By Martin Popoff
Convention has it that confronted with a masterpiece like this, the aged reviewer is supposed to knock one star off because it’s not 1973 anymore. A pox on that process, and one reason I defy it is because live, Uriah Heep deliver an almost evangelical show of classic prog metal, no weak links at any of the corners, be that bass and drums (the youth contingent), killer Hammond-mad keys, smiling Buddha guitar or, hardest to maintain, vocals and front duties, both of which Bernie Shaw perform against the rules of physics. I know, doesn’t make sense, but I’m resisting the one-star docking because the band’s transcendence live tells me that the electric chemistry all over Living the Dream is not processed, constructed, faked.
And so into Living the Dream, the band’s 25th album in 49 years of existence, what is demonstrated is a collective as on fire and in tune with their base as is displayed over the band’s 125 shows a year, inspiringly, all over the world. The comparisons are myriad. First off, producer Jay Ruston (Black Star Riders, Stone Sour, Winery Dogs, Europe) has captured the band lively, high-fidelity and old school within that fidelity, no distractions from the purity of the instrumentation, the only texturing coming from the use of a half dozen keyboard directives from Phil Lanzon, and a similar mélange from original member and anchor of the band, guitarist Mick Box.
But there are also spirited jams, such as exists for the whole back half of the eight minute-long “Rocks in the Road” — this mirrors the “The Magician’s Birthday” punch-up Heep do live — and most pertinently, raucous, relentless drums from Russell Gilbrook. Seriously, Gilbrook is the engine room of modern-day Heep, driving his cohorts to excel. There’s copious double bass, high hats are open and if he’s not whacking those, there are constant showers of crash cymbals used as rides. The man even tears off a “Hot for Teacher” shuffle deep in the sequence, for “Goodbye to Innocence,” a quick-paced Purple party blues that adds dimension to a record otherwise stuffed with the band’s soul-replenishing Yes-like positivity and choruses with sublime hooks for miles.
Which brings up a point: those Purple comparisons will persist, but that’s no slag. Both bands are making great records these days that are all about one guitar doing battle with a grinding Hammond, progressively, with note-density and circular logic and resolution. Add in a little Kansas, Led Zeppelin, Rainbow and massive reverence to classic Heep moments like “Easy Livin’” and “July Morning,” and what we get with Living the Dream is an album that just might be the strongest of the fine spread that begins with 1995’s Sea of Light return, after a couple wobblers in Raging Silence and Different World, Bernie’s first two with the band. It’s a sweet suite to be sure, but there’s something about Living the Dream that finds the band putting aside any of their recent technological or stylistic nods to modernity in exercise of a defiance that leaves only pure and timeless Heep jubilance.