There are a lot of different types of thrash metal today. New to the trend is the neo-thrash with a lot of modern elements – which I gave the cute name of “plastic thrash metal”, but I still enjoy some of it -, typical of bands like Suicidal Angels, Evile and Havok, for instance; there’s the opposite of the former one, where new bands try (and often succeed) to grasp the good ol’ days of the 80’s thrash, played by groups such as Total Violence, Wildhunt and Ultra-Violence; the technical and/or progressive brand, portrayed so well by new and old alike such as Vektor, Gargoyle and Mekong Delta; the hybrid type, with death or black elements…I could go on all day. But hey, I forgot a really important one: the old-school band that’s still active and kickin’ serious ass. This could include Kreator, Protector, Exodus, Sodom…and these crazy bastards right here, Overkill. I tend to compare the Overkill trajectory with those of bands like Saxon and Accept: bands that destroyed and blew everyone’s minds during the 1980’s, took a wrong turn here and there in the 1990’s and early 2000’s (they also did some things right, don’t worry, I’m not that crazy as to think that all was garbage) and then drank an elixir of eternal life or something in the late 2000’s, maybe to brag about how awesome they truly are. Nevertheless, the American quintet never stayed adrift too long and this year, after three years after the great ‘White Devil Armory’, they go bonkers once again and will release ‘The Grinding Wheel’ on February 10th via Nuclear Blast.
The album is significantly different to the three previous ones, musically speaking. While these were more direct, raw and stronger in the riffing and overall explosion, ‘The Grinding Wheel’ is actually very diverse, sludgy and heterogeneous in the songwriting and melody departments. The album starts in the same manner as‘White Devil Armory’, though, with the head-crushing “Green Mean Killing Machine”, track that was already released as a lyric video a while ago. Characteristic of Overkill’s style, the song is a supernova of fast riffs allied with the right amount of groove, only to burst into one of the coolest bridges and choruses of recent years for the band. A great start, well worthy of their legacy. Follow-ups “Goddamn Trouble” and “Our Finest Hour” keep things in the neighborhood with similar construction and equally good amount of badassness. The first has that playful atmosphere + heavy leads combo so present in Overkill’s albums, with DD Verni showcasing his bass prowess (as always) and Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth delivering a great performance, accompanied by the decent choirs behind him, while the second further illustrates the amount of power and energy these guys still put on making quality thrash metal. Fast and cadenced in the right parts with a groovy chorus, the song is definitely one of the best here.
The ball drops a little bit in the mid portion of the album, with OK songs like the fun and crazy “Let’s All Go to Hades” and its ludicrous lyrics and “The Long Road”, which begins to show the epic side of this album (yes, there are epic songs in an Overkill album,surprise), and less-favorable ones – but decent, nevertheless – such as “Shine On”, and the grooviest of them all, “Come Heavy”. The album picks up once again in the brutal “Red, White and Blue”, a full-on thrash anthem with amazing energy and killer performances by Derek Tailer and Dave Linsk in the guitar-work, but the hero here is Ron Lipnicki, who delivers stab after stab of pounding drums. Closing the endeavor are the truly epic bits of the album, “The Wheel” and “The Grinding Wheel”; the first almost feels like an introduction to the magnum opus that is to come, but not without its own personality, while the second is one of the longest, most diversified and carefully crafted songs of Overkill’s history. “The Grinding Wheel” has a very unique and pleasantly surprising atmosphere, ranging from old-school thrash to progressive and intricate parts (yes, you read it right). I give the utmost respect to these guys for trying something (very) different than their signature sound, and extra points for actually succeeding at it, as the track has good quality and doesn’t feel obnoxious or over the top. The legendary Andy Sneap was in charge of production and mixing, so there are no problems in that department. Every instrument feels and sounds organic, and the high and low ends are decently distanced from each other, giving it a high dynamic range.
‘The Grinding Wheel’ is by far the album I liked the most when it comes to American thrash giants releasing material in the past year or so (which includes Testament, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. Metallica is not thrash anymore, get over it), and I find it to be a very good thrash metal album in general. The bold move of inserting some alien elements to the band’s characteristic sound and some great production work all help with the final product, true, but Overkill is at its best when delivering straight-up thrash metal, which ‘The Grinding Wheel’ also has in abundance. These dudes are already in the hall of legends, and so could have launched a mediocre album and still have street credit, but they chose to grab heavy metal by the balls and stand their ground once again, proving that age is but a number. A lesson (of sorts, anyway) in thrash metal to all those new bands out there.