As a metalhead, Birmingham is a city very close to my heart. Sometime in the late ‘60s, a little-known band from the northern neighborhood of Aston started playing the pub circuit and gradually established a sound that would go on to change the face of music forever. They went by the name Black Sabbath. Over the years the city has been the source of a plethora of notable acts, including Judas Priest, Napalm Death, and Godflesh to name but a few, however, it will always be Sabbath who cemented Brum’s reputation as the spiritual home of all things heavy. Also founded in the city in the early days of the NWoBHM movement, Quartz are a band who played a prominent role in the formative years of Birmingham’s metal scene too (mainstay keyboardist Geoff Nicholls actually played as a session musician for Sabbath for over two decades). The band split in 1983 however, only going on to reform in 2011, and as such, they are not nearly as well-known as some of their more distinguished peers. Fear No Evil will be their first full-length studio album in almost a quarter of a century, so its October 28th release date is set to be a significant day not just for the band themselves, but for the wider Birmingham music scene as a whole.
Stylistically Quartz play traditional heavy metal in the vein of Judas Priest and Saxon, and Fear No Evil has a distinctively old school flavor. Everything about it, from the chord progressions and melodies to the warm, uncomplicated production sounds as though it was pulled straight from the early ‘80s, lending it a reassuringly authentic quality, and first impressions are positive. Eponymous opener “Fear No Evil” gets things off to a strong start, showcasing solid riffs, tight musicianship and a catchy chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place in the midst of Stained Class or Screaming for Vengeance. This is swiftly followed up by “Rock Bottom,” which has precisely the kind of sass and swagger that made Wheels of Steel so damn infectious. Two songs in and Quartz sound like a band that has never missed a single practice session, let alone 28 years’ worth of them.
Despite its impressive start, however, Fear No Evil turns out to be a bit hit and miss — enjoyable but peppered with little inconsistencies. Quartz are at their best when they’re playing fast and hard, as exemplified by the likes of “Dangerous Game” and “Born to Rock the Nation,” not to mention the two aforementioned openers. Despite this, however, they embark upon numerous attempts to rein themselves in and slow things down, and it doesn’t take long for this to begin to grate a little. Slower tracks such as “The Stalker” and “Zombie Resurrection” feel pedestrian when compared with Quartz’s more energetic offerings — the latter being salvaged by a rather tasty closing guitar solo, however. The effect this has is that when enjoying the album’s highlights, there’s always the nagging feeling that weaker material may be just around the corner, and it’s a difficult sensation to fully shake off. Flipped into a “glass half full” perspective, however, what this also means is that the record never becomes too bogged down by its weaker tracks before things begin to perk up again. It makes for an erratic listen, but this is not a terminal issue.
Production is unflashy but perfectly suited to the style of music nonetheless, with good depth to the sound and all of the instruments well-balanced and crisp, and this goes some way to saving the weaker tracks. A feeling of authenticity, or lack thereof, can make or break traditional heavy metal records, and in this respect, Quartz hit the nail on the head with ease.
Fear No Evil is undoubtedly a mixed package. While the quality of the material is variable, as a complete production it’s an entertaining, modern spin on a traditional sound, and a fine homage to an iconic era in metal’s history. While there are undeniably a few songs that won’t leave much of a lasting impression, it has more positives than negatives, and if you’re just after a good old-fashioned, shit-kicking rock ‘n’ roll record to sink a few beers and play air guitar to, then Fear No Evil won’t steer you too far wrong.