The decade thus far has been pretty kind to OVERKILL, the New Jersey thrash outfit who have been a continuous battering ram of rollicking energy for well over thirty-five years now. They kicked it off with a pair of wonderful albums in Ironbound and The Electric Age, and while 2014’s White Devil Armory did not quite pack that same level of punch and memorable songwriting, for the most part it seems that much like their peers in TESTAMENT and EXODUS that OVERKILL have been receiving the credit they deserve as a vibrant part of the thrash tapestry who have produced more than their fair share of quality records.
Here in 2017, The Grinding Wheel is OVERKILL’s eighteenth (read that again) studio album, not including covers releases and EPs, and ultimately over the course of that body of work their core sound has never been too far from the forefront. Subtle deviations are apparent (no one is going to mistake the punkier flavour of debut Feel the Fire, the labyrinthine structures of The Years of Decay and I Hear Black’s thick groove metal feel as being rehashes of the same album), but these are variations on a theme, and while it may be a bit of a cop-out to say so it will not surprise anyone to learn that The Grinding Wheel does exactly the things you would expect an OVERKILL album to do. What’s more of a question is the standard to which it is done, and while The Grinding Wheel does not even begin to scrape the recent heights of Ironbound and The Electric Age, it does manage to surpass the still respectable White Devil Armory and sees the band reinforcing their undeniable character.
There are few surprises present on The Grinding Wheel, the closest being the almost Southern swing of Come Heavy, but what’s evident is a level of craft that only a band this far into their career with this much material behind them could exercise. It’s not so much OVERKILL firing on all cylinders as it is OVERKILL subtly reinforcing to themselves what it means to be OVERKILL. Much is quite mid-paced, the speedier tracks like Goddamn Trouble often feeling closer to MOTÖRHEAD’s most raucous moments than pure thrash metal, but this is a clear part of OVERKILL’s identity right down to their name. That East Coast strut is ever present, and D.D. Verni’s clear rumbling bass remains an integral part of the mix. Of course Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth remains OVERKILL’s not so secret weapon, an unstoppable ball of life and energy spitting into a microphone. He’s tremendously cartoonish in a way many of the best thrash vocalists are and his conviction and vitality make these songs what they are, his knack for hooks shining through on Our Finest Hour and his wailing delivery elevating the closing title track from a fairly lukewarm dirge into something bigger.
Unfortunately where The Grinding Wheel falters is a little self-indulgence in terms of length and arrangements. At a full hour long, it does not carry enough ideas to warrant a runtime that for the sake of comparison in terms of scope breaches that of Master of Puppets. The two songs that are under the five minute mark are only under by a few seconds, and when sections like the advancing snare of The Long Road’s intro go on for well over a minute and a half it’s hard not to wish this band who have proven capable of snapping necks with ease would just get on with it. Some of its best moments like Red White and Blue come when they do just that. Compared to the recent KREATOR album which positively soars, The Grinding Wheel is aptly named in its crushing demeanour, and it does not always carry the menace needed to fully nail that feel. For the diehard OVERKILL fan though, there’s more than enough to satisfy here.
The Grinding Wheel is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.
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