Perhaps the most controversial and debated album amongst Heep fans is 1980’s Conquest. It came at the time of more changes and feuds in the band’s personnel and with management – gone was singer John Lawton, as well as longtime drummer Lee Kerslake. In was Manfred Mann Earthband drummer Chris Slade (also on Bronze Records, under Bron management), and a young singer named John Sloman. Sloman had fronted the Welsh band Lone Star, singing on the classic “Firing On All Six” album. Sloman could also write, play guitar and keyboards, and with tall height, long blond hair and almost Robert Plant like looks and poses showed that Sloman could be a strong frontman with plenty of talent, but many would (and still do) debate if this all suited Uriah Heep (!?)
Regardless, the new-look Heep went about finishing Conquest in the fall of ’79. The new album would be a big step from the more laid back American influenced pop-rock of “Fallen Angel”; it’d be much bolder in the use of modern keyboards [and plenty], and a more polished production, making for a brighter sounding record.
The album featured 2 outstanding tracks penned by Trevor Bolder – “Fools” and “It Ain’t Easy”. Fools had been recorded for the 4th (and unfinished) album with John Lawton. It Ain’t Easy is a Heep classic ballad, starting soft and building up into a powerful song. This one was recorded with Trevor’s lead vocal originally, but before it’s release Sloman re-recorded the vocals and it is Sloman’s vocal that was used on the album version – despite the credits on the back cover. But heck, Conquest may be Bolder’s finest record [certainly up until this point] – not just for the 2 classics he contributed, but also for his bass playing, which really jumps out on this album.
John Sloman also brought in 2 tracks – “No Return” and “Won’t Have To Wait Too Long”. These had been written while Sloman was in the short-lived band Pulsar, in Canada – which also consisted of Pino Palladino, Dixie Lee [ex Lone Star], and Canadians David Cooper and Gregg Dechert. Pulsar recorded a few demos of these and others [I believe ‘Inside Out’ was another]. These demos were at one point [along with a number of photos] available at David Venton Cooper’s website. Sadly, the guitarist [known here for his work with the Ian Thomas Band] passed away in 2013, and his website has since been taken down.
“No Return” is one of my favorites on this album, a fine pop-rocker that comes in quietly, leading off the album, then kicks in with a cool fast paced chorus, Sloman sounds just swell on this song, and it would’ve made for a better choice as lead-off single. [it was also considered as an album title]. Also, a shame that over the years the credits to these tracks have not been corrected on the subsequent re-issues of the Conquest album. “Won’t Have To Wait To Long” was a very different, swingier song for Heep, but I like it.
Ken Hensley contributed 4 tracks on Conquest – the upbeat single “Carry On”, as well as “Feelings” – a solid 2 guitar pop-rocker, with a cool riff / intro and plenty of harmonies on the chorus. There’s also the laid back, atmospheric “Imagination”, and “Out On The Street” – somewhat of a ballad, a bit dark and moody, with a fast and frenzied instrumental break. I really like this one, in my top 3 on this album, and I think it’s Sloman’s best performance on Conquest.
The Conquest recordings also included “Been Hurt” [also previously recorded with Lawton] – a B-side [and one Sloman hated]. As well there was the outtake “Lying”, a keyboard heavy pop number that builds up to a memorable chorus; this one would’ve fit nicely on the album, IMO.
I really like Conquest; I thought it had a better flow than Fallen Angel, as well as a number of excellent tunes. And, although Heep missed the boat showing the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands how to do it, I liked the new sound that Conquest took. It’s too bad none of these songs would ever be played live again by later Heep line-ups.
Conquest charted in the UK, with help due to a budget pricing for the band’s 10th Anniversary. It was never released in North America, as if no one even tried or had lost interest in the band. After years of decline in LP sales and concert draw Heep were then non-existent in Canada and the USA…for a few years and more changes.
Following Conquest, the band recorded a cover of the pop-fluff “Love Stealer”, at Bron’s request. It was issued as a single and stiffed. Hensley then left and the band carried on for a while with Gregg Dechert on keyboards. Following a UK tour, a single, and demos for a new album the band would break up with Sloman leaving, followed by Bolder, Slade, and then Dechert.
Weather you liked this line-up or not, the Conquest album and it’s aftermath would be a significant period in the band’s history, as they would reform with a new line-up and enjoy a brief period of a successful return in the 80s.
For more on Conquest, check out these interviews with John Sloman.