Say hello to Metal’s other Orange Demon Dude – the Abominog! If he’s a bit chirpy looking, it’s maybe because he’s gracing the cover of the comeback album of much-loved Rockers Uriah Heep. A decline in fortunes had led to the poorly received Conquest album and the group falling apart in 1980. Only guitarist Mick Box returned for this album, recruiting vocalist Pete Goalby and keyboardist John Sinclair. Bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake joined fresh from a stint in Ozzy’s Blizzard but this also marked Kerslake’s return to the band after quitting in 1979, providing welcome continuity with the band’s classic era. The line-up’s first album Abominog hit the shelves in 1982.
For all the great songs dotted around their discography, I’ve never found a Uriah Heep album that has totally blown me away (and not for want of trying either – aided by Fopp consistently punting their back catalogue for £3 a disc). And unfortunately, although Abominog is probably my favourite Heep album, it’s still not quite the full package. The opening track Too Scared to Run is classic Heep with its stomping rhythm, raging guitar, and a leather-lunged performance from Goalby but the rest of the album veers into unexpectedly Poppy territory. By the time the disco dad-dancer (and Russ Ballard cover) On the Rebound starts pumping out the stereo, anyone who bought the album based on the allure of the Orange Demon Dude may well be wondering what the hell is going on. On the Rebound is not the only cover version here. It’s followed by Hot Night in a Cold Town, which sounds like a UFO cast-off and then there’s a Lion song, with added Heep writing credits, Running All Night (With the Lion) which adds some welcome energy but has dodgy sub-All Right Now lyrics and a lame chorus that just makes me think of Monty Python’s “I get ta fight da lion! I gotta fight da lion!” The band performs these numbers with conviction but the material sounds dated and cheesy in comparison to the two band-penned tunes that kicked the album off.
However, although another cover kicks off Side 2, it’s a vast improvement on what came before. That’s The Way That It Is, previously recorded by the Bliss Band and also Graham Bonnet, is superb and a highlight of the album (as well as scoring a minor hit in the US.) A moodier song than the “lads out on the tiles” filler that preceded it, it’s enigmatic, classy and deserves the powerful delivery the band give it. It seems like the band are finding their sound and Prisoner (another cover!) maintains the mood and the upturn in quality before two originals Hot Persuasion and the anthemic Sell Your Soul ramp up the riffage and find the band increasingly opening out with fantastic instrumental breaks. The guitar and keyboards trade off each other brilliantly on these with Mick Box contributing particularly impressive and blistering playing. Think It Over (an song re-recorded from the Conquest era) ends the album on dramatic and anthemic note and the first side’s cringe-inducing pomp and peacock-strutting becomes a distant memory.
Few albums deserve mention of their artwork quite as much as this one. There’s no doubt that this cover was aimed to lure fans of the booming early 80s Metal scene and it’s fair to say many would have been thrown by the slick, mature Rock contained within. But I believe there was enough of a Metal/AOR crossover back then for this not to have been too big a deal. Abominog’s problem isn’t a lack of heaviness, it’s the patchy quality. The band were not short of songwriting chops and their original material provides the majority of the album’s standout moments. I don’t know if the paucity of original compositions was due to time constraints or if they were aiming for a big hit. Regardless, the result is a frustratingly flawed album which is a shame as the lion’s share of it is well worth investigating if you’re a fan of bands like Foreigner, Rainbow (post-Dio) or Magnum. If only the band had managed to contribute a few more killer tunes then it could have been the one. Then the Orange Demon Dude really would have had something to smile about.
HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5
[Uriah Heep – That’s The Way That It Is]