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When it all did started for the NWOBHM? That’s another long debate; opinions may differ but the rock scene was undoubtedly changing in the mid-70’s. The British rock veterans turned into clumsy dinosaurs, while punk messed things up completely. A new generation of rock acts came out during that turbulent period, like Quartz’s second incarnation, which as you can check on this homonym debut record would rather follow the rules and clichés of the early-70’s without taking risks, doing nothing for the development of the future 80’s British invasion – which would later make history and change things forever for this music, though way back in 1977, future was truly uncertain. Actually, if a generic work like Quartz was done 3 years earlier, it would have also failed miserably both musically and commercially.
You can find here slow, dull riffs on “Pleasure Seekers” and “Midnight Rider”, both inevitably inspired by the 4 guys from Aston but lacking their efficiency and uniqueness. Some of the lines might be heavy and dark, yet Quartz soon incorporates certain elements which ruin the climax completely – that horrible choir, in particular or the massive amount of silly verses. The abuse of repetitive song-structure schemes becomes soon evident and alarming, making the music totally tedious and unfocused. Other more energetic cuts like “Street Fighting Lady” specially for a second deliver greater intensity, roughness and freshness with a few, decent riffs that once again made use of the same tricks and uninspired patterns. Song-bodies hardly evolve at all, while catchphrases and choruses get more and more exhausting. Quartz intend to elude that scandalous simplicity on “Hustler” and “Around And Around” by adding a bigger quantity of alternative sequences, often changing the tone and tempo of the riffs and increasing particularly the presence and transcendence of melodies and harmonies in the music. However, that unsuccessful effort makes the titles even more comical and unlistenable, deprived of direction and also accenting the unbearable mellowness and sweetness of those sentimental lyrics and acoustic arrangements blatantly. With “Devil’s Brew” they try going in an opposite direction, introducing much more fascinating words: sacrifice, virgins, black magic…it’s getting certainly interesting but only lyrically, as musically it all remains clumsy, uninventive and still too cheesy with those obnoxious synthesizers ruining the atmosphere totally. But they save the worst for the last with “Little Old Lady”, which is the epitome of cheesiness, including some terrible lyrics even Ruby Murray would be ashamed of.
Quartz was recorded in 1977 when there was already some heavy, speed and power metal around, so it’s no excuse claiming it was too early to play faster and harder – though these guys obviously prefer playing it quieter, melodic, pushing away the transgression and singular attitude of their punk compatriots. Rhythms remain so slow, weighty and calmed, while riffs avoid looseness and ferocity, obeying loyally the traditional blues standards without making use of any low-tuning or real heaviness, remaining unoriginal and predictable. You can even hear some backing flute, piano and a bunch of poppy choruses that make terrible songs like “Sugar Rain” sound like a cross between Jethro Tull and The Buggles.
It’s all played so flat, dumb, lacking so much decision, passion and perspective – riff and lick changes are often incredibly simplistic, lazy and forced. Despite introducing occasionally assorted distinct sections in some songs, instrumental bases stay so weak, deprived of cohesion and strength, but the worst of all are those ridiculous lyrics that make this stuff virtually impossible to take seriously. Nicholls & co. are hopeless romantics, no doubt about it – the lyrical content on “Sugar Rain” and “Little Old Lady” speaks for itself. The predilection for melodies, clean and refined arrangements with cute harmonies proves as well how sentimental these guys are. That would be no problem as long as the music was properly-played and written, yet Quartz lack real talent and musicianship – therefore, they naturally abuse all the time of minimalist formulas, repeating the same easy song-structure patterns generally and of course, sticking in those impossible poppy choruses that ruin the continuity and coherence of the music just proves how necessary is for this band to take song-writing lessons.
The singer intends to impersonate Lennon, Gillan and Mogg during the whole record; guitar players have no fire or real motivation; rhythm section is pedestrian and dull, while Nicholl’s silly keyboards ruin the climax and turn most of the tunes into a space rock parody. Production is too light and weak, while song-writing fails absolutely…so it’s surprising, actually shocking this group managed to obtain certain recognition, prevailing during the early-80’s with such exhausted, conventional musical concept thousands of generic 70’s acts already obeyed. No real NWOBHM roots to be found here. Fans of late-70’s decaying Jurassic rock, this is your album.
Fans not familiar with the Birmingham, U.K.-based group may be surprised to learn that they were actually prominent members of the second era of heavy metal artists, or NWOBHM era, even though this album may not reflect it to listeners. Produced by Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, this album actually reflects more of a streamlined, '70s-era rock sound than a signature Sabbath-esque protégé. While the songs may sound dated, there is much to sample for metal fans as Quartz was a band that had influence despite lack of commercial success.
The opening track, 'Mainline Riders', could be lyrically interpreted from themes as varied as drug use to vampirism. While the lyrics are quite ambiguous, the riff is well-known to fans of metal since it was transformed and 'resurrected' by the producer's band a few years later (coincidentally after bringing in a former Quartz member to the band, Geoff Nichols) on Sabbath's 'Heaven and Hell' release.
The focus on this album should be the odd numbered tracks since they show the direction the band would take into their epic 1980 album, 'Stand Up and Fight'. 'Street Fighting Lady' shows the band's ability to blow an amp with the best of them along with Mick Hopkins' ability to shred a Gibson SG, much like his producer. A classic Quartz cut.
'Devil's Brew' opens side B for those actually fortunate enough to own a vinyl pressing of this recording, since its scarcity is quite apparent to those interested in tracking down a copy. This number is actually one of the first non-Sabbath, occult-themed lyrical songs of the metal genre with lines such as "the cries for sacrifice hide screams that seem to rise up to the sky" and "through the darkness of the night, I offer you my soul". Coupled with an ominous riff and steady bass line, it is truly a seminal heavy metal effort.
'Around and Around', along with its acoustical intro, 'Smokie', show off more of the band's ability to build on riffage to catapult a song from take-off to soaring within a few minutes. Though the lyrics tend to lose focus, the song itself drives through any set of eardrums to form a mainstay of metal rhythm for future bands.
Overall, the songs lend themselves to critique, most notably the dated sound of KISS '70s rock along with a kind of T-Rex glitz on the production end, but strip away the glam influences and the foundation of what would be a movement in musical history can be found in this obscure, yet highly influential album.
Certainly early starting as far as bands that can be considered NWOBHM (along with Saxon, Iron Maiden and the likes), Quartz get stuck in early on with this United Artists release. Featuring an array of talent from members who have played in such well-known acts as Copperfield and Black Sabbath, the abilities of the band are showcased in this classic 70’s heavy metal offering. The sound is not particularly similar to any one contemporary act, but one could draw the fairly “stretchy” comparison to elements of Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, and other hard-rockers, if pressed. Quartz is a fairly unknown act, outside of those old enough to be around, and head-banging at the time.
Kick-starting with a fairly good effort in “Mainline Riders” the band shows it has something to prove, and sets a heavy and fairly original sound from the outset. The song has some heightened intensity and strong guitar sound, along with some very 70’s Bonham-esque drum stuff that arguably continues in other tracks, such as “Hustler”. “Sugar Rain” (track two) is a somewhat dated slower number at times, but offers glimpses of the bands originality. Definitely not a likely favourite, however. Our third track “Street Fighting Lady” kicks us back into dirty 70’s heavy metal territory, with hard hitting “woman centred” subjectivity, and some impressive and enjoyable “rock” guitar work, including especially around the 2:08 mark. Superb number that would well-suit a hot day and a case of your favourite beer, preferably in holiday-time. “Hustler” keeps that strong 70’s rock feel happening, offering some more emotive guitar, including some acoustic verse work, layered with nice licks. Another slow one, but with a bit more creativity, and “oomph” this time round. “Devil’s Brew” starts off continuing the slow pace, but with some synth-y atmosphere created. It then kicks into classic hard rock kingdom, with some epic, well crafted lyric work, with synth continuing here and there.
The album was produced by none other than lord of the axe, Tony Iommi, and is a supremely well crafted collection of numbers. If you like harder 70’s rock, you should look no further than Quartz. It’s easy to forget this is a debut album, as the band has a profound air of professionalism, even authority, on this offering. Plenty of top-notch numbers, with few weak moments, I would be happy to have had bands like this, Rainbow and Sabbath around in 1977. Definitely pretty hard music for the time. Anyone seeking to expand their NWOBHM collection should seek it out, as should avid 70’s hard rock fans. If you like the sound of Priest’s earlier works, such as “Rocka Rolla” and “Sad Wings” as well as Rainbows Dio era stuff, and later Deep Purple, also highly recommended. An excellent debut. A bit more of a rock release than their thunderous follow-up though, and less refined and complex than their 3rd album - this one is still very enjoyable underappreciated stuff. Interestingly the original cover art, featured a naked child in a crystal (read Quartz) like landscape. This was subsequently altered, and eventually changed. - meaning there are at least 3 versions of the LP. a great collectors item.
“We Are the Pleasures – Get Yourself a Good Time!!!!”