By The Great Sun Jester

It’s a mistake to characterize Spillage’s debut as retro anything. It implies something set or frozen in time and place. Their self-titled release from Qumran Records feature nine songs working very much within a long-established tradition, but guitarist Tony Spillman and his cohorts aren’t content to simply regurgitate a grab-bag of hard rock poses and call it an album. Spillman’s playing picks up where it left off the last time we heard it on the debut Earthen Grave album and stamps each song with his energy and eye-popping command of melody, but his songwriting takes center stage for the first time. Four of the album’s songs are credited to him alone and the rest are rounded out by outstanding band mates and outside collaborators. 

“The Darkness” evolves from its Hammond organ intro into a mid-tempo riff workout. One of Spillman’s signature qualities, melodic guitar work, emerges some even in the sleek, streamlined verses, but his coherence takes even grander form on the song’s scorching solo. “Live in Fear” takes a much more aggressive tenor, but even this hard-nosed, head-down rocker has a memorable riff and strong, direct lyrics. Lothar Keller, known for his work with Sacred Dawn and The Skull, turns in another confident vocal. Spillman sparks the song again with a pair of piercing and perfectly placed solos. Keller really soars with “The Road” thanks to a David Byron-like vocal. The song’s highest point, however, comes at the halfway point when the six string artillery recedes, the tempo slows, and Spillman delivers beautifully evocative lead guitar. This extended coda never feels slapped arbitrarily onto the track and, instead, invests it with impressive grandeur. 

“Call It Freedom” kicks off with explosive, urgent riffing and Keller’s entrance raises the stakes. This isn’t a call to arms sort of song, but there’s definitely a social consciousness in the lyrics that fortunately stays observational, but never preachy. The album’s heaviest moment comes with “In Hell”. The supernatural imagery seems a bit overplayed, but it’s a musical beast that manages to incorporate vivid keyboard textures into a massive guitar attack. “Insomnia” crackles with pyrotechnic riffing and an assortment of dramatic tempo shifts. The sharp songwriting shows through in the band’s seamless ability to move through these various sections without missing a beat. Spillage will surprise many with their improbable, but imaginative, cover of Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman”. Spillman and his cohorts transform Richard’s original into a striding hard rock classic with strong guitars and a rousing chorus. 

“Land of Opportunity” vies with “In Hell” as a battering ram heavy hitter and a resounding statement near the album’s end. Spillman’s guitar workout unleashes a fearsome assault on the listener, but the drumming propels the track with just as much force. The album’s finale, “We Are”, is the album’s longest effort and the pinnacle of the songwriting construction on this album. As always, Spillman shows a keen ear for shifting dynamics in a hard rock song. “We Are” shifts without missing a beat and picks up added power and momentum. 

This is a powerhouse debut years in the making. Spillman’s guitar rampages through the running order like a long-silenced force given full vent to speak, but he’s surrounded himself with a great singer and able crew of top notch musical talent. There isn’t a weak song among the nine here and the album concludes with the inescapable feeling that we haven’t heard the best or last from Spillage.