Album Review: No Spill Blood - 'Heavy Electricity' (Sargent House, 2015)

No Spill Blood expand their signature science fiction synth sludge metal sound to new cosmic(/kosmiche) reaches on their debut record Heavy Electricity.

No Spill Blood's debut record Heavy Electricity is a strange beast.

A flippant want to describe it would be to offer up a simple analogy, like "Steve Moore's Titan meets Red Fang," or to gesture to similarly synth-based metal band Genghis Tron. Those analogies wouldn't be wrong, but like all simplistic comparisons in art, it misses what makes No Spill Blood themselves and no one else.

The truth in those analogies comes from the science fiction synthesizers that both Titan and Genghis Tron share. No Spill Blood follows in the mold of bands like The Doors and Van der Graaf Generator, replacing guitars entirely with an interplay of bass and keyboards.

The record sounds like a 70s science fiction film mashed up against an 80s slasher.

At times it runs off of John Carpenter- and Vangelis-checking synth tones conjuring images of slow drifting perfectly white space ships stacked to the gills with guns and pipes and nooks and bulbs.

At others, it calls to mind images of Tron-like laser grids and glowing neon simple geometric shapes.

Other groups have played with this space; Miami Nights 1984 and another Steve Moore group called Zombi come to mind. It's easy for this kind of music to lapse into pure kitsch or, worse, cheese; nostalgia is a tough mode to work in without coming across as lazy as all hell.

What pulls No Spill Blood out of this territory are the heavy rock live drums, the riffy-as-hell bass guitar, and the harsher hardcore-style vocals that wouldn't sound out of place on a Red Fang, Doomriders or Mutoid Man record.

They add a much-needed dose of slasher movie grit and bestial heavy metal thunder.

This is no knock to the synths, of course. They're center stage; this album is more about them than any other single piece, including the wonderfully gritty and darkly cosmic lyrics which add a much-needed element of savagery to the record. The synthesizers are the heart, from the gurgling, squiggly leads, to the modulated pads and humming synthesized strings.

They do the most legwork for setting the stage of this record, painting psychedelic nebula-filled cosmoses, images of bursting suns and black holes and crystal monoliths.

The drums and bass and vocals do more to fill in details of this image-world, offering up strange, perverse idols, high-tech orcs crawling across sun-blasted, nuke-cratered far future apocalypse planets, axes made of lasers wielded against decaying spaceships.

This is progressive heavy metal in the classic mode, nodding as much to Rainbow and Dio as their modern peers with science fantasy soundscapes.

Ultimately, this is what makes the record so compelling. Camp and theatricality are part of the history of progressive music and heavy metal. Both are, at heart, program music, meant to conjure sonic imagery and fantastical narratives as much as they are meant to resonate with the deeper soul.

This art gets made because these feelings are real, these hopes, these desires, these images.

Fantasy requires first a vision and a hope and, deeper, a desire; the art comes after, conjuring this desired visionary world, reminding us that the world we live in is not the only one, that this place was made to be as it is and, with effort, can be made again into something else, something stranger, more bizarre, more alien, more superbly fantastical.

These images come from within us; they come from secret corners of the heart where anger and hope and fear and love and wild desire and ever more wild despair live, conjuring decrepit dreadscapes to match our perfect dread just as it conjures majestic visions of fantastical power to match the intensity of our wills and desires.

It doesn't take the place of more realist and directly relatable work, but it isn't supposed to. It fills in a certain gap. This is what No Spill Blood do best, and without a single hint of irony, which deflates so many bands playing with these kinds of sounds and images. No Spill Blood is serious. They believe in what they are making. And that energy carries through. It swims up and over you, and soon you are in their bizarre visionary bestial landscapes with them.

And, most importantly, they never get lost up their own ass and forget tunefulness and tight song-writing. They reference kosmiche, but have the good sense to stick to the rock song structures they know best. It's psychedelic, but at the heart of this record are still riffs, still powerful driving rhythms, still verses and choruses and anthemic melodies.

They never get lost in the space they explore. This is a drive. This is a quest. This is hungry for something and searching high and low for it.

And to think this is a debut record for the group. One hell of a debut.