It’s been 10 years since the last Uriah Heep studio album, “Sonic
Origami”. From 1998 on, the band kept on doin’ live shows and
releasing several live albums and DVDs, some of which were excellent
(“Acoustically Driver” and “The Magician’s Birthday Party”, for
example), while others were honestly a bit superfluous.
At some point, fans started to fear that the five piece, led by
veteran guitarist Mick Box (the only original member left), had lost
its inspiration. To make things even worse, a year and a half ago
the band had to face long standing drummer Lee Kerslake’s departure,
after some 33 years spent together with Box, from 1972 to 1980 and
from 1982 to 2007. In short, we feared the end had come.
But the miracle happened, and as the title of this monumental album
suggests, the sleeper is awake: Uriah Heep are back, and I’m happy
to tell you that they’re in wonderful shape. Let’s say this straight
away, “Wake The Sleeper” is, along with the great “Sea Of Light”
(1995), perhaps the best Heep record since 1977’s “Firefly”.
As soon as you have put the CD in your player, most of you won’t
believe their ears, when hearing the sonic assault of the title
track: there’s double bass drumming (!), wah-wah, Hammond organ and
the classic, legendary vocal harmonies, always a trademark for the
band. All tremendously vintage, yet with a tremendously modern
sound. This mostly instrumental first track strikes hard, takes no
prisoners and leads us to the first proper song, “Overload”.
If any of you is still having any kind of doubt about the band’s
health status, “Overload” wipes the floor clean and shows that
things are going fine indeed: it’s a solid, enthralling seventies
oriented hard rock, in which vocalist Bernie Shaw proves to still
have some fantastic pipes. The excellent middle and ending sections
showcase a very welcome guitar / organ battle, just like it was in
the old times. “Tears Of The World” takes us to the most recent
Uriah Heep style, that of the last two / three albums, with an
elegant song, always with good energy in the background.
On with track 4, “Light Of 1000 Stars”, another very good mid tempo
reminiscent of none other than 1972’s “Sweet Lorraine”, thanks to
both melodies and pace, while “Heavens Rain” is more groovy, with
several atmospheric sections.
The rocky “Book Of Lies” is an ideal bridge to get to one of the
best songs, “What Kind Of God”: a wonderful tune, starting slowly
and solemn, courtesy of Phil Lanzon’s organ, then building up and
ending with a lovely crescendo. A truly beautiful chapter, nothing
else to say except that the Box / Lanzon writing team is working
Double bass again on “Ghost Of The Ocean”, a song reminding of the
best mid 70s Heep, thanks to a powerful pace, a syncopated organ and
the usual, always perfect chorus. In the following “Angel Walk With
You” we can find an intro full of pathos, quickly giving way to a
pounding mid tempo with the right amount of melody. Shaw is shining
on this one, while the organ solo at the end is hands down great.
“Shadow” ‘s seventies vibe is dominated by a guitar riff that would
have fit well on albums like “Sweet Freedom”. And again, another
very effective chorus is to be enjoyed.
The majestic “War Child” opens with emotional singing and a lovely
guitar and organ background, that transforms itself into another
heavy number with a strong riff and an astounding refrain.
What remains after having listened to “Wake The Sleeper” is an
extremely positive feeling. It’s knowing that this band still has a
lot so say, despite almost 4 decades of career. What’s most amazing
about this album, is the freshness, the power and the energy
spreading from these 11 songs. It really feels like listening to 30
years old musicians, who have enough experience, but are still
young. Instead, save the 42 years old Gilbrook, the guys playing
here are all into their fifties. Many young bands, although
technically skilled, can get nowhere near Uriah Heep’s musicianship,
elegance and impact. That should really make the younger generations
A few words about the new drummer Russell Gilbrook, a renowned drum
teacher who played with several great musicians, including Van
Morrison and Tony Iommi: replacing a respected, beloved and unique
artist like Lee Kerslake isn’t easy for anyone, but the well trained
Gilbrook did a terrific job, adding new power to the rhythm section
and making a good working team with bass player Trevor Bolder.
The rest of the band is no surprise: Bernie Shaw is still a Singer
with capital “S”, while both Mick Box and Phil Lanzon prove
themselves as fine songwriters and very respectable players.
In short, if you ever liked Uriah Heep in the past, this album will
make you love them even more. It is true that the golden period of
“Demons And Wizards”, Ken Hensley and David Byron will be no more,
but “Wake The Sleeper” is the best album that any fan could hope to
hear after such a long time.
The Sleeper is wide awake and ready to conquer your hearts again.
Now you should wake up too and rush for a record store to buy this
CD, it’ll be worth every single coin!