Quatermass were a British progressive rock trio formed in 1969 and consisting of John Gustafson (bass, vocals), Peter Robinson (keyboards) and Mick Underwood (drums). The band took its name from a fictional scientist, who was the hero of three science fiction serials produced by the BBC in the fifties. At the time these three musicians were well-established and distinguished. Robinson had been a band member of the successful singer Chris Farlowe, while Gustafson and Underwood met in Episode Six, a band mostly known for the presence of Ian Gillan and Roger Clover, who later on played in the famous hard rock band Deep Purple. On the release of their debut album and the supplementing single Black Sheep Of The Family, Quatermass received critical acclaim as a band of the future, but major commercial success failed to occur during the band's short existence.
Their one and only album was described as 'a keyboard dominated chunk of heavy progressive rock.' The songs on this album are mainly based upon organ, bass and drums. Occasionally some other keyboards can be heard as well like a clavinet, Fender-Rhodes piano and Mellotron. Overall, the album is well-rounded, technically competent and complex, yet retaining a distinctive swing time rhythm as would be expected from a trio that were at their core a strong rhythm section. Throughout, the album easily flows from mid-tempo rock to instrumental avant-garde and bluesy soundscapes. However, classical influences can be noticed as well, mainly due to the use of violins, violas, cellos and double basses. Sound-wise the music comes close to the music made by The Nice and the early albums recorded by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but also a band like Argent crossed my mind, while listening to their eponymous debut.
The reason why Quatermass disbanded after one album is hard to tell. Despite wide critical acclaim, the project had insufficient financial backing however, and there were many problems on their subsequent tour through the United States. It wasn't unusual for the band to ask for an advance against their fee from the venue promoters in order to collect the equipment from the airport. On their return to the UK the band dissolved. It's even harder to tell why this album never achieved the success it deserved. All of the tracks are high-levelled and are just as good as the compositions of the above-mentioned bands. I guess you just had to be lucky to be discovered by the right people at the time.
Later on Underwood got together with Nick Simper, the former bass player of Deep Purple, to join in a project called Quatermass II. Gustafson contributed on two songs on Long Road, the album that finally appeared in 1997. It also included Gary Davis and Bart Foley on guitars and the current Deep Purple member Don Airey on keyboards. Later on Underwood played in Gillan and in The Strapps. Gustafson continued making music in bands as Roxy Music and the Gorden Giltrap Band, while Robinson made a name as one of the keyboard players in the jazz-rock formation Brand X − with Phil Collins on drums − and he became a soundtrack composer.
Quatermass is a quintessential British prog rock album destined to remain a cult classic. It also was one of the first albums recorded in the vein of progressive metal. Thanks to Esoteric Recordings people can once again listen to this new remastered album and why it has remained a hidden gem. This remastered record features fine remixes by Peter Robinson in both stereo (CD) and 5.1 surround sound (DVD) along with several bonus tracks, two of which are previously unreleased. This reissue also features a lavishly illustrated booklet with a new essay written by Peter Robinson.
If you're a lover of keyboard orientated progressive rock in the vein of bands like The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Argent, try to grab this album. I guess you won't regret it!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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