Album Review: Rediscovering Uriah Heep – ‘Wonderland’ / ‘High and Mighty’

by Barbara

The ongoing reissues of Uriah Heep’s discography in limited edition picture discs provide a compelling reason to delve back into their journey, uncovering how they carved a unique path through the music realm to attain their iconic status today.

Often underrated, the band could seamlessly stand alongside rock legends like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple on the rock music Mount Rushmore. Although not scaling the heights of masterpieces like ‘Look At Yourself’ or ‘Demons and Wizards’, both ‘Wonderland’ and ‘High and Mighty’ possess their own allure. Similar to Sabbath’s challenges, internal conflicts related to money, substance abuse, and egos simmered beneath the surface for Uriah Heep, yet failed to diminish their captivating essence.

The era of ‘Wonderland’ (1974) was marked by internal strife, financial uncertainties, and the corrosive effects of drug addiction. Recording sessions were fraught with tensions, as debates about musical direction loomed large. The album’s Prog Rock inclinations became evident, with the title track being an ambitious departure from their signature hard rock sound. This shift was counterbalanced by tracks like ‘Suicidal Man,’ a vigorous number brimming with robust riffs, especially Mick Box’s standout guitar solo.

The album’s diversity is further exemplified by the buoyant and almost pop-infused ‘The Shadows and the Wind,’ a tune that wouldn’t have been out of place in the rock musicals that defined the 70s. Drummer Lee Kerslake provided a steady rhythmic foundation, offering a contrast to bassist Gary Thain’s struggles with addiction. Amidst the sparks of tension, moments of brilliance emerged. The interplay between Box and keyboardist Ken Hensley on ‘So Tired’ stands out, showcasing their synergy and elevating the album’s appeal.

‘Wonderland”s offerings span from the orchestral grandeur of ‘The Easy Road’ to the bubblegum Glam rock of ‘Something or Nothing.’ While the album’s overall cohesion falters due to its disparate elements, viewing it as a historical artifact devoid of contemporary expectations unveils its intrinsic value.

Fast forward to 1976 and ‘High and Mighty,’ another pivotal album for the band, which marked the departure of vocalist David Byron and bassist John Wetton, the latter joining shortly after Gary Thain’s exit following the ‘Wonderland’ tour. Once again, genre-spanning compositions characterized the album, evoking both confusion and disappointment among fans. The forceful opening track, ‘One Way or Another,’ leads into progressive realms with ‘Weep in Silence,’ followed by the delightful folk-pop sensibilities of ‘Misty Eyes.’

Following the commercial tonality of their 1974 release, ‘High and Mighty’ introduces softer nuances, most pronounced in the ethereal ‘Can’t Keep A Good Band Down,’ where prog and hard rock mingle with a pop flavor. ‘Woman of the World’ echoes the whimsical sounds of bands like The Beatles and Small Faces, a departure from their earlier, more aggressive style.

Balancing the delicate ‘Footprints in the Snow’ and the underwhelming ‘Can’t Stop Singing,’ the album culminates with the Southern Rock-infused boogie of ‘Make A Little Love,’ where Box’s slide guitar flourishes and Kerslake’s drumming ignites a fiery conclusion.

These albums marked a transitional phase for Uriah Heep, and it would take further lineup changes to rediscover their creative fervor. Yet, by 1982’s ‘Abominog,’ they reclaimed their essence, transcending the challenging years. While ‘Wonderland’ and ‘High and Mighty’ may not be hailed as classics, they hold treasures within their tracks, reflecting a pivotal era in the band’s trajectory.

In the end, ‘Wonderland’ and ‘High and Mighty’ represent more than just musical artifacts. They are windows into a past era, offering a blend of diamonds and dust that weave into Uriah Heep’s ever-evolving narrative. Whether warming the hearts of nostalgic fans or adding layers to the band’s legacy, these albums remain integral chapters in the Uriah Heep chronicle.

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