Well, I have dabbled in Progressive Rock and Metal for a while. But often we cover modern artists and sometimes forget the old masters. Because far into the past, there already were jewels that nobody really knows anymore.
Salisbury, the 2nd studio album of early Uriah Heep is one of them. The band’s name derives from the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield, by the way. Actually the antagonist hero in the story, no less.
Starting with ‘Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble’ a year earlier, Uriah Heep went on full progressive mode with Salisbury. Actually, this record – I am tempted to call it a masterpiece – was way ahead of its time. Most of the other outfits liked to produce the flower-power induced and drug-infused bullshit that was a staple at that time. And others LSD’ed themselves through Rock and Hard Rock with sometimes spectacular and – at other times – spectacularly bad effects.
Uriah Heep truly excelled with some pretty stellar songwriting. Only, it didn’t quite connect with large swathes of the fan crowd. Except for a few nerds that relished this wailing somewhat fierce. But for most of the folks out there, nada. The comments the band had to endure at that time were pretty bad.
On the other hand, Salisbury charted at # 1 in Finland. The land of the future metal scene of the ominous kind. Germany came in at rank 31, whereas the reception was a bit mixed in the United States.
To be completely honest, even for us nerdy people this new style was a bit difficult to digest. And who would have thought that this would turn out to be one of the most controversial and inspiring albums Uriah Heep would ever produce. With an orchestra to boot, no less. Something that wasn’t yet quite common back in the early ’70s.
Now, Salisbury would only be half-finished without this trademark orange cover with a Chieftain tank supposedly driving through the Salisbury Plains. Which was at that time, and still is today, a military playground in the good old United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the US version of Salisbury was somewhat different and not to my taste. The different and truly boring cover and a slightly edited track selection – a failure in my view – did not quite cut it with the crew over here. So, this review will focus on the European version.
And let’s think back to 1971 for a moment: Jethro Tull just released their ultimate career booster Aqualung1). This was also the year that Led Zeppelin unleashed Led Zeppelin IV2). And Black Sabbath got rid of Master of Reality, another good’un.
So here we got the stage set against an almighty competition that was the emerging Progressive and Hard Rock scene. But never fear. Uriah Heep did well with Salisbury.
Let there be sound on the Salisbury plains, and it was rather strange!
This is the first impression you get when the album takes off. First, Bird of Prey speeds away with a strange mix of Hard Rock and early Heavy Metal. Furiously fast, until those weird falsetto voices emerge, the mother of all nut-crunchers. Some sort of an early metal scream before this even became an idea. And I tell ya, the track is so funky that it kinda glues you to your earphones.
But there’s more falsetto for you. The ballad The Park, all full of birdie sounds, and sweet, soft music, will greet you next. Which just adds to this overall delicious weirdness.
Okay, we already enjoyed some rare falsetto shenanigans from David Byron earlier. But not at that level of red-hot intensity. All of this goodness comes with some pretty good keyboarding to boot, and – for the time – really progressive drum work.
Lady in Black really hit hard in Northern Europe, one of the major hits back during this time. This one is interpreted by Ken Hensley, crunchy melody and hearty lyrics included. I remember that this song played forever in the charts. Actually astonishing for such a simple tune.
The centerpiece is really at the end of Salisbury. A 16-minute epic concoction called – well – Salisbury. An early version of Symphonic and Progressive Rock with a full orchestra. This at a time when the term actually wasn’t yet invented. Again, this is full-fledged prog and not something that hard-core Rock fans would necessarily enjoy. But really well done and rather surreal at the time of creation.
You know, the simple fact that Uriah Heep were courageous enough to go full-tilt Progressive Rock on their second release is one of the reasons why I love this record. And it indeed has its stellar prog moments, with precise riffs and solos that will delight you, changes in tempi and structure from one moment to the other.
Salisbury is revolutionary in this sense for the ’70s. Most of the other bands were going down the rock road – admittedly with exceptions. The tracks found on Salisbury are innovative, well constructed, and crafted with fantasy and passion.
It is – by all means – not your usual Uriah Heep album and for sure not their most energetic one. But worth every one of the somewhat short 38 minutes of pleasure that you are going to get out of it.
Ed’s note: If you would like to find out how the individual tracks on this album fared, do check out the Top 10 for Uriah Heep. Or – failing that – visit the latest issue of the Old’n’Tasty series or the 2nd edition of the most popular posts.
Record Rating: 8/10 | Label: Vertigo Records | Web: Official Site
Release date: 9 March 1971