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Quatermass - Quatermass CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.68 | 154 ratings

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RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars Another of the many one-shot bands that seem to be found all over the 'golden years' of prog, Quatermass can be called a heavier version of ELP (which were no lightweights themselves) - a Hammond-based 'power trio' without a guitarist, and with a bassist who doubled up as a lead vocalist. Their music is the kind that usually elicits either love or hate, with long, keyboard-driven tracks and often over-the-top vocals, still recognisably influenced by the blues, but complex enough to garner the approval of a sizable number of prog fans. Less melodic than Uriah Heep, less dark than Atomic Rooster, noticeably influenced by the mother of all heavy prog bands, the mighty Deep Purple and their keyboard master, Jon Lord, Quatermass nevertheless managed to produce a single, self-titled album with enough individuality and ideas to make it a minor classic of its times.

Quite surprisingly for a band that is not a household name, the album cover (depicting a flock of pterodactyls in flight over a claustrophobic, futuristic background) is the work of Storm Thorgerson, the creator of so many Pink Floyd covers, a true rock icon. As interesting as the artwork is, I think it is somewhat at odds with the music inside, which, while undoubtedly excellent, is not particularly innovative or futuristic. However, this last statement should not be taken as a form of criticism: 'traditional' heavy prog is rarely about innovation, but rather more about the reinterpretation of sources such as blues, classic rock'n'roll, or even classical music. In Quatermass' single effort there is enough individuality, as well as enough excellent musicianship, to make us regret their early demise.

The album starts low-key with the brief instrumental Entropia, which introduces their best-known song, Black Sheep of the Family (covered by Rainbow on their debut album), a catchy number with a definite black soul influence. Bassist John Gustafson's vocals come right from the Ian Gillan/Glenn Hughes school of singing (incidentally, he would join the Ian Gillan Band in the mid-Seventies), though I must say he is not as effective as either of those greats, though always adequate. The following track, the almost 10-minute Postwar Saturday Echo, is one of the highlights of the album, with a stellar performance by keyboardist Peter Robinson (later with Brand X) on Hammond and piano. It is basically a slow-burning blues soulfully interpreted by Gustafson, but those keys do lift it out of the ordinary.

As often happens with prog albums, the longer tracks offer the most interest. While the poppy Gemini and the rather nondescript Good Lord Knows somewhat smack of filler, Up on the Ground, but especially Make Up Your Mind and the instrumental Laughing Tackle hold a whole lot of interest even for the more discerning prog fans. The latter track, slow and atmospheric, is richly enhanced by the presence of a string section, and quite indicative of what the band would have been capable, had they stayed together to record at least another album. Make Up Your Mind , bookended by some energetic, catchy singing parts, is made up (pun unintended) of several sections in which the three band members show off their respective chops - a powerful, swirling, dramatic piece and music. On the other hand, the two bonus tracks (the hard rocker One Blind Mice and the instrumental Punting) present on the 1990 Repertoire Records remaster, while perfectly decent, are not what I would call essential.

When the album flopped, and Quatermass consequently disbanded, the three members went on with their respective careers - drummer Mick Underwood would join the second incarnation of the Ian Gillan Band (simply called Gillan), Gustafson ended up in Roxy Music, and Peter Robinson became a member of Brand X. Even though Rainbow's cover of Black Sheep of the Family kept the band's name from sinking into complete obscurity, nowadays Quatermass are little more than a cult item, however highly regarded by some.

Anyway, this album is definitely worthy of exploration, especially if you are a fan of the mighty roar of the Hammond organ. As regards the rating, even if Quatermass cannot certainly be called a masterpiece, it is undeniably one of the most representative examples of early heavy prog, and as such, in my opinion, deserves more than a paltry three stars. Unless you are really averse to blues-tinged, hard-edged prog, you could do worse than add this album to your collection.

Raff | 4/5 |


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