Like a fine wine, URIAH HEEP is one of those 30-year veteran acts like NAZARETH and UFO (and are often British) that seem to get better with age, regardless of opinions about the "good old days" that are distorted by nostalgia for the "classics." The fact is that albums like 2008 comeback "Wake the Sleeper" are examples of rock done right – rooted in '70s classic rock, yet timeless for the impeccably written, melody-based compositions and stellar musicianship. And this year's "Into the Wild" is an even better album than "Wake the Sleeper", which is a statement of some significance.
What makes "Into the Wild" such a great album is of course great songwriting, but what defines it as a URIAH HEEP album — as is the case in one way or another on most of the act's releases — is the manner in which the guitars of Mick "I Never Met a Wah-Pedal I Didn't Like" Box, the keyboards of Phil Lanzon, and the rich vocal melodies of Bernie Shaw meet to make virtually every shine so bright and with such brilliant color schemes. Combine those qualities with an approach that is indisputable in its rock solidness and unforgettable in its tunefulness and you get "Into the Wild", one of 2011's best rock albums thus far. It is a status that the album will no doubt hold at year's end as well.
Above all else, "Into the Wild" rocks with a vengeance, a somber six-minute gem (and Lanzon thing of lush keyboard beauty) "Kiss of Freedom" one exception. Much of that has to do with Box and Lanzon who perform with the kind of fiery passion that makes one wonder whether a deal with the devil had been struck. A somewhat surprising opener called "Nail on the Head" struts and swaggers its way through a basic stop/start groove in a style almost more befitting UFO and ends up destined for standout status amidst URIAH HEEP's massive songbook. After the up-tempo boogie of "I Can See You", the strut returns on "Money Talk". Somewhat of a gear shift occurs on "Lost", set apart by a beefy, bass-driven gait that vaguely recalls "Perfect Strangers"-era DEEP PURPLE. "Southern Star" then will renew your faith in the power of the riff; that is, when you've stopped thinking about that fantastic, choral-enhanced refrain.
Speaking of choruses, URIAH HEEP's is afflicted with a distinct inability to write a bad one. More so than we've heard in years, "Into the Wild" is an album that permanently imprints its magnificent choruses on the brain. Shaw does more than just sing the words; he puts his mark on the melodies with boundless energy and emotional accent, while the backing vocals are hugely important to the bigness of the sound, another defining characteristic of the URIAH HEEP. You can pick pretty much any song and come away with a sense of awe and complete sensory satisfaction. You'll marvel at the strain of '60s/'70s pop purity (think GUESS WHO-esque) of "Trail of Diamonds", which detours for a ballsy bout of riffing around the 2:25 mark. And you'll swear you heard a pinch of vintage STYX during the chorus of "Believe" that more than makes up for its cliché lines with fundamental catchiness. Similar comments could be made of the rock steady, pop-based "T-Bird Angel". Topping it all off is the deeply impacting melody and driving rhythm of the title track.
Simply put, "Into the Wild" is an album that deserves worldwide recognition as the stuff of rock royalty. If you'd not thought about URIAH HEEP in years, then this is your big chance to dive back in to the deep end of the pool. If it is your choice to pass, then it is also your great loss. The rest of us will be more than happy to keep it all to ourselves.