Uriah Heep – The Magician’s Birthday (1972) – Review

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Ah, it’s time for another one, ain’t it? A long time has passed since our last Heep review. And what better times than these difficult ones to write a new piece on one of the most underrated rock bands of all time.

And – of course – what immediately comes to mind is the year 1972. That is when the breakthrough record Demons and Wizards hit the shelves with a vengeance. And – more importantly – when Uriah Heep boasted one of their strongest lineups ever. David Byron, Ken Hensley, Mick Box, Lee Kerslake, and Gary Thain formed a true dream team with an amazing creative drive.

So, right on the heels of the aforementioned record, The Magician’s Birthday saw the light of day in November of that same year. It’s interesting that many immediately classified the new album as some sort of leftovers that did not quite make it onto the editor’s cut. The despised stepchild of sorts, one that will forever lurk in the mighty shadows of its big brother. But then again, the record hit gold in the US a short year after the release, which is pretty remarkable.

And you see, already Sunrise with its Salisbury-ish wails tells us otherwise. To the point that some opinions I read put that particular track at the very height of song-smithing that this band was ever able to reach.

True, the album came in at just some 38 minutes of airtime. Barely enough to qualify as a full-length. But let’s not forget that this was way before the times of the compact disc. So everything depended on the somewhat limited possibilities vinyl had to offer.

But – if anything – The Magician’s Birthday contained this juicy mix of Progressive Rock, some Hard Rock, and a few psychedelic and metallic elements here and there. So no, this ain’t no metal record by any (modern) means. Even if we detected a very few hints to early Black Sabbath and some pretty metallic soloing to go along with your rock.

And despite all that unholy rush to market of a second album in one year, The Magician’s Birthday gets you a pretty sturdy array of good quality tracks.

The RMR deck crew really fancied the aforementioned Sunrise, a top-notch example of early Progressive and Hard Rock. The track at first sounds kinda simple but then opens like a flower with some pretty neat progression towards the end.

I could never quite understand the fanboyism for Spider Woman, though. A pretty straightforward rock song, it must forever remain in the mighty shadows of the other members of that tracklist. But truth is that the track found a fair share of fans in Western Europe.

And then there are the heavy hitters.

Sweet Lorraine – for instance – will kick most of the weaker parts of the album out into space anytime. This track also starts as a simple rock song of sorts. But then Hensley‘s synthesizer solo leads you astray onto experimental grounds. Besides, this is one of these tracks with that visceral pull that often makes or breaks good songs.

But let’s not forget the title track, The Magician’s Birthday. The piece is – in structure – not dissimilar to Paradise/The Spell on Demons and Wizards. Yet, it serves such a heap of spicy Progressive and Psychedelic rock that it slowly grew into one of my favorite tracks in the Uriah Heep universe. Just take the solo interlude in the middle – for instance – that always points me to woozy ’70s lalaland. And don’t I always enjoy this epic battle towards the end that ends in the – and I quote – “impenetrable fortress of love”.

Bottom line is that The Magician’s Birthday surely isn’t the ugly little brother of its shiny predecessor. None of the tracks are bad, not even Tales. And their artful arrangement brings about a momentum and flow that many other records of this band still search for. A great selection of high-quality, early Progressive and Hard Rock made by a band in its prime.

In other words, we have here yet another gem of one of the most productive years of this band. A Uriah Heep album to remember. And fondly so.

Record Rating: 8/10 | Label: Bronze Records | Web: Official Band Site
Release Date: 1 November 1972

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