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Quatermass - Quatermass CD (album) cover




Heavy Prog

3.74 | 203 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
Special Collaborator
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
4 stars QUATERMASS was one of many one-shot progressive rock artists who stuck around long enough to record and release a sole album and then quickly disband and disappear. While many such bands are destined to be completely forgotten, some like this London based band actually has become somewhat of a cult legend for having crafted a brilliant album that simply failed to garner any attention upon its time of release. Named after the fictional scientist Professor Bernard Quatermass who was a pioneer of a British Space Program on BBC Television, the band adopted a sci-fi image as evidenced of the rather bizarre cover art with two pterodactyls flying between two skyscrapers presumably. The album featured alternative cover art when reissued in 1975 once Ritchie Blackmore covered "Black Sheep Of The Family" on the first Rainbow album which was when the interest in QUATERMASS was renewed and the album started to finally catch on.

For a heavy prog band which formed in 1969, QUATERMASS was somewhat unusual in that it only featured three members John Gustafson (bass, vocals), J. Peter Robinson (keyboards) and ex-Episode Six drummer Mick Underwood. Noticeably missing was a guitarist which is quite surprisingly since Underwood previously played with Blackmore in the Outlaws. QUATERMASS has and still does evoke a similarity to Deep Purple mainly because of the stellar prog keyboard performances in the vein of Jon Lord but QUATERMASS was a bit more experimental even though the nine tracks on its only album generally revolve around tight-knit melodic hooks and groovy bass riffs augmented by energetic rock drumming performances and virtuosic Hammond organ gymnastics which covered a lot of ground and made the band sound like a larger act than a mere power trio. Robinson also played piano, clarinet, harpsichord, synthesizers, a ring-modulator and crafted intricate string arrangements. Four guest musicians also added sounds of violins, violas, double basses and a cello. A 12-string guitar made a brief appearance on the near 10-minute track "Post War Saturday Echo."

For only having cranked out one album in its two year run, QUATERMASS did an exemplary job of making it count. The self-titled powerhouse featured an excellent and diverse collection of bluesy heavy rock that were taken over the top with Gustafson's strong and perfectly pitched rock styled vocals, very much in league with Robert Plant, Ian Gillan or any of the up and coming hard rock and proto-metal bands of the era. Add to that the compositions were of a very high caliber with not only excellent melodic hooks but a firm command of dynamics and a sense of bravado. The classical underpinning shined through but the focus on exuberant harder rock were fully realized and once again completely without the expected role of an electric guitar. With the keyboards picking up the slack, Robinson's genius was in how he crafted contrapuntal keyboard parts that delivered all the flamboyant lightning and thunder required for a hard rock band of 1970.

While keyboard dominated prog rock bands were nothing out of the ordinary with The Nice and Emerson Lake & Palmer finding great success, QUATERMASS stood out as utterly unique in how it crafted instantly catchy melodically driven tunes with technically advanced twists and turns that even some fifty years down the road make this one-shot band a captivating listening experience. Just familiar sounding enough to instantly relate to bands like Deep Purple, Atomic Rooster, Uriah Heep or even Argent but clever enough to completely stand out with unexpected side stepping into wild experimental passages and a dynamic use of tones, textures and timbres primarily through the means of various keyboards however the Hammond organ is the star here and QUATERMASS has been described as "a keyboard dominated chunk of heavy progressive rock." Starting off with the rather Steppenwolf sounding "Black Sheep In The Family," the album drifts to the lysergic psychedelic soundscapes that incorporate modern classical and even Krautrock lysergia as the album ends.

When it comes to the roots of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple are the clear godfathers of the movement but when looking for the roots of progressive metal then you clearly have to look beyond the obvious and dig a bit deeper where you'll find QUATERMASS as one of those early dabblers in all things progressive in a heavier than usual style alongside with Uriah Heep, T2, Lucifer's Friend, Atomic Rooster and Wishbone Ash. The band's cult status has only grown over the decades since this gem was released. Due to the renewed interest in the prog revival scene of the 1990s, Mick Underwood formed Quatermass II to try to cash in on the band's past glory but the album didn't live up to the magic that was present on this 1970 paragon of ingenuity. Personally i would actually prefer if there were some guitar parts as there are times when the mere presence of a guitarless trio leaves a bit of vacuous space however given what QUATERMASS was and how they presented themselves, this is indeed a unique specimen of excellence that has thankfully been redeemed over time.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |


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