Sunday, 21 February 2021

Don't Hear It...Fear It! - Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell

 

Provenance: The band with the best name in the biz

After moving to the south coast from London, all on my lonesome I went to my first gig in my new environs to see Orange Goblin at the Haunt. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell were the support act, and they kicked my ass.

Anyway, it turns out that 'the Shove' are a local band, plus I share a rather tenuous connection with bassist Louis Comfort-Wiggett (which I shan't reveal here - small world 'n' all, especially online), so I've subsequently got to see them a few times since. They kicked my ass on those occasions, too.

As for Don't Hear It...Fear It!, I bought this either at the Goblin gig or shortly thereafter via Rise Above Records, undefeated as the coolest label out there.

Support your local bands, even if they're not as tuff as Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. 

Review: As I am wont to do, I shall describe the sound of Shovell, a band you may not have heard of, by comparing them to another bunch of bands you also may not be familiar with. Suck it up, you knew the deal when you came here. So, here's a name I certainly haven't used before - Stack Waddy! And, let me see, I reckon there's more than a soupcon of the Groundhogs (Split era) in there, plus some Edgar Broughton Band, Budgie, a bit of Atomic Rooster and a whole smorgasbord of bands simply too hip to ever break through that you'll nonetheless find on the peerless Brown Acid compilations.

What I'm getting at, rosy-cheeked reader o'mine, is that Don't Hear It... is a distillation of all the things I love about hard rock - evil vocals, slammin' riffs, doomy lyrics and generous use of phase effects. It's right in that sweet spot of nascent heavy metal and come-down psychedelia, located somewhere in the dusty cracks between Black Sabbath and the wailing space-distorting stylings of Robin Trower. It's heartening that right here in the 21st century there are still people like Louis and the band's fret-mangler Johnny Gorilla maintaining such noble traditions.

(And, if I make this sound a little like Ewan MacColl's Critics Group, why the hell not? Pretty much half of what they purported to be 'authentic' folk had existed for less time than the heavy metal rama-lama that Shovell put out. If any British tradition is to be celebrated, let it be our contributions to making heads bang the world over.)

A very pleasing aspect to Don't Hear It... is the production, which is as raw as a scraped knee in November. Finger in the air, I'd guess that vocals and solos aside the band laid down the tracks live in the studio. Given the vim and vinegar in the music it certainly sounds that way, and if I've had my pants pulled down on that front then fair play; however, few contemporary albums achieve this kind of loudness without a horrible amount of compression. Don't Hear It... has a real heft to it, and the volume feels more akin to being trapped in the guts of a blast furnace than it does to some prick pressing a button on a laptop. 

It almost feels pointless to highlight any one track to recommend above the others, as Shovell have bowed to the wisdom of elders in the best way by actually producing an album. Not just a collection of songs, but an album, one that actually pays attention to sequencing, much in defiance to the shuffle generation. However, blunderbuss to head, I'm going to plump for 'Red Admiral Black Sunrise', a perfect encapsulation as to what Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell are all about.

One final thing to say in summation - fuck you, guys, for doing that 'hidden track' thing at the end of the CD. Not because it's inherently annoying (though, it is) or that the track is bad; rather, I just about shit my pants every time the album comes crashing back into life after minutes of dead air. At home, fine, but sometimes I'm in control of a motor vehicle when this happens. My message to the Louis, Johnny and Bill Darlington (or Serra Petale, if you're still pulling these japes) - you wouldn't want to be responsible for a multi-car pile-up on the A27, right?

On second thoughts, that's pretty badass. Buy this album, folks. 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Curse Of The Hidden Mirror - Blue Oyster Cult

 

Provenance: I am the world's biggest Blue Oyster Cult fan (fight me), and bought this the very day it came out in the UK.

Review: Coming only three years after Heaven Forbid, I had hoped that Curse of the Hidden Mirror was a continuance of momentum that might see BOC release new studio material at a stately but steady pace. Well, I was wrong on that front - this release, on the final day of my GCSEs, would be their last until The Symbol Remains emerged last year, a gap of almost twenty years.

At the time that Curse... came into my possession I was deep into my BOC obsession; if Eric Bloom farted into a bathtub I would've considered it genius. I also recall defacing my parents' car with a Curse... bumper sticker, much to my dad's chagrin. You must understand, valued reader, that as a daydreaming sixteen year-old Blue Oyster Cult were a galaxy of music unto themselves. I would listen to Secret Treaties or Tyranny and Mutation and imagine myself an inductee into some kind of eldritch confederacy, a cabal of initiates who could tease out dark themes and cryptic signifiers from the music. I now realise how insane this all sounds. However, for a couple of years or so, in my little world, Blue Oyster Cult were The Truth.

Of course, exposure to new people, places, experiences and Steely Dan was to instil a degree of perspective into my worldview but I'm still, by most measures, a fanatic. Alongside the aforementioned Dan and Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult constitute the triumvirate of my own personal 'Big Three' artists. Nonetheless, the passage of time has mellowed me, and opened me up to all kinds of sounds I used to disdain (country music, for starters), which should grant me slightly more nuance in my assessments of their output.

The first thing that needs to be said is that, despite a title that acts as a callback to previous albums and the band's 'Imaginos' mythos, the qualities that made BOC so special in the mid-1970s are difficult to discern here (which has been the case, really, since Fire of Unknown Origin). Gone is the twisty, tumbling harmonic minor riffing and the oblique cod-Modernist poetry courtesy of the late Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer. These elements are lamented, and I still don't think BOC ever properly recovered from the firing of drummer Albert Bouchard, their secret weapon with regards to both songwriting and infusing their sound with a light, jazzy sensibility on percussion.

What we do have on Curse... is a slick band of highly talented players who have come up with a diverse and distinctive collection of songs. Yes, horror and fantasy lyrics are still in place, albeit a little more on the nose, less mysterious and arcane, but that's fine. And if the Cult no longer possess the juice that made their early run of releases so damn unique, it's been replaced with a whipcrack sharpness. The best news is that Buck Dharma, one of the most identifiable guitarists of any era, does not miss a beat. I am sure I'm repeating erstwhile Metallica bassist Jason Newstead's impression here, but when he said Dharma's playing "was like hot needles pushed into your ears", I recognised that immediately. Further: Dharma came from a musical background, and there's something of the horn player in his lead work. The pulses, the climbs, the internal rhythms all come from a bop consciousness, even if the modes he typically plays in doesn't (but neither does he really hang around much in the typical rock box of the minor pentatonic). Beautiful.

When it comes to sensibility, it's long been obvious that frontman Eric Bloom favours the heavier material, whilst Buck is the pop guy. That delineation is clear on Curse... with Bloom helming headbangers such as 'Showtime', 'Eye Of The Hurricane' and the excellent, brawling 'The Old Gods Return'. Meanwhile, Buck's sweeter singing style gives a light touch to the almost-power-pop single 'Pocket', lead track 'Dance On Stilts' and 'Here Comes That Feeling', the latter of which could've easily slipped into the Eddie Money catalogue without too many eyebrows being raised.

There are a couple of interesting departures here - Bloom sounds like he's having a whale of a time hamming it up on 'I Just Like To Be Bad', which takes its cues in the verses from mid-period Who; and 'Stone Of Love', a Buck composition that's been knocking around since the early 1980s, has a suggestion of the more Latin-influenced tracks by Love, albeit with resoundingly modern hard rock dynamics. There is, alas, one crap tune here, unfortunately appended to the end of the album - 'Good To Feel Hungry' sounds like an undeveloped studio groove that should've been left on the cutting room floor.

Still - for a band that's been ploughing its own peculiar furrow for the past fifty or so years (a mere forty when this came out), Curse... sounds much hungrier, much livelier than it had any right to do. Okay, so perhaps vampiric skull-grin creepiness remains only in homeopathic memory, but thankfully we've got Ghost, who these days do a fabulous, classic BOC tribute act, so I'm happy. And I'm happy with Curse... too, a superlative hard rock record that crackles with verve, energy and no little craft.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Greatest Hits - Nazareth

 

Provenance: Early on in my album collecting life I had a notion that 'best of ' and 'greatest hits' compilations were the way to go with a new artist - sample the cream first, dig through the muck for truffles later. This was an HMV job, probably about a tenner, and an early addition to the collection, within the first thirty albums or so that I owned.

The catalyst for buying this was hearing 'This Flight Tonight', a superb cover of a Joni Mitchell song. What set it apart from much of what I listened to was that Nazareth eschewed groove for a jittery, tense atmosphere. Combined with the cryptic lyrics and Dan McCafferty's razor-wire singing - I hadn't heard anyone like him until this point - I felt I was onto a winner.

Oddly, I've never followed up - this remains my sole Nazareth album. Some bands' output lends itself to compilations, but as I never took the plunge with their catalogue, to me this album is Nazareth. I did see a version of the band at Sweden Rock that featured originals McCafferty and Pete Agnew, and they were - fine. A little slow, and McCafferty faltered at times, but they rendered their greatest hits more or less faithfully. Except...

Review: ...where the pigging hell is 'Hair of the Dog' on this album? Where's 'Telegram'? It seems that this particular greatest hits, first released in 1975, has gone through more transfigurations than Dr fucking Who. According to the version I'm staring at right now, apparently from 1990, I've got four more tracks than the original yet somehow I don't have 'Hair of the Dog'; and whilst subsequent expansions included 'Telegram' its absence is keenly felt here. When I saw Nazareth at Sweden Rock, 'Telegram' was quite easily their best performance, a drama roiling in the sturm und drang of life on the road. I'm getting steamed just thinking that some feckless longhair in the mid-1970s was enjoying tracks made unavailable to me when I bought this in the dawning days of the 21st century.

Anyway, before I get too salty, I should probably return to the task at hand, which is reviewing what is on the album. Two things strike me immediately - one is that Nazareth indulged in more than a few ballads that stray over the line between sweet and saccharine. Weepies like 'Love Hurts', 'I Don't Want to Go On Without You', 'Star' and 'Dream On' are performed competently (I actually like 'Star' a lot) but it jars with the band's image of rowdy Scottish toughs. 

The second is that Nazareth are really good interpreters of other people's material. Which isn't a quiet slight against their own songwriting and compositional abilities - it stands alone as a compliment. Where Nazareth succeed is making their versions distinct from the originals, as opposed to slavish note-for-note copies that are all too prevalent. So we have the aforementioned 'Love Hurts' (Everly Brothers), 'This Flight Tonight', 'Morning Dew' (Bonnie Dobson), 'Gone Dead Train' (Randy Newman) and a loopy take on Tomorrow's 'My White Bicycle'. So thoroughly Nazarethfied is this version of 'Gone Dead Train' that I let out an audible "huh?" when I heard the original pop up at a student screening of Performance. Half a millisecond's worth of thought would've led me to the conclusion that it was unlikely Cammell and Roeg asked Randy Newman to bash out a Nazareth number for their arthouse crime flick.

Most everything else on Greatest Hits is the brawling heavy blues rock with which Nazareth made their name - on gigolo anthem 'Bad Bad Boy', which takes its cues from the hoary blues 'Old Grey Mare', McCafferty vies with Bon Scott and Rod Stewart for the title of rock 'n' roll's chief rogue, whilst 'Shanghai'd In Shanghai' and the menacing 'Turn On Your Receiver' hide a great deal of craft beneath their bruising sonics. All of this adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable hour-and-change in the company of Dunfermline's finest.

All of this gives me a slight pang of regret - that unlike the feckless longhair and his mid-1970s copy of Greatest Hits, I will never get to see Nazareth in their pomp. On this evidence McCafferty sounds like he gargles tarmac as part of his morning routine, and to see him going full bore, yelping "I'm a bad bad boy, and I'm gunna steal you love" like some demented yard dog would've been a treat. What I saw at Sweden Rock was serviceable; but just think about it, back in the day, Nazareth slamming it into overdrive, all double-denim, hair billowing from every nook and crevasse, nicotine-stained teeth, the whole nine yards, powering their way through another unstoppable chugger. Hey. at least I've still got Rival Sons, right guys?

It's settled then. Some people would use a time machine to bear witness to the Crucifixion, or to the Great Fire of Rome. Others would go and slay some historical ghoul like Hitler in the hopes of a better world blossoming in the aftermath. Me? Hastings Pier, 9 May 1975 - sounds like it was a blast!

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Horror Show - Iced Earth

 

Provenance: Another £1 bargain from the internal message board at a former job. I didn't really know a huge amount about Iced Earth at the time, but the chance to acquire some metal in exchange for a very small sum of metal proved irresistible.

I feel like Iced Earth are a band I've seen at some festival or another in a mid-to-late afternoon slot but my brain has been pounded into slurry by pandemic lockdowns, so who knows? I'm beginning to doubt I ever enjoyed seeing live music, once upon a time.

Review: So here we have it, Horror Show, each track taking its cue from a scary movie or historical personage, with the exception of 'Ghost of Freedom', which comes from the head of lead squealer Matt Barlow, plus a cover of the Iron Maiden instrumental 'Transylvania'. Iced Earth's main man and sole constant, guitarist Jon Schaffer, is responsible for writing virtually all the music and most of the lyrics throughout. 

I have a soft spot for anyone who indulges in these kind of monster-based shenanigans, ranging from Bobby 'Boris' Pickett through to Lordi and Ghost, so we're off to a good start. It's not always successful - observe Judas Priest's paean to Loch Ness and its resident cryptid features lyrics that straddle the Spinal Tap 'fine line between stupid and clever' divide (but also, crucially, an indestructible guitar riff). However, when it comes off, it's cool as fuck - the aforementioned Priest with 'The Ripper', Blue Oyster Cult cranking out 'Godzilla' and 'Nosferatu' on the same goddamn album, a whole bunch of Rob Zombie stuff - hell, I'll even allow Alice Cooper's 'Feed My Frankenstein', Elvira cameo 'n' all. The Venn diagram between fans of scary movies and heavy metal must be pretty chunky, so it's a good bet.

Thus, we've got musical tributes here to the Wolf Man, The Omen movies, Jack the Ripper (fertile ground, evidently), the Mummy, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, Count Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera. This should be a lot of fun!

And, yeah, it is. The music itself isn't much more than rather decent power metal, though I found the mostly acoustic balladry of 'Ghost of Freedom' quite affecting alongside being a welcome change of pace. Matt Barlow - or Sergeant Matthew Barlow of the Georgetown Police Department, to give you some colour as to his current activities - is vocally a good fit, his delivery belying an obvious Geoff Tate (Queensryche) influence. My biggest bugbear with a lot of bands in the thrash and power-metal is that the drumming production sounds piss-weak. Somewhere along the line the rolling thunder of early metal became replaced with the impotent pitter-patter of double-bass pedals and a tinny, clattery quality to the rest of the kit. 

However, there's plenty of schlock to make up for this, including the wonderfully devilish incantations on 'Damien', hokey vocal effects on 'Jekyll & Hyde' (yes, of course, the two 'characters' speak to each other) and a suitably melodramatic finale in 'The Phantom Opera Ghost'. Bonus points, too, for doing a song called 'Frankenstein' which is about the doctor, not his monster, though it challenges us to ponder as to 'Who's the monster? Who's the victim?'. Hello, has anybody considered that, uh, maybe society is the monster in all this? Anyway, 'Frankenstein' is the highlight of Horror Show for me, though its Maiden-esque successor 'Dracula' runs it close. Hey buddy, have you ever wondered if society is the vampire?

My own personal gripes with the percussion aside, everything sounds pretty great on Horror Show without quite having the requisite sizzle or magical spark to elevate the album to the A-list. What could do it, I wonder? A spot of narration by Sir Christopher Lee, per Manowar? Perhaps a spot of narration from Orson Welles, per Manowar? Maybe, just being Manowar? I kid, not even Manowar want to be Manowar these days. Besides, whilst Iced Earth might not have been able to call upon the talents of Lee or Welles, the wonderfully-named Yunhui Percifield provides co-lead vocals on 'The Phantom Opera Ghost' and she does a top job, so that's something to be celebrated. Entertaining stuff, then, rammed to the rafters with all manner of ghouls 'n' ghosts - but whatever did happen to the 'Transylvania Twist'?

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin

Provenance: My mum owned this on vinyl.

How much of your taste in music is down to your parents? For me, it's a huge factor. I never saw the need to particularly rebel, because by and large my parents knew their onions.

Off the top of my head, in terms of albums my parents own that are mirrored in my collection, there's this and Led Zeppelin III, Tapestry by Carole King, a couple of Alice Cooper albums, ditto Frank Zappa, An Electric Storm by White Noise, a bit of Hawkwind. Not bad.

I didn't really take to Emerson, Lake and Palmer nor Rod Stewart, but although I haven't (yet) purchased Gryphon's Raindance, evidently I'd heard enough to make me curious. It was all very listenable, even if some of my parents' latter day choices (Mika's Life In Cartoon Motion, anyone?) might take a bit of digesting.

However, Led Zeppelin IV (or Zoso, if you're so inclined) was not only instantly gettable, it would also prove to be a watershed moment; I recall walking through the door one day after school, and evidently my mum had cued this bad boy up a moment beforehand. What I was to hear would essentially make me go, "yep, playing guitar, that's what I want to do", setting me on a course of joy and lifelong discovery. 

Review: Per the above paragraph; I heard Robert Plant's wailing, sure, but I felt the guitar in 'Black Dog'. It really was a few seconds, that's all it took, to convert me to a guitar player (albeit, at that time, sans guitar). I'd grown up listening to guitar bands like the Rolling Stones and Cream, and although I had liked what I'd heard, this was something different. Listen to Jimmy Page's opening guitar riff in 'Black Dog' again and you can hear a swagger, an arrogance almost, a sound that didn't just groove or roll, but strutted. Underpinned by John Bonham's thunderous drumming, there was only one word that came to mind: power.

Amazingly, given the time and distance between then and now, little has diminished my original teenaged assessment. Since that time I've become better acquainted with Led Zeppelin's overall body of music, which contains its share of missteps, and I must admit my opinions have been occluded by the impression given that they weren't a particularly likeable bunch; I have also wearied of the kind of pub bore who will insist Led Zeppelin are superb, and that everything else is a pile of horseshit created by computers or young people or whatever. Oh yes, and they were massive plagiarists.

But Led Zeppelin IV? A work of rare genius.

What I love about this album is that it jumps from the very 'eavy 'Black Dog' to the nitro-glycerine boogie of 'Rock And Roll' to the pastoral Tolkien-folk of 'Battle Of Evermore' - and then an amalgamation of all these qualities on 'Stairway To Heaven' - yet it still sounds conceptually tight. And that's just side one. An album that covers so many bases could (should?) be a mess, but it hangs together perfectly. The pacing is exquisite, a rollercoaster in the truest sense inasmuch as each track takes the listener in a different direction, whether it's mood, atmosphere, tempo, and yet each oxbow and undulation remains part of the same overall journey.

In my callow youth my favourites were 'Black Dog', 'Rock And Roll', 'Stairway To Heaven' and 'Misty Mountain Hop', all the muscle and blood tracks basically; now, although I cannot say any of the aforementioned have gone stale (yes, even 'Stairway...'), it's the more ruminative moments such as 'Battle Of Evermore' and the swooning 'Going To California' that have wormed their way deepest into my affections. Special mention must go to Sandy Denny's imperious singing on 'Battle...', a performance that alone impelled me to pay closer attention to Fairport Convention. I have, however, omitted one very important track. It ain't 'Four Sticks' (NB: a good song, but it comes across a little fidgety and half-formed for my tastes).

'When The Levee Breaks' may have been an old Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie blues from 1929, but even now the version on IV induces a sense of awe and sublimity. As brilliantly wrought as the rest of the album is, there's sorcery at work here, friends. By a variety of measures there is heavier music out there, but little comes as close to being as weighty or portentous as 'When The Levee Breaks' is. Into the admixture is the haunting, otherworldly harmonica, Page's droning, modal guitar and Plant's anguished vocal; but the true star is Bonham's drumming. Eschewing flash or intricacy, Bonham instead booms away on a beat that sounds like depth charges being detonated. The overall effect is that 'When The Levee Breaks', a song about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, comes across every bit as doomy and apocalyptic as its subject matter. Eat that, Randy Newman.

There you have it - simply, in terms of my own personal relationship with popular music, one of the most important landmarks. There's a straight line between IV and me picking up a guitar, which in turn took me down avenues of exploration around blues music, heavy metal and all points in-between. An immense album, and one that has never ceased to be a pleasure. Perhaps those saloon bar stalwarts had a point, eh?

Sunday, 10 January 2021

The Bridge - Sonny Rollins

 

Provenance: I read an article about The Bridge and its gestation period, and decided to buy the album. Simple as that, really.

The hook to the whole project was that Rollins felt he wasn't quite up to snuff, so took a three-year hiatus to hone his craft. As he could not practice at home in his New York City apartment without disturbing his neighbours, he instead took to practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Incidentally, there is a campaign to rename the Williamsburg Bridge; the proposal is to call it the Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge instead. Well, why not? We commemorate all kinds of daft or evil people through statues, roads, even whole cities; let's have a significant landmark named after someone cool for a change, eh?

Review: Oh dear, once again I am reviewing jazz, without either the requisite vocabulary or knowledge to do so. Deep breaths, my boy, this isn't so tough. Just...listen to the music. And - perhaps - jot down your impressions? Don't worry too much about what some hepcat scribbled away in Melody Maker or DownBeat, and concentrate on your own inner stirrings.

So...The Bridge, by Sonny Rollins...it's...good.

Alright, it's better than good; The Bridge is pretty damn good if you're into bop. Which I am, insofar as I have just enough wherewithal to say something stupid about it in a crowded room. Whilst I couldn't ever recommend this as an entrepot into jazz - my Damascene moment came via Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um - for those who have been snuffling around for even a short will find much to savour here. 

The best moments on The Bridge come via the two original Rollins compositions, 'The Bridge' and 'John S'. Although the playing throughout is immaculate, it's on 'John S' where guitarist Jim Hall really gets to dazzle with his fluid, kaleidoscopic fretwork, whilst 'The Bridge' features a break from drummer Ben Riley that skitters and rolls about the place, before kicking back in to the tumbling twin sax-and-guitar lines that herald the coda. Both cuts exhibit an intensity that bespeaks a restlessness; perhaps I am being overly fanciful, knowing about Rollins' retreat from the public eye, but they seem to be shouting "here I am! And just listen to this!"

There's nothing on here that one could suggest is innovatory; when this was recorded, we already had the Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman to puzzle over, and Eric Dolphy's brain-twister Out To Lunch! was just around the corner. Instead, we're treated to a kind of bop Rolls Royce, positively purring with class and assurance. From opener 'Without A Song' to the closing stroll of 'You Do Something To Me', the playing oozes taste, technique and assurance; the latter a quality that presumably Rollins did not feel he was in command of when beginning his monastic withdrawal from the jazz world in 1959. Just listening to the saxophone solo in 'You Do Something...' is confounding, as it mixes an almost bullying aggression with a wry playfulness. Certainly, not the product of someone who doubted his own talents.

It's also interesting to pause and note what isn't on The Bridge; there's no modal improvisations going on, none of the knockabout rhythm 'n' blues influence that Mingus explored so well, and hey, there's not even a piano to tinkle away or pound out big meaty block chords. What this does do, however, is elevate the interplay between the principals, most notably Rollins and Hall. Here, with bass and percussion providing a solid frame, they are able to chase each other's tail, and whilst Rollins dominates, through his quicksilver runs Hall sometimes seems to be goading his leader into a drag-race. Nonetheless, proceedings never devolve into a free-for-all; this is, after all, a serious effort, a line-in-the-sand statement from Rollins that simply says: I'm back.

The Bridge wasn't the giant step forward that one might have anticipated after Rollins' self-imposed sabbatical; looking back, though, that wasn't the point. Rather, this collection of finely-wrought music, played with seriousness and no little fire, stood as an exclamation mark in the Sonny Rollins story. Don't view The Bridge as a comeback, but rather the end of an exile, a terminus that was as emphatic as it was welcome.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Demons And Wizards - Uriah Heep

 

Provenance: Way back when I was at school a friend bought me a triple CD called Metal, the meat of which was split between semi-obscure NWOBHM acts (Vardis, anyone?) and stuff that simply wasn't, er, metal (how Robin George's 'Heartline' made the cut is anyone's guess).

Nonetheless, despite it's rather wonky take on the genre, the compilation featured a smattering of Heep tracks, including 'Easy Livin''. That was enough to get me to shell out a whole nine quid, if I recall rightly, at my local HMV, for the "expanded de-luxe edition" of Demons and Wizards.

And yeah, in case you've twigged, Uriah Heep are next to Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats in my album collection. I'm being lazy.

Review: Last time out I rhapsodised about Uncle Acid's monstrous 'I'll Cut You Down'; and frankly, I could be every bit as emotionally incontinent here about 'Easy Livin'', a song I've also spent more of my life with. It's pure, distilled Heep in the span of around three minutes; Mick Box's buzzy guitar, the late Ken Hensley's strident Hammond organ filling up the sound, and above all else David Byron's ridiculous, brilliant lead vocal. To call it the most heads-down, rocking track on Demons And Wizards feels inadequate. Rather, 'Easy Livin'' bounds out of the speakers with the earnestness and vim of an over-stimulated Labrador.

Back to David Byron for a moment - I've made sport of Deep Purple's Ian Gillan before now for being somewhat hammy in his delivery, but Byron is the whole darned charcuterie board. Whilst an undoubtedly powerful singer, it's so fruity and declamatory that one is minded to think of histrionic old stagers like of Brian Blessed or Christopher Biggins. Given that this is also early-1970s dungeons 'n' dragons rock fayre, the threat that the whole towering souffle will collapse in on itself is very real.

And, hey, it happens - 'Circle of Hands' and 'Paradise' are silly indulgences by anybody's standards, the kind of frothy pretentiousness that infects the minds of guys who want to kick out the jams having read a few pages of The Hobbit. Can you really blame 'em, though? Missteps are inevitable, considering Demons And Wizards was Heep's fourth album in the span of two years. But when it hits, the combination of genuinely top-notch musicianship and fantastical subject matter can be exhilarating.

Por ejemplo, 'Poet's Justice' is a rather underplayed number with a couple of unexpected jazzy chord changes, and 'All My Life', with its slide guitar and honky-tonk piano, could conceivably sit at the admittedly heavier end of the southern rock spectrum; that is, until the utterly bizarre coda. Let's say that some of the vocal contributions from Byron at this point are a little, ah, injudicious. In fact, the song finishes up in a big swell of organ, falsetto backing vocals and Byronic emissions, Heep reverting to type just as you think they've pitched a curveball.

However, 'Rainbow Demon' is absolutely right up there with 'Easy Livin'' as one of the primo cuts from the Heep back catalogue. A prowling, low-key intro mutates into a stomping, insistent muvva of a track which builds towards one of the most volcanic choruses of the era. Here, Heep are toeing a very fine line, as This Is Spinal Tap would have it, between stupid and clever. I'm sure to those plagued by a surfeit of irony, hearing a grown man bellow the words "Rainbow - demon! Pick up your heart and run!" is funny (NB: it is), but if you can tune yourself into the peculiarities of the era a rich experience awaits.

Now, normally I don't delve into the bonus tracks, but one called 'Why' merits special mention. One thing that Demons And Wizards emphatically isn't is groovy; even the boogie passages of 'The Spell' are quite clunky. However, on 'Why', Heep go from a band that can't locate a pocket on Batman's utility keks to playing some truly sinuous funk rock. I don't really know the history of this track (I believe it's a b-side) but it truly warrants more exposure, even if it does feature a mid-section containing the usual melange of freneticism that Heep conflate with rocking out.

In spite - or maybe, because - of its obvious flaws, Demons And Wizards remains an album with high replay value. It's a cracking time capsule of a time where abundant hair, nicotine-yellowed teeth, high voices and cranked organs lit the path to a heavy rock Shambhala. For sure, there's a bit of ring rust and a slight knock in the engine, but this gnarled old warhorse gives the show-ponies a run for their money.