Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dark Quarterer

Quarter are mighty. In their own special dimension they are probably the most important Heavy Metal band there is. Fact is though that this dimension is not well populated, as they're relatively unknown. That is wrong and unfair and therefore this article is fair and just. I don't often try to sell bands to readers on Poetry of Subculture but this'll be as close as I'll get because Dark Quarterer are still active (unlike most other bands covered here) and most importantly are putting out wonderful music that's very much worth the attention.

This Italian band reputedly came together circa 1974 but they waited for more than a decade before they put out this, their debut album. Though I can only theorize as to why such a delay was necessary, my theories are to do with the basic troubles of say, procuring a multitrack sound board in Italy in the late seventies to record your Heavy Metal record. In 2011, and especially for say, a reader from the US, those sorts of problems might be considered positively banal but hey, Italy's right next to Greece and it still isn't the easiest or cheapest thing to get together the resources to record a debut here, so I can sort of understand it. There's good in the bad, however, because Dark Quarterer probably benefitted from spending ten years in the proverbial woodshed. Their sound is a parallel evolution from the rest of 80's Heavy Metal. I'm getting the feeling that they started out as a progressive rock (or pomp rock) act and got into Heavy Metal exactly as it was emerging in the early eighties. There's a curious meeting of influences here, half Manowar, half Genesis. Not to scare anybody off though, this isn't to say that the record is confused. I'd say, from an aesthetic point of view that Heavy Metal (that is to say, Manowar) "won" in this mixture. This debut is resolutely concerned with the high spirit, the illogical romance, the almost magical potency of sound that can be captured only through low cultural trends that nobody important really pays attention to. The many parallels between progressive rock and metal aside, it's certain that bands like Genesis and Yes were aimed for public scrutiny from their conceptual beginning (progressive rock doesn't work in cryptic light) whereas Dark Quarterer were so obscure that even when this record first came out it sounded like a curious relic. 20 years later we'd have trouble to imagine a record with such an unrefined sound at all, it's an almost impossible mixture of peaked treble, dueling bass and guitar, reverb-heavy vocals, clearly recorded live without many overdubs, mistakes included and all. It somehow works, though this is a sound that makes the listener work for it. Modern mastering practices dictate that everything must be clear and fried, bass kicks go there, distorted wall of guitars goes here in the front, there is no bass guitar. That is the current sound of metal and against this calculated and safe extremity Dark Quarterer sound as aged as they are. No, not even aged, this record's probably confounding for people that expect a mix to make any sort of sense. It's a fossil. Like a vestigial organ of an older permutation, it survives as information. Like a wing on an animal that chose to crawl on the ground for the easier nourishment of worms, it withers with every generation, atrophying to nothingness in disuse, all but for a memory of where once its blood had traveled. But wings exist to take to the air and so even 20 years later, the promise of Dark Quarterer pulsates with raw life. It takes work, but there's magic here.

Concentration is key. Dark Quarterer hold within their sound the performing quality, the easy fingers of a progressive rock band from the 70s. They do not play in the stiff, monophonic manner that was in vogue in Heavy Metal the year this record came out. Instead they flirt with after-the-beat accents, syncopated rhythms, chromatic enrichment of their phrases. These things come naturally, they flow through their songs as if to say "This is the only way to compose and perform Heavy Metal". Dark Quarterer, in a curious way, then, hold in their ranks highly prized Heavy Metal virtuosos: far from the stereotype of limp-wristed egocentric shredders wanking away in the limelight. Instead, capable performers that translate their personal desire through the focus of group concert. Nobody is overplaying on their own, they overplay all together, all the time. Most bands of that era would wait for a solo section to attempt a humble counterpoint between main melody and their embellishment. Dark Quarterer, with a gusto that makes it seem more easy than it is, navigate through parallel melodies, key changes and bright variation of their main phrases that would be the envy of various self-declared serious composers. They're just a power trio, and all this is achieved with sweat running down foreheads, with a manic urgency that signals a personal end, with a passion that can only manifest when someone is for real.

Every moment of this record is epic in the sense of the word that predates the conception of "epic metal". I am talking about goosebumps and emotional elevation. Pathos overflows. Their dazzling singer, Gianni Nepi, whose high-pitched scream one would expect to dominate, is in conversation with every solo, every drum fill. This band sings in concert and when one is finally used to their song and their antiquated sound and their quirks, it is moving. Their antiquity becomes a return to the sky, their oddness becomes their idiosyncrasy and you love them for it. You are in their universe and you are listening to the greatest Heavy Metal band there ever was. I guess this is what happens when a talented band takes ten years to record their debut?

In records of this caliber there usually isn't any filler. The opener, "Red Hot Gloves" destroys barriers and its monstrous brother, "Colossus of Argil" sets siege but it is "Gates of Hell", the third track, that conquers me, finally. Follow the music along with the words:

I have decided
To live as a rebel
Without showing
Never my face smiling

Without giving my help

To live as the worst man
And slandering all my friends
Hating who is loving me

Don't try to change me
I don't believe it may be
Let the evil be my food

I have decided
I don't ask your pardon
And every time I take my revenge
For all the good around me

And I shall dress myself

In red and black
As Blood and Death
Before the last breath
Gates of hell will open

And I shall fly
Into the deeper place
To usurp Lucifer's Throne

These words in the hands of a simple Heavy Metal band would be adorned with the arrogance of those that have lived nothing. Not to say that anyone in the band has had the experience of sitting on the throne of the underworld, but here's the thing: when Dark Quarterer were singing this on their debut, they were old men already. This isn't a lyric from a teenager that somehow made it to the debut a couple of years later. They mean this shit. Where the premise of this song by a young Manowar would be performed with a lofty, aristrocratic morbidity, here instead Dark Quarterer present it with a Doric stoicism. Heavy Metal is about skeletons and demons, blood and violence, right? Dark Quarterer rise above the popular status of their genre. The funeral drum beat emerges from the sound of the beating heart and signals a melancholic pride about ones damnation that even the damned mourn but willfully carry. This has been the choice and let it be remembered forever that it was a horrid one, cursed and lonesome. The solo after the chorus seals with its fervor the passion and honesty of this admittance. This song has been for me one of the greatest of the genre and it has opened my eyes, when I heard it years ago, as to the potential of Heavy Metal. I've returned to this song again and again, no less impressed and no less affected. How high a somewhat clumsy lyric can be elevated through passion and performance and emotion. As I fantastically pursued the path of this damned protagonist and at the same time, felt repulsed by the shards of dark matter that surround its chaos core: lord of light, usurper of Lucifer's throne - I wondered how that life would be.

This song, with its kind way, shaped me. It shaped me in a way that peers, school and family rarely managed. It urged me to confront the worst aspects of my character and realize that choice is much less the issue than it is to bring to the light the dark glamours that influence every one of them. It's not a song about what is right and wrong, it is a song about desire and tragedy. Fantasy, at least, should be free to travel all trajectories of choice, it shouldn't be ridiculous to wonder how that life could be. There's a lesson in everything deemed ridiculous and unworthy of attention by modernity.

That is the power of Heavy Metal for those that love it: It tears away the many layers of identity and found labels and all the other bullshit we citizens flatter ourselves with and it takes us back to when we were children and our spectral wings had not yet atrophied. It makes us face the limits and the desires we have yet to conquer. The promise in Dark Quarterer - and every great Heavy Metal band has in its premise a promise - is that it will hold inside it that memory, even 20 years later when we are old men. It will never lie to you or let you forget. That the song ends as it starts - with the sound of heartbeat - tells us so. We should remember that we are still alive and we should be glad for all the good things around us, yet as the long shadows of aspersion are cast and contours of a madness take shape, concentration is the key, the awareness that every story we imagine can be for a time, ring true. The lessons found in fantasy.


  1. You are not revealing this band to me by any means, but you are inspiring me to relisten. I gave this album a cursory listen back in February and was fairly impressed, but I don't remember listening to it more than once since. I've certainly not developed your attachment to it, nor have I delved into it as deeply as you have. Give me a week, and I'll report back with at least a vague opinion on its contents so we can actually have a conversation about it.

  2. I think this band comes from the same alternate universe as Cirith Ungol and naturally they are just as great. I'd like to know if "extreme metal" happened in that universe. Perhpas Mortuary Drape is from there too?

    Some people like to think or pretend all Heavy Metal v.1 (early 80s nwobhm-explosion, 70s being 0.5 :-) is the same. All variations of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. It's true that a lots of it is like that. Some of it have enough identity of their own though and then there are bands like Dark Quarterer. A highly idiosyncratic band that is so much behind of their time that time itself comes to an fullcircle and they find themselves in the future. This album keeps growing on me every time I listen to it and I do not know how far it'll go. Perhaps to the end and beginning of the time.

    I'd like to hear your interpretation of Red Hot Gloves lyrics if you have one.

  3. Alex, I'm looking forward to your impressions!

    Nekromantis: "A highly idiosyncratic band that is so much behind of their time that time itself comes to an fullcircle and they find themselves in the future."

    So well said! This is better than the whole of my 'review', I think.

    As to Red Hot Gloves, it's a very strong song lyrically, for me. "I have to decide if I'm to live or die, I want [people] to forget my own name" is a constant theme in my own inner wanderings. I interpret the difference between death and nameless oblivion in that the latter is a lifting of any social responsibility instead of the death of the flesh. A social death, a life without consequence and remembrance. There is a curious sort of solipsist liberty, in that state of mind, that Heavy Metal sometimes gravitates towards.

    I think the inclusion of the well-known sad sonata as the entry point to this record/song is telling, as -for me- it has a similar solipsist quality. Moonlight Sonata always sounded to me purposefully melodramatic, that is, for the benefit of the solitary player of the song. Red Hot Gloves likewise is a song from a person towards the same person.

    As to the literal, I guess there might be a little fantasy theme to 'red hot gloves', is it some artifact, the means for the protagonist to find artistic success? And once that success is achieved (by selling one's soul to the devil, Dark Quarterer are constantly gravitating around this idea) the protagonist has a change of heart and wishes that the world can remember his name, attach it to the devilish potency of the art he has made.

  4. on Devil force, also consider:

    "All my pores are oozing
    white cold blood
    while my soul
    vibrates for you
    oh my leader,my possessor
    my unknown entity"

    What a wonderful passage indeed. The force of the Entity reigns!

  5. Man, this piece feels incomplete. Re-reading it I forgot to mention how in "Gates of Hell" when the second verse is repeated after the long solo in the middle, they replace the 4/4 feel peak of "Lucifer's Throne" with a stumbling waltz threes-over-fours coda that absolutely seals the deal. It's not a minor thing, it brings tears to my eyes, such a simple compositional choice, but executed with such gusto. When I listen to this record, there is no other Heavy Metal, there is only Dark Quarterer.

  6. Thanks for your answer. I find the song's lyrics quite strong as well but some things always puzzled me like the first verse and how much should I read into "red hot gloves".

    ""I have to decide if I'm to live or die, I want [people] to forget my own name" is a constant theme in my own inner wanderings. I interpret the difference between death and nameless oblivion in that the latter is a lifting of any social responsibility instead of the death of the flesh. A social death, a life without consequence and remembrance. There is a curious sort of solipsist liberty, in that state of mind, that Heavy Metal sometimes gravitates towards."

    It's interesting to consider the first verse through your interpretation because as long as I can remember I've been entertaining the idea of Me being the only one who really exists. It was a funny thing when I first time read about solipsism I immediately thought "oh so I'm not alone with this". Experience of alienation is an old friend of mine.

    Also The Devil, an Entity, a Muse.. Inspiration through artistic possession. I like the idea.

  7. The Entity: I can't for the life of me remember a single romantic Heavy Metal lyric where the band and/or singer take credit for what the power they're delivering, they all accept that they're channeling something. Even Manowar once did and it's the point of departure for me when they stop acknowledging this and instead pretend to be Gods themselves.

  8. This was a very, very good read about music by a band I've never experienced. You have definitely piqued my interest. Thank you. I'll give them a listen soon.

  9. Thank you for your kind words, Erenan :)

  10. Well, I've spent the last week listening to this when reasonable, including once while on a run, so I feel I know it at least in passing. Notes:

    1) The vocals are perhaps the one part I had the most trouble getting used to, but I can appreciate them after a few listens. There is a charm to the broken English poetry employed ("Mister Giant You Must Die" is absolutely hilarious). Overall, I've come to appreciate the bizarre singers. They keep the poseurs at bay, and force you to engage the music repeatedly in order to gain any value from it.

    2) One word leaps to mind: eccentric. These guys are definitely from the same universe as Cirith Ungol, but while Cirith Ungol are drinking with us in the Non-Euclidian pub and telling us about past dimensional broads that done them wrong, Dark Quarterer are in the city's tower, seeking to comprehend the magic underlying that dimension's magic. I'm willing to ignore the Engrish and take them seriously because of this.

    3) At the same time, the music is successful on two levels. It's inaccessible, but not uncatchy or unmemorable. The songs are well written. Soaring choruses, teasing intros, etc. That's something I've sometimes found lacking in a lot of underground metal. Not here. So while to appreciate it properly I need to join them in their quest for knowledge, it can also function perfectly well as background music.

  11. 1) that's interesting. I find the vocals amazing on this record, not even weird-amazing, just straight-up powerful high-register force.

    2) They're like Cirith Ungol in that they're an '80s band that sounds like a '70s band from the future. I like where you're going with the towermancy.

    3) Keep listening :)

  12. The magic underlying that dimension's magic...


  13. I find your use of the english in perfect appropriate to the italo-magickal discussion at our hand.

  14. Definitely less cringe-indulging than my article mistakes -_-

  15. You know what's cringe-inducing (and not indulging!)? How you said Dark Quarterer are so behind the times they come out ahead somehow, then I adopted that piece of wisdom and just a few days later I wrote it out unconsciously thinking it was my own as "a '70s band from the future". My brain does whatever it wants.

  16. You already knew that, you just didn't know it.

  17. Here's to eventual total recall.