Initially vinyl-only, and initially self-titled, the debut full-length from Berlin-based classic heavy rockers Heat arrives on CD under the name Old Sparky via Electric Magic Records, the new imprint headed by Christian Peters of Samsara Blues Experiment. Mostly retro, born of jams, Heat’s ties to their Berlin compatriots run more than their label ties – they also share bassist Richard Behrens, who recorded, mixed and mastered the six tracks of Old Sparky at Big Snuff Studio. The album, which runs a full but ultimately manageable 45 minutes, is well allied to the current European heavy scene, though despite their proto-metal leanings, the guitars of Ingo Börner and Marco Rischer also have a tendency to meander when they choose to do so, particularly during the opening and closing tracks of the album, which are also the two longest. “Daymare,” which starts the record, and “Ending Aging,” which caps it, veer from the straightforwardness of structure that emerges on in-between cuts “Warhead,” “Hamelin,” “Illusion” and “Old Sparky,” all of which run between five and six minutes long. Far from samey, however, each individual piece shows a personality of its own while also staying true to the laid back heavy vibe of Old Sparky, which remains consistent throughout in a manner both accomplished for a debut and speaking to Heat’s overarching potential for future growth. Börner and Rischer’s guitars are complemented by Behrens’ inventive low end work, the coinciding drumming of Marcus Töpfer and the layered vocals of Patrick Fülling, which prove a defining element throughout the tracks. On “Daymare” and elsewhere, Fülling slips into a post-Ozzy cadence that reminds me a bit of some of Steve Murphy from Kings Destroy’s approach, but obviously the accent is different and Fülling doesn’t rely on the same delivery method the whole time. On the faster thrust of “Warhead,” he draws out the title in memorable fashion while the guitars proffer ‘70s bikerisms behind, gradually tripping their way into a psychedelic wah bridge held down by Behrens’ bass and Töpfer’s quality if somewhat understated fills.
Earliest Judas Priest comes to mind as a comparison point, as Heat seem to be embarking on a project dedicated to finding that exact moment when heavy rock became heavy metal. The production – thick in a modern sense but still live-sounding and natural on the reeling stops and grooving push of “Hamelin” – bears that out. It’s an admirable mission in a historical sense and it’s enough to put Old Sparky not quite in league with the many, many post-Graveyard 1973-worshipers coming out of Europe these days. Those elements are there, perhaps most of all on “Ending Aging,” which shirks off the sub-metal of “Hamelin” and “Warhead” in favor of a more strictly blues-minded drive, but Heat’s ability to shake up the mood while retaining sonic consistency works to their benefit. Tonally warm and seeming most comfortable when locked into a mid-tempo riff, Börner and Rischer nonetheless are able to steer the rest of the band in any direction they choose – there’s nothing about Old Sparky one could reasonably call experimental, but it’s not lacking creativity either – and that makes the album exciting as the instant familiarity of “Hamelin” gives way to the rush of “Illusion,” on which the two guitars have some of their best interplay of the album. A shuffle underlines formidable drum crash and a strong hook from Fülling, and with the post-chorus leads and transitional chug between verse lines, shades of Pentagram emerge as filtered through 30-plus years of smoke-filled distortion. “Illusion” winds up a highlight in no small part for its Sabbath-style blues preceding the closer’s aesthetic coup, even if it walks that line between being derivative and hard to place specifically within the sphere of ‘70s heavy and ‘70s-insired heavy, and “Old Sparky” provides the most Graveyard-esque stretch, though its 5:43 runtime is by no means limited just to that influence. I note how long the song is because it speaks to an interesting facet of the album in that but for the first and last tracks, the four between run in order from shortest to longest, “Warhead” being five minutes flat and “Old Sparky” the aforementioned 5:43. Likewise, “Daymare” is 8:11 and “Ending Aging” 15:42, also shortest to longest (though obviously on a different scale). Whether or not Heat intended them to run that way because of their length, I don’t know, but it’s curious nonetheless, and if they did do it on purpose, it speaks of a commitment to intricacy in their presentation. I’ll be interested to see if they do something similar with their next album.