The year is 1985 and your parents are pissed. Your grades slipped again. It’s not that you aren’t smart. It’s that you can’t focus. Because Overkill just released Feel the Fire and it’s changing your life. Sure, you heard Razor’s Armed & Dangerous last year. But it didn’t hit hard enough for you. Maybe Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and Slayer’s Show No Mercy hit hard enough but had too much technicality for your youthful mind. Maybe you just wanted to go down to the wood-paneled basement with it’s mildewy smell emanating from the shag and blast some straightforward thrash. Bets are, Overkill scratched that itch. And if you could steal some of Dad’s shitty beer while doing so, all the better.
Well, now it’s 2016 and you still have that itch for some thrash metal that includes all the necessary elements that fire you up to throw on your spandex and white high tops and hit the garage while your wife is feeding the baby. While most seminal thrash bands have faded into obscurity, become self-parody or just plain ran out of ideas, Overkill blasted out of the ocean like a killer whale gasping for air. There’s no denying that their recent catalog, beginning with Ironbound in 2010, has catapulted the band not only back to the quality of their roots but also into the highest echelon of thrash bands. While their 2016 release and 18th LP The Grinding Wheel may not reach the heights set by Ironbound and White Devil ArmoryI, it certainly goes toe to toe with The Electric Age. And it only further cements the legacy of Overkill and metal’s undying frontman with the Saturday Rap Attack Magic Marley Marl delivery, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth.
While Overkill has been through a bunch of members (only Blitz and D.D. Verni have been around since the start) it’s been the same core since 2005’s ReliXIV. And it only took five years and three releases for that amalgamation of Overkill to find their honey hole: A power driven form of thrash in overdrive relying on riffs, a tight rhythm section, some of the most infectious, exciting vocals and a whole bunch of swagger that made their resurgence such a smashing success. The Grinding Wheel continues that tradition with each track containing multiple sections, all laced with hooking riffs and exciting rhythmic shifts that keep the listener both engaged and on his or her toes.
On “Our Finest Hour” the band employs no less than five captivating riffs through the nearly six-minute runtime. Riffs that other bands might build an entire career on, Overkill use merely as transitions between a chorus and a bridge. Like throwaway beat transitions on a pre-1990 De La Soul release, Overkill recognizes the importance of composition in peragere. No wasted parts. No riffs that are merely filler. Even if a riff is utilized for fifteen seconds or less, that riff is going to be an absolute monster claw tearing into your brain’s deepest recesses of fond memory.
The Grinding Wheel is littered with highlight tracks. So, while “Goddamn Trouble” might veer a bit towards silly given the contemporary culture and age of those performing it, “The Long Road” and “Come Heavy” balance it out by providing absolute stompers. The former opening with a chorus of vocals over a loose drums before a solo and marching beat order the troops to form rank and set stun-rays to thrash. The lead work here is exceptional. Driving, building tension, gloriously relieving that tension and whining through blues notes and bends and chromatic descents that leave the listener frothing at the mouth and ready to attack. And when the vocals announce themselves in full catchy, poignant and sing-along fashion, all thrash metal’s beautiful glory is revealed in the golden shrine that is Blitz.
Almost every track on The Grinding Wheel features gang vocals. None better than the aforementioned “The Long Road.” “Onward! Onward! Upward!” are the shouts that stir fists sitting calmly in front of speakers as Blitz leads the charge. No matter your age or affiliations, “The Long Road,” in both music and message, will bring a tear to your eye reminding you of all the struggles, and all the good times, that life has afforded. And what better way to celebrate life than through art? The guitar solos will help you envision such rippers as Brian May while the outro recalls the harmonized guitars of Thin Lizzy while Blitz’s vocal cadence and sheer power will keep you pumping that fist.
“The Wheel” proves that Overkill are not joking around with their title; they really want to talk about wheels on this album. Fortunately, all wheel-based songs absolutely kill. “The Wheel” is the shortest track on the album clocking in shy of five minutes. The verse riffage adds dissonance mimicking the opening moans of guitar much like the compositional patterns in “Goddamn Trouble.” But where “Goddamn Trouble” leans just a bit too far in the direction of cheese, “The Wheel” is a ripper at home in any era of Overkill’s celebrated catalog (meaning pre-1994 or post-2010). Ending about as hard as any of the tracks on The Grinding Wheel can end, it’s crucial to help maintain concentration, adrenaline and commitment for this one hour adventure.
Let’s talk title tracks. There have been few bands that have done them better. In fact, a battle for title-track-thrash-supremacy might leave Overkill facing off against Kreator in a near stalemate. Even our own Devil’s Dozen here was chock-full of title tracks (before we argued it down to the final candidates). The title track for The Grinding Wheel is, at first blush, the most out-of-place song on the album. Featuring a touch more technicality and pacing than the more power-saw tracks preceding it, “The Grinding Wheel” plods (grinds) along for nearly eight minutes. It’s a bold foray into a less thrash and more powerful type of traditional track. And over that traditional formula, Blitz displays his alto vibrato and screeches before the track jumps all aboard the thrash train to close out what is yet another stellar album in Overkill’s modern library.
For any band in history to release 18 albums over a more than 30-year career, and have at least 50 percent of those releases be absolute B+ or better albums is near unheard of. Plenty of bands simply fizzled out in the late 80s, gave up in the 90s or have just been forgotten about in the 2000s. Overkill was not content to resign itself fate. Even after a middling career for roughly 20 years, they exploded back on the scene and have kept that fire going. The Grinding Wheel is going to sate all fans who were dying for more of that Electric Age era sound. Simply put, Blitz is positioning himself to be the prototypical thrash frontman. Never losing his pipes, his edge, his urge to rebel and the uncanny ability to replicate it all live. Shag carpet or minivan, wood paneling or prison bars, aging metal dad or burgeoning metal youth, Overkill’s The Grinding Wheel is a solid addition to any collection.