Album of the Week 15-2012: Uriah Heep – Look At Yourself

Seeing Uriah Heep play live last week and being thoroughly impressed by their energy, which outdoes that of many bands that are much younger, made me listen extensively to their back catalog. I have loved this band ever since my parents gave me their vinyl of ‘Look At Yourself’ with the actual mirror on the cover, while I was discovering Deep Purple around age 10. Since I loved the hell out of that band (and still do), they figured I’d like this seventies Hard Rock band with a dominant Hammond organ as well. And they were right.

I can still remember being drawn into the music directly by Ken Hensley’s loud, obnoxious and ugly Hammond sound. It just cut through the whole thing, actually overpowering Mick Box’ almight guitars at some points. Hensley’s Hammond is still my favorite sonically. Plus, there’s a sense of controlled chaos in this record that made it the heaviest thing I had ever heard until that point. There’s plenty of material on ‘Look At Yourself’ that predates the term Heavy Metal, but actually is just that. I’m thinking of ‘Shadows Of Grief’ and the title track mainly.

At the time, I didn’t quite know what to make of David Byron’s vocals and honestly, I’m still not sure. His higher head voice register is flawless and his vocal definitely have a strong charisma, but current singer Bernie Shaw – who joined the band in the year I was born – surpasses him in every part of his range except for the highest notes. Still, Byron’s delivery is moving. Especially during album highlight ‘July Morning’, where you can feel the melancholy and despair through his vocals. Just brilliant.

As mentioned before, the frenzied nature of many of the tunes here is what drew me towards the album at the time and what I still love about it. When the album opens with its title track, everyone goes to eleven. It’s almost as if the drums, Hammond and guitar try to push each other off the record and the jam session at the end of the song is of similar insanity. The same goes for the organ-guitar interplay in ‘Shadows Of Grief’ or the solo section to the more R’n’R-ish ‘Tears In My Eyes’. In fact, despite the slightly more mellow direction of ‘July Morning’, the only true moment of slowing down on this album is the psychedelic ballad ‘What Should Be Done’.

Now it’s 41 years later and Uriah Heep is still going strong. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how good they are live these days if you don’t actually go out and see them. Mick Box is the sole remaining member of the lineup that recorded ‘Look At Yourself’, but this lineup does the Uriah Heep legacy justice with a string of fantastic albums (‘Sea Of Light’ and onwards) and even better concerts. Nothing beats the experience of hearing Ken Hensley’s Hammond sound for the first time though!

Recommended tracks: ‘July Morning’, ‘Look At Yourself’, ‘Shadows Of Grief’

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