HardReviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Uriah Heep - The Magician's Birthday Party
(Classic Rock Productions)

Resplendent in gatefold box, big, beautiful booklet and glossy cardboard slipcase, this CD/DVD package captures Heep at their classy, state-of-the-art best. No, really. Like Styx, Tull and Skynyrd, this is one of those fossil acts that one day sat down and decided to shoot with all barrels, relative newcomer (and fellow Canadian) Bernie Shaw playing the rabble-rousing Larry Gowan in front of thrilling performances from a band with chemistry to spare. On the DVD, we see a professionally shot, multi-angled concert of 15 songs (plus "bonus" Logical Progression, a killer recent tune with a complex yet seductive melody), replete with female back-ups and guest slots from Thijs Van Leer (flute) and John Lawton, with highlight being Ken Hensley, who is rich added magic to the band's most magical song, Sunrise. Extras include highlights from a Heep convention, including signings, quiz, air guitar contest, Roger Dean paintings, a John Lawton acoustic tune, and a bit of producer Pip Williams. As well, there's a 10 shot photo gallery, Return To Fantasy recorded in daylight at a US shed show, Heepstore, and this company's ever-inclusive but useful samplings of their other DVDs, eight presented here. And it's very handy having the CD in the pack as well, both discs providing plus, well-mixed high fidelity, spirited and spiritual performances (especially vocals, both lead from Shaw and the myriad of back-ups), with only two arrangements - I'll Keep On Trying and surprise metaller Free 'n' Easy - falling flat, amongst a set list that was deep and obscure this wintery night in 2001.
Rating 8

Steel Prophet - Unseen
(Nuclear Blast)

Jarred by the junky intro of first track Truth, I quickly found the Steel Prophet I've long respected getting down to the business of offering shade, hue, idea and versatility throughout a run of old school traditional metallers that more than not, contain the dramatic melodies of progressive metal but none of the tiring tricks. Much of this is down to vocalist Rick Mythiasin, who has, since recording, left the band, Mythiasin sticking to his calm, measured persona, rarely reaching into his legendary Tate-twanged high register. The album progresses well, arcing back often to this regal, timeless area (especially with intros), sounding like steel on steel, bright - almost too bright - with a lack of bottom end on the record coming close to distraction. The riffs are for the most part, stellar and uncliched, but it's actually the coterie of mellow parts and arrangements that impresses the most, the band sounding like Zeppelin, Styx, Heep, suicidal Trouble and 2112-era Rush on these well-placed respites. Overall, there's a defiant, vacuum-packed Jag Panzer vibe to this band, right down to the old logo and Kristian Wahlin-like illustration of the front cover, and from this comes a band that continues to sidestep the pitfalls of power metal, indeed, the Americans as a block, doing a better job of looking halfways smart versus the European originators.
Rating 8

Hard Reviews Page 3