron and short-time bassist Mark Clarke. The whole record is a real demonstration of the progress that the band had made in those early years. Elements of progressive rock are intertwined with hard rock and metal as well as gothic shades that moved the band forward from their early blues developmental phases. Gone were the Cream influences as Uriah Heep carved out their own sound. Tracks such as ‘Circle of Hands’ showed the rich keyboard playing and writing skills of Ken Hensley, an integral member of the band for many years and who sadly passed away in November 2020. Hensley’s thick Hammond organ notes duelling with Box’s flashing lead guitar throughout the record is one of many highlights. Of course, it’s “Easy Livin’” that is the anthemic track on this album, and it remains a right earworm 50 years since Hensley originally wrote it. It’s got a riff to die for, and rattles along at a great pace. One that still stands the test of time and is essential for the set list, as was demonstrated at their stand-in headline sets at both Steelhouse and Stonedead Festivals in 2021 and more recently in their special guest slot at Saxon’s two 40th anniversary shows. But there is much more to explore on Demons & Wizards. The vibrant “Traveller in Time” and Mick box’s superb playing on “Poet’s Justice” stand out, with those magnificent harmonies that have long been a trademark of the band shining through. In fact, it’s an album that is just fabulous from start to finish.

A mere six months later, Heep had released The Magician’s Birthday. Once again, Hensley penned many of the songs and he based it loosely on a short story he’s written. A mixed reception awaited the album, but it soon achieved gold status. Further artwork by Roger Dean enhanced the overall package.

The album opens with “Sunrise”, a stirring song that still gets the fans tearful with its rich melodies and thick keyboards. Elsewhere the bluesy groove of “Spider Woman” is a Southern Rock style toe tapper, whilst the epic “Echoes in the Dark” features some of Box’s incredible guitar work alongside Hensley’s huge sounding organ playing.

Although it’s probably inferior to Demons & Wizards in many ways, there is still plenty to enjoy on The Magician’s Birthday. “Sweet Lorraine” is one such number, full of progressive pomp and although “Rain” is a bit limp, you can overlook it when playing the album in full. And of course, there is the title track, all ten minutes of it, with its tremendous musical workout mid-song, which still stands the test of time today.

Even in the early stages of their career, Uriah Heep had carved their place with the lush keyboards, magnificent vocal harmonies and the combination of Byron’s singing with Box’s fantastic guitar work. It may be 50 years since these albums were released but they both retain a majesty from those times which is undeniable.

Limited picture disc editions of Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday are out on February 25th

Check out all the bands we review in 2022 on our Spotify and YouTube playlists!

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