By Rob Thompson
What can you say about a band that has been recording music for forty five years? In case you know nothing about the group, they were formed in London in 1969 by guitarist Mick Box and late singer David Byron as Spice, the group evolved into Uriah Heep (the name was taken from a character in the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield) when they began conceptualising their first record. The album, Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble, launched their distinct sound in 1970, one that was built around layered harmony vocals, swirling keyboards, and heavy guitar riffs. Current lead singer Bernie Shaw and keyboardist Phil Lanzon have been ever present since the mid-1980s, while drummer Russell Gilbrook joined in 2007. Mick Box has remained a constant presence throughout.
In preparing for this review I delved into my vinyl collection to dust off classic Heep albums like Look At Yourself, The Magician’s Birthday, and Demons And Wizards, and to be honest I’d forgotten just how great these actually are, plus they've stood the test of time. Indeed, the band's repertoire features hits over five decades from the 1970’s through to the present day including tracks such as ‘Gypsy’, ‘Easy Livin’’, ‘July Morning’, ‘Stealin’’ and ‘Lady in Black’, which went to no.1 in Germany on three different occasions and once stayed there for six months. They have gone on to sell 40 million records, and have toured globally for five decades, visiting no less than 56 countries, headlining numerous festivals and arena tours, including being the first Western rock band to play Russia, in 1987.
Outsider is the band’s 24th studio album and their first since the untimely death of long-serving bassist Trevor Bolder last year and his replacement Dave Rimmer can now legitimately be called a full member of the band. The press release elaborates: “We lost a world class bass player, singer, songwriter and friend, recalled Box, “While Trevor was ill, he wanted us to continue working, so we used a bass player called Dave Rimmer, who Trevor approved of. It was only natural that Dave carried on with the band.”
It’s fair to say that it’s both a worthy follow-up to and a musical continuation of their 2011 release Into The Wild. According to a press release for the album, Mick says:
“We are very proud of our history, but it is equally important to keep producing new material. This new album is very much a rock album in true ‘Heep’ style. It shows that we still have the same passion and energy for our music that we have always had.”
And I would tend to agree with that. From the opening chords of the album’s hard driving rocker, ‘Speed of Sound’, to the more introspective closer, ‘Say Goodbye’, ‘Outsider’ proves that Uriah Heep has managed to produce a consistent classic rock album which strikes a balance between the sounds of yesteryear and a more contemporary approach. One element which simply must be present in a classic rock album is the sound of a Hammond organ and boy, does this album use it! This mini church organ has always been a blend between cheesy and ultra-cool to my ears and in Outsider it helps to bolster up the songs with a raucous booming tone that is unremittingly relentless; permeating every track with it surging soulful power.
In summary, I recommend you listen to this album with an open mind. If you don’t expect an album from their 1970s peak you’ll enjoy this as a great hard rock record which the band can justifiably take some of the songs from to add to their expansive set list in their upcoming European and ultimately a world tour – including UK dates. The production is clean and crisp, the band are clearly excellent musicians who enjoy what they do and I’d recommend Outsider not just for Heep aficionados, but for anyone who loves listening to the occasional hard rock tune or wants a break from the usual metalcore bellowing so prevalent in the scene these days.