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Quartz – Against all Odds
Quartz is a brilliant, yet unknown NWOBHM act that deserves a much wider audience. This was my third acquisition from the band, and might very well be their strongest (though the others are great – so this is an accomplishment). Quartz have their roots much earlier in the 70’s and had been releasing music professionally for some point when this came out – and it shows, this one sees a rise in complexity and an increase in production values. Though their rookie and sophomore efforts are both excellent, this one displays a certain charm of its own really helped by that production and well thought out songs revolving around incredible hooks.
Kicking things off is the phenomenal opener ‘Just Another Man’ which has a punchy rhythm section and epic, majestic qualities due to the addition of piano effects, and the particularly effective vocals of talented frontman Geoff Bate. This one is a definite favourite for me, and has a distinctive flavour, similar to Coney Hatch or Night Ranger, but with a NWOBHM taste. Definitely a good touch adding the keyboard here – doesn’t sound like Elton John or anything, just adds thickness to the excellent hooky chorus. Really great track. Much of the same flare is continued in the second track ‘Mad Man’, which is more of a traditional thundering NWOBHM number, with considerable taste, and more of a rockin out-ness than the previous AOR type track. Both this one and the opener have a certain commercial edge to them that is pretty appealing. Really awesome guitaring in this one makes it another winner – its got heavier guitar and bass – but still strong melody brought out by the excellent vocals. Drums here, like in most of the album are very clear, typical of your ‘less-metal’ kind of approach – but a good choice here – not the crashing, loud and rough affairs that are Atomkraft and Venom’s debuts.
‘Tell Me Why’ continues the AOR/American kinda feel going on in the album. Again the soothing vocal melodies of Bate are a great feature – but this one has some effective use of crisp sounding acoustic guitars which accentuate the heart-felt subject matter in the lyrics. The riff used in the chorus is a simple 70’s soft rock sounding number that’s really ear-pleasing – reminds me of Eric Clapton without making me want to shudder. Anyway, this is a great well written song, but one of the softer ones and hence not a favourite. Probably the best NWOBHM attempt at this sort of thing – proving the bands veteran career, and songwriting talent. A class act. The lyrics are perhaps a little too wimpy in some people’s ears though, but the guitar lead is as good as most others can muster.
This brilliant album is probably softer than many of you here on MA are really into, but really speaks to me. Having said that there are some ‘metal’ touches, such as the almost Sabbath-esque ‘Buried Alive’ – great, doomy number with a menacing feel and haunting qualities. This one’s especially enjoyable – although it is pretty hard to choose favourites on this one. The chorus is again very 70’s soft rock, very soothing. But yeah, if you like the more Sabbath inspired side of NWOBHM (Pagan Altar et al), this is the cut for you – downtuned with prominent bass and a negative, paranoid approach. Guitars in this one are a mixed down mushy sound – and the strong vocals are mixed right up – giving a Sabbath/pop sorta feel in the softer chorus. Just listen to the amazing ‘Silver Wheels’ however, and try not to be impressed – a stunning hooky number that takes 70’s rock and injects lethal amounts of force. Production qualities are as evident as they can be in this excellent track that would’ve slayed many other singles if released in this format. Truly a dynamic and modern sound in this one – more like you’d find in ’87 or ’88 releases, record company probably shelling out a fair bit on this ambitious project.
Anyway, this is a solid album from a band I have a lot of time for. Quartz are an early-on-the-scene band that have matured somewhat by this point, producing a solid effort which isn’t afraid to tackle new territory. Technical competence is well evidenced, along with a penchant for sophistication in the songwriting. There’s not an incredible amount of ‘metal’ to this one, but definitely a lot of majesty in the production and narrative. The band focuses more on incredible hooky heavy songs like the spine-chilling ‘Silver Wheels’ – an incredible powerful number again evoking that 70’s US feel with a NWOBHM accent. I can’t stress enough how good this band is – but it’s not for those afraid of a little melody. The main thing I take away from this album are it’s excellent hooks, and its incredible sense of professionalism and confident. Few NWOBHM bands had a strong sound of their own like these guys and delivered with the confident sure-of-themselves feel that you get here. Really brought out by great studio-work too – one of the better examples of production out the 160 odd (at the time of writing) NWOBHM albums I have, but I guess you have to consider the fairly late date.