There are not many bands that have such a loyal and dedicated following as Uriah Heep. If any one of those fans had been secretly harbouring fears, following a ten year wait for new material, that maybe the band couldn’t deliver anymore, then Wake the Sleeper (Universal Records, 2008) will cast such doubts into the fire. For any band to produce such energy, enthusiasm, and freshness after a career spanning nearly forty years is an incredible achievement and there is little doubt that Wake the Sleeper will satisfy even the most rabid Heepster.
Only the ever present, ever enthusiastic and ever likeable Mick Box survives from the band’s formation but in truth the core of this line up has been together longer than the original during the bands’ so called golden era in the first half of the seventies. It was a remarkable period for the band, producing albums such as Demons and Wizards, The Magicians Birthday (both 1972), Sweet Freedom (1973) and Wonderworld (1974). The line up was legendary too with Mick Box, Lee Kerslake, Ken Hensley, and the late David Byron on vocals and Gary Thain on bass. The ever dependable Lee Kerslake was finally forced to retire at the beginning of 2007 with his position on drums being filled by Russell Gilbrook (ex Iommi).
Wake the Sleeper, their 21st studio album, had actually been done and dusted almost a year ago, but Heep’s label Sanctuary was sold to Universal a deal that delayed the albums release. The line up now reads Mick Box one of the most underrated and instantly recognizable guitarists, bass player Trevor Bolder, Canadian singer Bernie Shaw, keyboard player Phil Lanzon and Russell Gilbrook. Whilst remaining reasonably busy on the tour and festival circuit it somehow has taken them ten years to produce this, their first album since Sonic Origami, back in 1998.
Be warned this is not a band happy to sit back on their legendary status and merely go through the motions. This is one that has just released a work that can take its place on the top shelf of Heep releases. The searing energy from Mick’s guitar erupts from the first chord of the title track that opens the album. It is almost as if the ten year wait has caused so much pent up tension that it literally explodes. The track seems to nod towards the band's past with some vocal effects that sound uncannily like the David Byron era and shouts ‘we’re back’. That energy level is maintained through “Overload”, heavy with characteristic Box wah-wah and “Tears of the World” both more typical of latter day Heep.
“Light of a Thousand Stars” has Bernie Shaw on great form. “Heaven’s Rain” follows atmospherically and contains a wonderful guitar break that would have Mick Box being easily picked out from an identification parade. “Book of Lies” is infectiously good and leads into the epic “What Kind of God” a track that makes that ten year wait more than worthwhile. It is stirring, it is monumental, it is passionate, and it is Uriah Heep, back and back on form. The Heep powerfest, “Ghost of the Ocean”, the impressive “Angels Walk With You” that opens out into a keyboard, “Shadow”, and “War Child” bring the album to a solid conclusion.
Their heritage is acknowledged in the sleeve notes when Mick writes a dedication not only to Lee Kerslake’s health but to ‘David Byron and Gary Thain – your inspiring musical legacy lives on’. Too right it does and with Wake the Sleeper Uriah Heep have conjured up an album that adds yet another quality addition to their incredible history and leaves their legend well and truly intact. Wake the Sleeper was well worth the wait.
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