Review Of The Quill's Self-Titiled Album
There is a school of thought afoot amongst many a benighted Rock fan, which makes the claim that 1994 was some sort of terminus for supernal Rock and Roll: that Kurt Cobain's death, in tandem with the diminution of Grunge, meant that Rock was over and done with for good. To a point, it is understandable (even though it is dead wrong) that this seems the case. After all, Rock bands in high-profile contexts receded precipitously in the ensuing years after Kurt's death, replaced by boy-bands, pop-tarts, rappers, hipster bands, and the like. However, that Rock is no more is only a perception; any trip to the online music store All Things Heavy should disabuse one of such a notion.
Nonetheless, as the sociologist Stanford M. Lyman once wrote, “If something is perceived as real, it is real in its consequences.” Thus, if the majority of Rock fans think the genre is dead, then they will be oblivious to all the great groups out there now, thereby relegating such bands to the margins, when those bands should be playing arenas.
The reason I started this blog then was to champion such beleaguered bands, and there is perhaps no better example of such a band than The Quill. Having put out a slough of records over the past twenty years, The Quill is everything that so many Rock fans complain is lacking in Rock, and the band's debut album certainly makes a strong case for such sentiment.
Starting off the record is the anthemic song Dry. With its stinging, single-note guitar riff, which gets its hooks into the listener's ear and never lets go, the song then launches into a massive Zeppelinesque groove replete with the glorious wail of the Hammond B3 Organ (when was the last time that made its presence known on a modern Rock song?). A tune about making the most out of life before it is gone, it is also a great introduction to the voice that is Magnus Ekwall. Like Ryan Kickland, Justin Hawkins, and Kenneth Leer, Ekwall is one of the most criminally underrated voices in modern Rock. Not only is his timbre and pitch perfect, but the vocal hook he penned provides a masterful counterpoint to an already devastating track.
The next song on deck is the track Homespun, whose droning guitar riff merges seamlessly with Ekwall's vocals. If this song was on Guns 'N Roses' Appetite For Destruction, it would have verily been its signature track for this is how so many of the Hard Rock bands from the 1980s should have went about crafting their songs. A tune about being true to yourself and returning to your roots, it is a song with powerful punch and joyous abandon, redolent with the soulfulness that was much in short supply with the band's distant cousins from the 80s. Also, unlike the Hard Rock of thirty or so years ago, this and the other songs on The Quill's record have a much more organic production style and thus are not drowning in digital reverb and digital delay like so many guitar-heavy Rock albums from that era. Additionally of note is the warm, singing tone Christian Carlsson gets from his Les Paul during the guitar solo, another thing one did not hear much from the 80s guitarists (with the exception of Slash perhaps).
If Homespun is an example of how most Hard Rock should have been done in the 1980s, Lodestar is an example of how a power-ballad should have been written. Ensconced within Anders Haglund's dreamy organ playing, Ekwall's sultry vocals emote with real power, a far-cry from the paint-by-the-numbers posturing of so many vocalists who came before him during that decade. The difference between former and latter is especially apparent when the heavy part of the song kicks in, as Carlsson launches into a hulking guitar groove that Iommi would not have minded nixing.
The song From Where I Am shows that one does not need a wall-of-sound played at breakneck speed to make a great heavy track, as the band takes a less-is-more approach by engaging in a minimal, slow-groove slab of Heavy Rock. Especially of note are the beautiful, arpeggiated guitar figures Carlsson plays during the second part of the song.
When it comes to melding Heavy Rock with funkier grooves, The Quill could teach a lot of bands from the 90s a thing or two as well for The Quill understands that a funky groove, like any groove, requires the notes to be put in the strategically right place for it to be powerful. This is a far cry from the thinking of most bands in the 90s for whom funk-laden grooves resembled a guy on meth frantically trying to dislodge a turd. Fortunately, in a song like The Flood, The Quill shows the world how it is done.
No less ferocious a groove is the song In My Shed. Hearing this track (and every track on The Quill's album), I am reminded of the quotation by Shakespeare, which goes, “Ripeness is all.” Had this record come on in 1986, it would be the iconic album from that era that everyone would be talking about. What a shame that a band like The Quill (and many others) was not given a proper context for its music and hence was not given its just due.
Showing itself to be both eclectic and to have a sense of history, the band does a surprising cover of A Sinner's Fame by the heavy Christian band Trouble. Just as Hendrix did with the Dylan song All Along The Watchtower and Metallica did with Thin Lizzy's arrangement of Whiskey In A Jar, The Quill takes A Sinner's Fame and imparts to it dimensions it heretofore did not have, as the song has a darker, more relentlessly plodding quality than does the original version.
Next comes the song Not A Single Soul. Another barreling rocker, it is the kind of song that one hears fans of this kind of music endlessly complaining is no longer being made anymore. Well I am here to inform one that songs of this kind are being made; it is simply the case of many people not getting off their lazy asses to find them that they remain obscure. Just because a famous band has not written it does not mean it is not there. Quite fittingly, the song is about the despair of being forgotten.
Another lesson in amalgamating Funk with Heavy Rock is In The Sunlight I Drown. With its soaring vocal hook and pensive lyrics, it is a tune Perry Ferrell would not have minded writing when he was in Jane's Addiction a quarter-century ago.
Next to last comes I Lost A World Today. A twin-sister to From Where I Am, it is a tune where the band strikes a perfect balance between a Heavy Rock groove and a sultry blues feel, something that many 80s Hard Rock bands in Los Angeles tried and failed to achieve.
Rounding out the Quill's debut album is the song Sweetly. Though slow, pensive, and subdued, the grinding guitar riff Carlsson belts out precludes it from being a ballad. Instead, it is a song about a man tortured by the heartbreak of unrequited love, and should more accurately be called Bittersweetly. Here too, one sees The Quill, like many of its peers in Rock such as Animalcule, Dragon Green, Zebulon Pike, Bongzilla, and The Want, as the masters of devastating minimalism. Unlike many heavy bands with a more modern feel to their music, The Quill chooses to use fewer notes but to put them in the right place, ironically, making the song sound much bigger than the wall-of-sound approach would do.
Long story short, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE STATE OF MUSIC AS LONG AS BANDS LIKE THE QUILL ARE AROUND. If the music scene seems to be lacking, it is only because legions of fans sit around and focus on the music around them they do not like rather than seeking out bands whose music they would like and consequently supporting them. Hence, were all these whiners to support the bands out there that are like The Quill, the music scene would seem like what it should be.
Now keep calm and buy vinyl.
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- Quill - The Quill - Amazon.com Music
Quill - The Quill - Amazon.com Music
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