Uriah Heep – Return To Fantasy (Vinyl Reissue)

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Along with its two predecessors, Uriah Heep’s eighth studio album found the band toning down their prog rock complexity whilst simultaneously flexing their heavy metal muscles and it all came to fruition on the nine track Return To Fantasy. Less experimental and rocking harder than any of their previous albums, it’s easy to see why Return To Fantasy gave the band their first (and only) Top Ten album, and signposted the more melodic direction the band would follow in the coming decade.

While Uriah Heep might have been on a new tangent, they certainly hadn’t severed their roots and opening (and title) track ‘Return To Fantasy’ could easily be Heep of old. With Ken Hensley’s keyboards painting a rich tapestry, it’s a psychedelic swirl that’s soon shattered by David Byron’s unique trill and then the band are off at a steady gallop. This new direction suits Byron’s voice and his words ring out like those of a ringmaster, while all around him the band are sculpting sound in a crazy carnival. Even at five-and-a-half minutes you get the feeling that this cut is too short and could have been expanded to the length of a ‘July Morning’, but that’s not where Heep were at and ‘Return To Fantasy’ benefits from its (relative) brevity and leaves the listener hungry for more.

Indicative of the band’s newfound confidence, ‘Shady Lady’ finds the Heep at their bruising best, and some nifty slide guitar from Mick Box gives the track a cool swagger. New bassist John Wetton (replacing the departing Gary Thain) has given the band a vitamin shot, and his prominent basslines take the band to some unexpected places and when coupled with Lee Kerslake’s cowbell on ‘Devil’s Daughter’ give an almost funky vibe. Those progressive elements are still evident, but they’re streamlined so that they become part of the sound and not its sum. You can understand why the band were such a big influence on Iron Maiden, especially in the time changes and harmonies departments, and Return To Fantasy proves the missing link between Argus and Killers.

It’s side two where Return To Fantasy starts to lose focus and becomes disjointed. While the flip was united by its sheer vivaciousness, this side tries a little to hard to be everything to all men and we flit from glam metal (‘Prima Donna’) to country blues (‘Your Turn To Remember’) with both being a little too far removed from the band’s core sound to make for a well-rounded, cohesive listen. Side two jumps around like a box of mad frogs with only ‘Showdown’ capturing the early magic, and while you have to applaud the band for trying something new, there’s also something to be said for giving fans what they want. However, Uriah Heep play with a conviction that carries the album over the line to ensure that Return To Fantasy remains a fan favourite.

This proved to be Uriah Heep’s last great album for several years (until 1982’s Abominog) but it you want to hear the band at the peak of their powers then look no further than Return To Fantasy, and this picture disc vinyl reissue means it’s never sounded better.

Track List:

Side A:

  1. Return To Fantasy
  2. Shady Lady
  3. Devil’s Daughter
  4. Beautiful Dream

Side B:

  1. Prima Donna
  2. Your Turn To Remember
  3. Showdown
  4. Why Did You Go
  5. A Year Or A Day