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Uriah Heep: Words In The Distance 1994-1998 (Sea Of Light, Spellbinder, Sonic Origami - 3CD reissue set)

Common parlance will have you believe that Uriah Heep post Fallen Angel in 1978 really aren't worth (with the possible exception of 1982's Abominog) bothering about and for some you can even wind that date back to the departure of David Byron after 1976's High And Mighty. However for those actually listening, nothing could be further from the truth, the arrival of singer Bernie Shaw for the 1989 release Raging Silence heralding in what has rapidly become a purple patch that shows no sign of ending. The box set, Words In The Distance 1994-1998, gathers together Shaw's third and fourth studio album with the band, Sea Of Light (1995) and Sonic Origami (1998), alongside the live album Spellbinder, which while recorded in 1994 was actually released two years later.

The band's first album for some four years due to record label issues and, in truth, that Uriah Heep couldn't get a deal that suited them, Sea Of Light sounds like an album from a band hungry to not only regain lost ground but to also reclaim their glory days. However that it doesn't simply retread old ideas is where SOL really comes to life. Yes, the basic formula of biting guitars, slightly progressive keys and sharp vocals are still strongly in place, however whether through the hard hitting thrum of "Universal Wheels", which contains superb use of news footage to get across it's message of the Earth's 'natural retaliation' to the human race, or the melodic surge of "Fear Of Falling", the album sounds bang up to date (and that's by 2016 standards, as much as it was by 1995's). Other highlights show up in the form of the biting "Among The Gods", Shaw's insistent vocals the perfect answer to a thunder roll of toms from long-time drummer Lee Kerslake and only remaining original member, Mick Box's strident riffs. Add in Phil Lanzon's superb Hammond and Trevor Bolder's rock solid bass work and this is powerful stuff. However so is the more dancing refrain of "Sweet Sugar", the rolling beauty of "Love In Silence" and the bold track from which this box set takes its name the mix of classic and melodic rock a clever one. As per the 2013 reissue of this album, three bonus cuts show up here, "She Still Calls His Name", "Sail The Rivers" and a 'single edit' of album track "Dream On" all being up to the high standard the main event serves up.

Recorded in Cologne, Germany, in 1994, the live album Spellbinder would actually see the light of day two years later and after Sea Of Light had hit the shelves. Hence the inclusion of a bonus studio cut from those sessions feels a little lost, even if it was on the original release. Still "Sail The Rivers" is another cracking song and as a completist it's good to be able to add it to the Heep collection. Added for the reissue is an edit of Sonic Origami track, "Across The Miles", which while it was also included as an enticement on the previous reissue of this album, does also feel like, for this box set, it should have been moved to the release it initially 'belonged' to. However these are very minor gripes when Spellbinder is a live album that finds mid-nineties Heep a band who had spent a lot of time on the road back then due to not having a label to release new music through in absolute top form. Shaw handles all the classic tracks with respect but also with authority, while Box and Lanzon are utterly scintillating. As you'd expect, "Wizard", "Gypsy", "Look At Yourself", "Lady In Black" and "Easy Livin'" are all in place, however it's the inclusion of (for the time) more contemporary cuts like "Bad Bad Man" from 89's Raging Silence and "Words In The Distance" from the the at the time not yet released Sea Of Light, that really piques the interest. With so many live albums released over the years by this band it's difficult to call Spellbinder 'essential', but it's a good band playing excellent songs with power and passion, so what's not to like?

Continuing their strong studio form, Sonic Origami takes the same classic but updated Heep template that Sea Of Light used so well and smooths it out ever so slightly, the same line-up sounding like a band with a strong clear vision of where they were headed. The likes of "Between Two Worlds" a surging, riff laden foray and "I Hear Voices" a more considered, but equally effective keyboard/guitar joust. The acoustic based "Heartless Land" is a shimmering beauty of a track that slowly builds into a real tour de force, proving to be the album highlight as it does the inclusion of a 'single edit' as one of two bonuses welcome the second being "Sweet Pretender", which was an extra track on the 'limited edition' of the original release. An unexpected cover of the Survivor track, "Across The Miles" takes the band back to the more AOR friendly path they'd explored a few years previously on the much maligned (but very good) Head First album. It does feel a little out of place on Sonic Origami but it's a great cover version nonetheless. And with the likes of "Shelter From The Rain" and "Question" doing an equally convincing, if harder hitting job, it makes Sonic Origami another excellent, under appreciated offering in the Uriah Heep catalogue, if not quite as memorable as the other studio effort in this well put together box set.

With the three albums contained here all coming with the 2012 reissue-essays Malcolm Dome put together with the help of the band and producers etc this really is an excellent set (even if Spellbinder's liner notes are printed in white type over a selection of live photos, which makes them very difficult to read). If you already have the expanded versions of these albums, I'm not sure there's enough here to make you reinvest. However if you're one of the many who has dismissed latter day Uriah Heep, this is where you should immediately start to correct that mistake.


Track Listing
DISC ONE: SEA OF LIGHT
1. AGAINST THE ODDS
2. SWEET SUGAR
3. TIME OF REVELATION
4. MISTRESS OF ALL TIME
5. UNIVERSAL WHEELS
6. FEAR OF FALLING
7. SPIRIT OF FREEDOM
8. LOGICAL PROGRESSION
9. LOVE IN SILENCE
10. WORDS IN THE DISTANCE
11. FIRES OF HELL (YOUR ONLY SON)
12. DREAM ON
BONUS TRACKS
13. SHE STILL CALLS HIS NAME
14. SAIL THE RIVERS
15. DREAM ON (Single edit)


DISC TWO: SPELLBINDER LIVE
1. DEVIL'S DAUGHTER
2. STEALIN'
3. BAD BAD MAN
4. RAINBOW DEMON
5. WORDS IN THE DISTANCE
6. THE WIZARD
7. CIRCLE OF HANDS
8. GYPSY
9. LOOK AT YOURSELF
10. LADY IN BLACK
11. EASY LIVIN'
BONUS TRACKS
12. SAIL THE RIVERS (Studio Track)
13. ACROSS THE MILES (Radio Version)


DISC THREE: SONIC ORIGAMI
1. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
2. I HEAR VOICES
3. PERFECT LITTLE HEART
4. HEARTLESS LAND
5. ONLY THE YOUNG
6. IN THE MOMENT
7. QUESTION
8. CHANGE
9. SHELTER FROM THE RAIN
10. EVERYTHING IN LIFE
11. ACROSS THE MILES
12. FEELS LIKE
13. THE GOLDEN PALACE
14. SWEET PRETENDER
BONUS TRACK
15. HEARTLESS LAND (Edited Version)

Added: December 10th 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Words In The Distance at Cherry Red
Hits: 860
Language: english

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