Here's another band who I'm surprised but happy to see releasing new music, even though it's not entirely new, given that all of the keyboards and some of the guitars are played by Geoff Nicholls, of Black Sabbath fame, and he died in 2017; this may represent the last of his posthumous output. He's here not because Quartz hired him to be a recognisable name, but because he was a member of Quartz back in the day, who played on their self-titled debut album in 1977, which coincidentally was co-produced by Tony Iommi, even though Nicholls didn't join Sabbath until 1979.
There are plenty of Sabbath connections here, beyond a shared keyboard player. Both bands are from Birmingham in the West Midlands, which is the traditional home of heavy metal. Both date back to the early days of the genre, Quartz starting out as Bandy Legs in 1974 and acquiring their current name in 1977, too early for their usual label of NWOBHM to be fair. Tony Martin, vocalist for Sabbath over two memorable stints, provides guest vocals on Evil Eyes here. And the music is very much in the Sabbath tradition: slow and patient in demeanour, driven by heavy riffs and led by clean but clearly working class vocals. In fact, it gets more and more Sabbath until the gimme that is World of Illusion.
Martin is one of four vocalists here, who are surprisingly consistent, but the others are all former or current members of Quartz. Geoff Bate sang on their third album in 1983 and David Garner on the fourth in 2016—they split up in 1983 and didn't reform until 2011. I believe Bate has become an official member of the band again, but presumably after this was released. He leads most of the songs here, but Garner sings on three, Martin on one and bass player Derek Arnold takes over for one as well. Martin is easily the smoothest and most professionally commercial, but the others all do the job, each with a patient, strong and obviously English delivery.
It's probably fair to say here that Mike Taylor, who sang lead on the first two Quartz albums, died in 2016, so his absence here is understandable. Everyone else in the band's history chips in, as the four wielding instruments all date back to that debut in 1977 and all but Nicholls only ever left for real life rather than to other bands. Clearly, they're enjoying the heck out of making music again after doing whatever else they've been doing for years. Only Mick Hopkins has a real history with other bands, including playing guitar for a pre-Moody Blues Denny Laine in the Diplomats.
As you might expect for a band with so many Sabbath connections, this is very deliberate metal, a neverending set of simple but patient riffs behind the simple but capable vocals, all produced in a simple but effective manner. By the way, don't take "simple" as a criticism here, folks. Tony Iommi is the master of simple but patient riffs and they're the bedrock of the entire genre. Simple only means that Quartz aren't interested in the complexities of prog; they strip songs all the way down to their essence and they do it really well.
What I found was that every time I started the album at the beginning, I felt that the early songs, like Freak of Nature and Death or Glory were sparse, almost rehearsal levels of simplicity. It feels like they were just recorded live in the studio, some vocal echo notwithstanding. Those vocals are very high in the mix, almost as if everything else was turned down behind them. However, they're good songs with reliable riffs and confident vocal hooks. As the album ran on, though, I fell into it more and more until I forgot I was listening for review, just grooving along to it.
Most of the early songs are patient indeed, They Do Magic standing out a little by perking up in a Budgie vein. Night of the Living Dead isn't much different from its predecessors but it feels more like a proto-doom song, easily one of my favourites here, and Dirty Disease continues that vibe in the later parts of the album. Highway to Madness is more Judas Priest than Black Sabbath, but in a parallel universe version with Dio at the mike. Angels at the Crossroads feels like it came right out of the NWOBHM era, and others follow suit.
However, it's hard to shed the Sabbath influence and, quite frankly, Quartz clearly don't care. This is unashamedly heavy metal in the early British style and it sounds glorious. The best song from a strictly critical standpoint is probably Evil Lies, not only because of Martin's presence but because of its grand build, a strong intro finding its feet almost halfway with another killer riff and plenty of neat Nicholls atmosphere. World of Illusion is easily the most Sabbath song on offer though, in a particularly early style. There may well be nods to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath but we're talking the debut for much of it, the vocals clearly meant to sound like Ozzy and the riffs achingly slow.
I'm so happy to see bands from the seventies and eighties return with new material that's clearly drawn out of nothing but love for the music. Quartz gave it a solid go back in the day and didn't get the big breakthrough, so they hung up their instruments and got day jobs like the rest of us. Now, decades later, they're able to pick those instruments back up again and play music for its own sake. Those are often the best bands nowadays, to my way of thinking, because they're doing what they do from a standpoint of talent and honesty. If you're really old school metal, this is essential. It's also over an hour of music that doesn't get old.