Uriah Heep Picture Discs Reviews – Part 2 – Sweet Freedom and Return To Fantasy

Sweet Freedom (LP, picture disc)
Return To Fantasy (LP, picture disc)

BMG continue their marvellous reissue campaign, and these heavy weight discs not only feel and look as good as they sound, but the fit in perfectly with the current trend for some quality vinyl.

Prog legends Uriah Heep formed in the late 60s and their keyboard heavy (organ grinding) sound laid a foundation that influenced many. And with the ever grinning guitarist Mick Box still leading the band, they’re still going very very strong.

Their first five albums, recorded over a three year period, always seem to get the spotlight. Strong though they are, later albums are perhaps unfairly overlooked by comparison. And that starts with the first disc here, 1973’s Sweet Freedom. The line-up is pretty classic, as alongside Box you have the operatic vocals of David Byron, keyboardist/guitarist/songwriter Ken Hensley, bassist Gary Thain and drummer Lee Kerslake. The sound of the album is more experimental, nodding away from the classic prog and exploring whimsical hard rock to heavy metal. Opener Dreamer has some solid guitar work and is quite heavy, while the lighter Stealin’ has a catchy vibe, a track that has remained a favourite (and live too) for many years. The glorious title track nods back to earlier works. If I Had Time is another wonderful and complex track.
Overall this is a lovely album that should be given the same praise and attention as earlier albums.

Skipping 1974’s Wonderworld (a shame, I would love to see that given this treatment), and we get 1975’s Return To Fantasy. And first off is the striking artwork that suits the picture disc format perfectly.
Gary Thain had been fired post Wonderworld, and later died of drug related issues later in 1975. Here, his replacement was former King Crimson bassist John Wetton who fitted in perfectly. Continuing the hard rock relocation and some exploration, this is a more consistent album than the previous two, and while Byron’s vocals are a little less operatic, there’s some finely layered backing vocals (especially on the glorious opening title track). That track the band opened some shows with in 2000 at my suggestion, after a meeting with Box and current singer Bernie Show at a promo event earlier that year. This album was the band’s first top 10 album and, with some lovely extra touches like the slide guitar on Shady Lady, it’s a criminally overlooked album. The backing vocals and horns on Prima Donna give a power-soul rock feel, but it still knocks your bollocks off.

A long time Uriah Heep fan, I love both albums, Return To Fantasy more so, and both take pride of place in my collection.

Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine

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