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Few albums have been able to capture the sound of a genre as well as Quartz's 1980 MCA release 'Stand Up and Fight'. While other albums of the day, such as Maiden's 'Iron Maiden', or Priest's 'British Steel' may have been commercial landmarks in the heavy metal genre, Quartz clearly defined the sound and texture of what heavy metal was to become in the 1980's, hands down. To ignore this groundbreaking effort from the Birmingham, UK quartet is nothing less than sacrilege to metal fans' ears.
From the opening shred of the title track, this album gives the listener the sonic blueprint that was to define heavy metal throughout the decade: a thunderous riff backed by a steady and deliberate rhythm section, with a vocalist who seems to be screaming as if his hair was on fire. Almost every 80's glam band ripped this album's elements, as well as one from Northern California (yes, that's you Lars). Not only was the riff-heavy structure apparent here, set to a jackhammer pace, but so was a melodic tempo change, set in the middle of the song, to offset the main riff and allow the band to refuel and rebuild for a climatic finish (evident in the tracks 'Revenge', and 'Rock 'n Roll Child'). Anyone who wondered where Def Leppard got their inspiration for the 1981 NWoBHM-esque classic 'High 'n Dry' album need look no further.
'Charlie Snow', a veritable anthem for cocaine use, 'Stokin' Up the Fires of Hell', and 'Wildfire', are by far the showpieces of this release. Each song has elements of what defined the genre: 'Charlie' has a relentless tempo, beset by a crushing Derek Arnold bassline and relentless Mick Hopkins riffing, that lets the listener do a rail with the boys through their ears, not their nose. 'Stokin' Up...', a Quartz classic, gives the audience a face to face meeting with the Prince of Darkness they won't soon forget. Finally, 'Wildfire', has ALL the elements of the heavy metal sound smelted together into an eardrum splitting tour de force (even though the main riff was lifted from Black Sabbath's 'Megalomania'). Classic metal, at a time when heavy metal wasn't even a definitive genre.
While it may seem that this is too much praise for an album that was, and IS, relatively unknown, it must be stressed that hardly ANY band in 1980 (except for Motorhead possibly) put this much aggression into their sound consistently, throughout an entire album. Though many younger listeners may dismiss this album as merely 70's hard rock, those who were aware of the lack of grit and outright anger in commercial music will uniformly stand up... and fight to defend this album's place in the foundation of heavy metal music.
Quartz – Stand Up & Fight
By this date, NWOBHM was really starting to take hold of those more inclined to rock in the UK – and several key bands like Quartz and Saxon had a head-start. Like Saxon, Quartz had been chugging away at the game for some time, already securing an impressive recording contract and producing the strong hard rock outing ‘Quartz’ in 1977, which I’m sure became a hot item amongst you’re hard core rock fans (I would hope so). By 1980 however, Quartz had shed a considerable amount of their blues-heavy, Deep Purple and Rainbow-esque skin, and supplanted it with an (admittedly not complete) armour of steel, more closely resembling the aesthetic of what we consider traditional heavy metal.
Cuts on this one are more often rebellious, and steeped in dirty face-paced guitar riffs, as opposed to the blues-rock, lengthy approach undertaken in the debut. Fans of American legends Riot will enjoy cuts such as ‘Questions’ that while admittedly retaining a very minor Led Zeppelinish quality, are rambunctious, paced attempt with striking similarity to the Saxon track ‘Watching the Sky’ which tackles the same space-man subject matter, in a similar vein.
Cuts like ‘Wildfire’ are titled in this typically proto-metal way, with terms and phrases like these being the most aggressive thing people could think of at the time. This is a metaphor for the sound of the music also; it’s ‘metal’ but not quite in the way we typically think of it – with another two years being the time it took for bands to develop that characteristic aggression and historically themed approach to it’s full-extent, as well as title their songs something more like ‘The Axe Man’. Either way, while retaining a touch of Zeppelin (particularly in the throat screechiness of the vocals) this one is powerful, with a very ‘Cat-Scratch Fever’-ish central riff that’s as dirty as a hell.
Anyhow, hard rock aside, there’s plenty of aggression evident in strong numbers like the opener ‘Stand Up and Fight’ – which is a nod to Sabbath in many respects. It’s powerful and epic piece that is let down by a repetitive chorus vocal. The instruments in the chorus are good though, and listening to this release now, it’s evident that whoever was involved in the studio here knew what they were doing. You can draw clean lines between each instrument – a product of crisp clarity in the recording that’s a definite feature.
‘Charlie Snow’ is a sleazy, hard rockin affair with subject matter which pretty damn well encouraging people to go out and do coke – great, great touch – well before sticklers like the PMRC were around to make the decision that encouraging people to do blow was a bad thing. This sordid little number has lyrics including “ooooh, so you’ll think you’ll have a good time? Tomorrows too late to change your mind.” I don’t know if you get the same sense of encouragement there that I do, but I’m feeling distinctly like a line or two after that piece of 70’s drug reference rock. Again shows we are not in true metal territory with this type of song being very much a relic of classic rock from the 60’s and 70’s.
Yeah, so this one is still fairly rooted in 70’s hard rock – but; unlike many younger NWOBHM acts which were releasing their first scrappy little demos at this stage (including you Blitzkreig) Quartz seem professional and in control. They ARE defining of the sound that many of these younger bands were merely trying to copy. See what I’m driving at? Their 70’s hard rock/heavy metal is as good as Rainbow/Riot/Ted Nugent’s strongest numbers and a maturity is evident in their songwriting – something that would come to fruition in the majestic (but admittedly AORish) ‘Against All Odds’. This one’s better and more aggressive than their debut, and probably a lot sleazier than their next affair. An advisable outing that definitely has a lot of tenacity, being durable enough to withstand repeated rotation.