Those were the days – the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, known by its completely unpronounceable acronym NWOBHM. Gradually picking up momentum as the 1970s drew to an end, the exact start date is a bit blurred, and many of the bands that surfed its popularity wave were already well-established – Black Sabbath and UFO had been going since the late 1960s, and Rainbow, Gillan and Whitesnake were all hydra’s heads of the Deep Purple juggernaut, also a ‘60s creation. Johnny-come-latelies Iron Maiden and Def Leppard grew to world domination, along with Saxon, Motörhead and <insert favourite metal band here>. But there was a ton of other hairy, noisy combos that lagged slightly behind the peloton: Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head, Praying Mantis, Samson et al.
One of the bands who arguably should have made it big at the time was Quartz. They had supported Black Sabbath and AC/DC when previously known by the daft moniker of Bandy Legs, and impressed Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi enough for him to produce their 1977 debut album. They wisely changed their name to Quartz just before it came out, and their 31-minute offering was a nail-on-the-head representation of everything the New Wave was about – steamroller riffs, proggy rhythm changes, guitar harmonies, plus the obligatory short semi-classical acoustic guitar number. Mike Taylor’s vocals took on more of a raw, gravelly edge for their second album Stand Up And Fight in 1980, just as the New Wave was really starting to kick in, while guitar/keyboardist Geoff Nicholls left to join Sabbath. Geoff Bate took over the vocals after a brief tenure from David Garner, but after a third studio effort in 1983, the band folded. Nearly 20 years elapsed before they reunited for a charity gig in 2011 with the Garner line-up, releasing a fourth album in 2016 named Fear No Evil, with Nicholls also back in the fold, although original singer Mike Taylor died the same year. And now, a mere six years after that, we are treated to a fifth outing, On The Edge Of No Tomorrow, not just a new album so much as a celebration of the band’s entire history, with a all available former members showing up for duty.
For a start, although Nicholls also sadly passed away in 2017, he had fully recorded one track with the band beforehand, and the remaining three core members, drummer Malcolm Cope, bassist Derek ‘Dek’ Arnold and especially guitarist Mick Hopkins, also processed some of Nicholls’ unused songs and demos into full tracks. The result is that Nicholls takes lead vocals on three numbers, with six from Bate, three from Garner and one from Arnold; the remaining piece is sung by guest star and ex-Sabbath alumnus Tony Martin. Modern production gives the set a harder, heavier edge than their early material, which is all to the good, and many of the numbers also include something of the fantasy content that was so prevalent in the early New Wave, but largely absent from Quartz’ former repertoire.
Album opener Freak Of Nature sets out the band’s stall as well as any; a mid-slow steamroller drumbeat with a rapid riff over the top, and a lyric concerning ‘zombies from hell’. All it needs is a Gothic string section and a tolling bell – wait, here they come, towards the end of the track! Death Or Glory includes the line that gives the album its title, and also features some rhythm changes, as do many of the songs. The band really wears its influences on its sleeve for They Do Magic, which owes a debt of gratitude to Die Young from the Dio era of Sabbath, also including shades of Fast As A Shark from Accept, although it could never be as manic. And while we’re on the subject of Dio, Master Of The Rainbow is dedicated to the man on the silver mountain himself; the Babylon king. Night Of The Living Dead is a slow, heavy rocker that is so nostalgically NWOBHM I found myself smiling under the headphones, and when they wheel out the angelic choir for Evil Lies, the illusion is complete. And so it continues – Keep Up The Fight is a kind of follow-up to Stand Up And Fight from their second album; Angels At The Crossroads features a disgruntled character who has sold his soul to the devil in return for a promise that was never delivered, and now he’s after his money back.
Perhaps the pick of the bunch for this reviewer is the mid-tempo sledgehammer Babylon Is Burning, in which David Garner does a pretty decent Paul Stanley / Joe Elliott impression, with Mick Hopkins knocking out a tasteful yet heavy guitar solo. The tolling bell returns for the ominously slow World Of Illusion, which could hardly be more Sabbath if it tried. There is an air of looseness about some of the numbers that occasionally jars, although it may well be down to the inclusion of demo material that had to be included pretty much wholesale – in any case, it actually adds a layer of texture and nostalgic charm to the album, and listeners who are old enough to remember the band’s original incarnation may find themselves transported back to their own glory days in adolescent bands that were almost really good. The fact that these guys are still hammering out the power-riffs 45 years later is just inspirational – RIP Mike and Geoff.
On The Edge Of No Tomorrow by Quartz is available via Cherry Red Records