Album of the Week 06-2017: OverKill – The Grinding Wheel

As legendary as earlier OverKill albums like ‘Horrorscope’, ‘The Years Of Decay’ and debut album ‘Feel The Fire’ have become, it’s a fact that even in the 21st century, New Jersey’s finest has released some quality material. That’s why a new OverKill album is always something to look forward to. In fact, recent albums like ‘White Devil Armory’ and especially 2010’s incredible ‘Ironbound’ have increased the thrashing intensity, which in combination with their punkish vigor and relentless grooves account for excellent contemporary thrash metal. And while ‘The Grinding Wheel’ doesn’t quite reach that level, it’s another worthy addition to the band’s discography.

Initially, I was a bit underwhelmed by the first tracks that surfaced. While I really like the chorus of first single ‘Our Finest Hour’, the verse riff was lifted note for note from the superior ‘Electric Rattlesnake’ and opening track ‘Mean, Green, Killing Machine’ had an interesting middle section with Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s cleanest vocal performance in years – something he repeats in a few other tunes on the album – but also felt a bit like OverKill going through the motions. While neither are among my favorites, they admittedly make a little more sense within the context of the album.

Especially the second half of the record contains a few gems. ‘Red White And Blue’ for instance, a ripping, hardcore-infused thrasher in the same vein as ‘Pig’ on the previous record. The closing title track is an epic work of art comparable in style and atmosphere to ‘In The Name’ and the classic ‘Gasoline Dream’. That gothic doom-like outro is unlike anything OverKill has ever done before. ‘The Wheel’ is another masterpiece; it goes through several distinct movements – with especially that brooding verse riff being beyond amazing – without ever feeling disjointed. Three tracks that end the album on a great note.

But there’s more. ‘The Long Road’ is classic OverKill meets Iron Maiden’s triumphant twin guitar melodies with Dave Linsk – who truly outdoes himself on the entire record – soloing wildly over it. The groovy ‘Come Heavy’ shows the band’s Black Sabbath influences even more obviously than their tendency to switch to something completely different halfway through the songs. Out of the songs with more subdued tempos, ‘Shine On’ takes the cake. Partially because the thrashiness of the riff contrasts wonderfully with the relatively laid-back rhythm. ‘Let’s All Go To Hades’ is the most punky song of the bunch and while I generally prefer the band’s more metal material, the dual lead vocal harmony is excellent.

Some bands are just impossible to slow down. OverKill is one of them. Where many bands that started around the same time – they’ve been around since 1980 – exist solely on nostalgia, OverKill still manages to push themselves to some spirited performances and a few excellent tracks. And even more amazing is the fact that Ellsworth’s voice never manages to lose any of its vicious power. While ‘The Grinding Wheel’ isn’t the latter day masterpiece that ‘Killbox 13’ or ‘Ironbound’ was, it grew on me after a few spins, by which point it was impossible to sit still. Especially to that triple threat at the end of the record.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Grinding Wheel’, ‘Red White And Blue’, ‘The Wheel’

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