Although Uriah Heep is known for its extensive personnel changes, its lineup has been stable since the mid-'80s; unfortunately, that stability coincided with the band's commercial decline (its last album to chart in the U.S. came in 1983, its last in its native U.K., 1985). So, no one outside the group's fan base noticed that the quintet of founding member and guitarist Mick Box, drummer Lee Kerslake (1971-1978, 1982-2007), bassist Trevor Bolder (who joined in 1977, left during the band's hiatus in the early '80s, and returned a couple of years after its re-formation), singer Bernie Shaw, and keyboard player Phil Lanzon (both of whom joined in the mid-'80s) remained in place through numerous world tours and the studio albums Raging Silence (1989), Different World (1991), Sea of Light (1995), and Sonic Origami (1998). Since then, a series of live albums have testified to Uriah Heep's continued existence. In January 2007, Kerslake bowed out due to health problems and was replaced by the capable Russell Gilbrook. Wake the Sleeper, Uriah Heep's first studio album in ten years and 21st overall, finds the group attempting to reclaim its original glory. It has had time to gather some quality material and to assess its long-term musical approach, and the album is both consistent with its sound over the years and a statement of purpose for the present and the future. As if to blow away the cobwebs, the album begins with three consecutive quick-tempo rockers, the title song (which has no lyrics except for that title), "Overload," and the socially conscious "Tears of the World" ("The tears of the world keep falling until we stand together.") Things slow down only slightly with "Light of a Thousand Stars," which, like much of the rest of the album, sounds like it could have been made in 1978 instead of 2008. The guitar/organ/bass/drums instrumental lineup often recalls Deep Purple, and Shaw's clear tenor is reminiscent of Journey's Steve Perry and Boston's Brad Delp. This, of course, is one of the problems with Uriah Heep. Thirty-eight years into an artist's career, critics should not be falling back on the "sounds like" game to describe the music. And yet those comparisons are hard to avoid; one hears a little Led Zeppelin here ("Book of Lies"), a little Deep Purple there ("Angels Walk with You"), and sometimes just a generic '70s prog rock style ("Heavens Rain," "What Kind of God"). But maybe that's just to say that Wake the Sleeper isn't going to change anyone's mind about Uriah Heep. The album is true to the band's legacy, and the songs should please longtime fans who come out to the shows, juxtaposed with more familiar old songs in the set list.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann