Formed in London in 1969 out of the ashes of Episode Six (a band that also spawned Deep Purple members Ian Gillan & Roger Glover), Quatermass were a heavy progressive rock trio comprised of John Gustafson (bass & vocals), Pete Robinson (keyboards), and Mick Underwood (drums). The band recorded and released this sole self-titled debut in 1970 before splitting up due to a lack of any commercial success, though a few different incarnations were resurrected in the 1990's to even more obscure notoriety. It really was a shame that the self-titled debut failed to make much of an impression, as it really is a landmark of hard rocking prog, surprising in its heaviness despite the absence of a guitar player. Esoteric Recordings recently worked with Robinson to remix the original album, add in some fine bonus tracks, and include a masterful DVD with the entire album in 5.1 Surround sound.
Many might know of Quatermass (whose name was taken from Professor Bernard Quatermass of the BBC science fiction series) from their song "Black Sheep of the Family", which was covered quite successfully a few years later by Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow on their debut. The guitar legend became infatuated by the song while still in Deep Purple, and when they refused to do a cover version of the song he later covered it with Ronnie James Dio on vocals when he left Purple to form Rainbow. Much of the Quatermass album follows a heavy rock/early progressive rock style, with bombastic Hammond organ, Moog, Clavinet, and piano courtesy of Robinson (an unsung keyboard virtuoso if ever there was one), booming bass & powerful vocals from Gustafson, and the intricate drumming of Underwood. Tunes such as "One Blind Mice", the already mentioned "Black Sheep of the Family", and "Up on the Ground" really rock, and rock hard, with thunderous bass & Hammond providing heavy riffs that come close to what you'd expect from a guitar, giving the band an almost Deep Purple-meets-ELP-meets-Uriah Heep-meets-Atomic Rooster-meets-The Nice sound. Other tracks such as "Post War Saturday Echo" and "Good Lord Knows" have a more bluesy, atmospheric tone (somewhat close to the Vanilla Fudge), while "Gemini" is upbeat, funky prog rock with some fierce Hammond organ and passionate vocals. "Make Up Your Mind" is a sure fire bet for any Uriah Heep fan (with lead vocals & harmonies that will bring to mind David Byron & Ken Hensley), and Robinson's Hammond work on "What Was That" pushes all the right Jon Lord, Vincent Crane, & Keith Emerson buttons.
The bonus tracks are quite interesting, and show another side to the band, more of a funky, jazz-fusion flavor. Robinson's Clavinet, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and Moog synthesizer make numerous appearances on "Punting" while Gustafson & Underwood dig into some serious grooves, and the live recording of "Bluegaloo/Broken Chords/Scales" is a rousing fusion jam that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Herbie Hancock album from the same era. This recording is from 1974 and features an expanded line-up (that probably was not calling itself Quatermass), but it would have been interesting if the band had stayed together and went further in this jazz-fusion styled direction. After the group officially split, Gustafson went on to Hard Stuff with ex-Atomic Rooster members John DuCann & Paul Hammond, and then a few years later Roxy Music and the Ian Gillan Band. Underwood wound up with a few small acts before hitting the heavy rock big time with Gillan for a few years, and Robinson went on to do sessions throughout the '70s and still to this day is busy composing and arranging for other artists as well as numerous film scores.
Esoteric's package here is quite remarkable, as the two discs comes housed in an expanded digipack complete with a thick booklet packed with photos and information on the band & album. Robinson provides all the commentary, and it's all very informative. As for the sound on the CD, it's sparkling, and though I have to be honest in never hearing the original CD pressing of the album, I think that most fans will be happy with this remix. The DVD is...well, simply remarkable. If you have a decent home theater system, pop this baby in and crank up the volume, and be prepared to get blown away. Gustafson's bass is just massive, the keyboards, clear yet commanding, and Underwood's drum work just crackles. I had the whole house shaking but it was all crystal clear and just perfect.
This is quite simply a must have for any fan of '70s hard rock & progressive rock. I don't know how to state it any simpler.
Disc One-CD (New Stereo Mixes by J. Peter Robinson)
1) One Blind Mice (45 'A' side-bonus track)
3) Black Sheep of the Family
4) Post War Saturday Echo
5) Good Lord Knows
6) Up On the Ground
8) Make Up Your Mind
9) What Was That
10) Make Up Your Mind (reprise)
11) Laughin' Tackle
12) Punting (45 'B' side)-bonus track
13) Afraid Not (rehearsal-previously unreleased)-bonus track
14) Bluegaloo/Broken Chords/Scales (live recording 1974-previously unreleased)-bonus track
Disc Two-DVD (NTSC/Region Free)-5.1 Surround sound mixes by J.Peter Robinson