Monday 1 April 2024

The Quill - Wheel of Illusion (2024)

Country: Sweden
Style: Heavy/Stoner Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 Mar 2024
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I've never even heard of the Quill before but I'm happy to have finally remediated that, even if I'm very late to this party indeed. They were formed as far back as 1986, they put out a debut album in 1989 and another ten since then, making this their eleventh. I saw them listed as stoner/hard rock, but they're heavier than that, at least on this album, making them heavy/stoner metal to me. I'm not sure if they've got heavier over time to become this or if they were there all along. I ought to check out their back catalogue to find out.

As you might imagine from heavy/stoner metal, there's a huge amount of Black Sabbath here and it's firmly from the seventies era with Ozzy Osbourne. Magnus Ekwall, who is prominent enough in the European scene to have been invited to sing on an Ayreon album, The Human Equation, has an Ozzy vibe on a lot of these songs, starting with the opener, Wheel of Illusion, which could easily be an outtake from an actual seventies Sabbath album. That holds true even when the band dip into stoner rock on Elephant Head. It's still Sabbath with Ozzy, but Christian Carlsson's riffs move away from Tony Iommi in the bridge to be more Josh Homme.

While Sabbath are never far away on any song, the Quill are far from just clones and the variety is manifested as early as the second song, We Burn, where Ekwall sounds more like Bruce Dickinson than Ozzy. That's enough to take that song in a very different direction, but the riffing isn't as old school either. L.I.B.E.R. is perhaps the wildest track here, starting out with the repeated bass note intro from Runnin' with the Devil and then Jolle Atlagic kicks in with a drum rhythm worthy of an Adam and the Ants number. Atlagic has played for bands as varied as Hanoi Rocks and the Electric Boys, so it's not surprising to hear him bring something different here.

Are those southern rock stylings in Sweet Mass Confusion (All Rise Now)? I do believe they are and the slide guitar sounds great against the heavy riffing. There's also some southern rock within the closer, Wild Mustang, though less overtly. That one features a wonderful mellow section too with a glockenspiel, if my ears aren't deceiving me, in the final stretch. There's some space rock to start out The Last Thing You Remember and my favourite song trawls in some Hawkwind too.

That's Hawks & Hounds, in which Ekwall sounds as close to classic Ozzy as you can get without ever adding an "All right now!" However, the instrumentation behind him is very different. There's the Hawkwind sound, but also an ethnic middle eastern flavour that reminds less of Hassan i Sabah, a song I've mentioned recently in my Karkara review too, and more of Led Zeppelin, something that is only hammered home by the delightful drop in the vocal melody. It just keeps on going further than we ever expect and it sounds glorious. It's almost a hypnotic song and I adore it.

There's not a lot here at that level, perhaps only the pristine sudden pause that ends the intro to L.I.B.E.R. joining Hawks & Hounds, but there's a lot that I really like, from the core sound to little touches like those drums in L.I.B.E.R., the slide guitar in Sweet Mass Confusion and the sustained epic nature of Wild Mustang. It's not just that mellow section and Carlsson's wonderfully patient guitar solo; it's the entire progression that keeps on giving. It never feels long at just under eight minutes, but it also feels as if it has a ten minute instrumental stretch in the second half that we want to immerse ourselves in.

I'm happy to have finally clued myself in to who the Quill are and I'll absolutely be keeping an eye out for their next album. Had I found them sooner, I could have reviewed Earthrise back in 2021, a typical gap between albums for them, but that should be the last new one that I'll miss. They also seem to be highly stable, Atlagic and Carlsson founder members and Ekwall and Roger Nilsson on bass having around a quarter of a century in the band each, even if they've both taken breaks. It all bodes well for a twelfth album in three or four years time. Maybe I'll have caught up with their back catalogue by then. I hope so.

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