Album review: Overkill – The Grinding Wheel

Genre: Thrash metal

Release date: 10th February 2017

Record label: Nuclear Blast

overkill-the-grinding-wheelJersey-based veterans Overkill could quite easily be the most underrated thrash metal band to come out of the genre’s classic ‘80s movement. For almost 37 years, the five-piece – led by frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni – have been practically omnipresent, constantly pumping out new music at least once every three years. For nearly four decades, they’ve been thrah’s reliable workhorses, keeping a tight schedule while contemporaries like Metallica and Testament are now beginning to take about half a decade to come out with new material.

As a result, The Grinding Wheel is going to be Overkill’s astonishing seventeenth record since 1985 (to put that in perspective, that’s ~0.53 albums a year) and, while it probably doesn’t quite live up to the precedent set by such masterpieces as Horrorscope (1991) and The Years of Decay (1989), it is doubtlessly a proficient record and an essential addition to the collection for die-hard fans.

The predominant positives of the album come firstly in the form of Blitz’s high-pitched vocal attack. Channelling Bon Scott and Steve “Zetro” Souza, his wails remain passionate, powerful and enthralling even after so many years of screaming his lungs out for a living. Bobby adds a particularly old-school, rock n’ roll swagger to Overkill that makes the band bridge the gap between ‘70s rock and ‘80s metal fantastically.

Also deserving of praise is the length of both the album and its individual songs. Even though it has only been circa two-and-a-half years since Overkill’s last release, White Devil Armory (2014), the quintet supplies over an hour of new music, with only two tracks venturing beneath the five-minute mark.

However, such generosity does in turn lead to the primary problem that infects most facets of The Grinding Wheel: the actual instrumentation – although very much competent and fair from being “bad” – possesses a tendency to be forgettable. While the vocals of Blitz often shine, the guitars and rhythms do not stick out to the ear anywhere near as much, with very few riffs worming their way into the ear the way that the ones on Metallica’s Hardwired… to Self-Destruct and Testament’s Brotherhood of the Snake did recently. And when you’re a thrash band, where the guitar is one of the most important elements hands-down, that’s an issue.

As a result, The Grinding Wheel is, quite simply, good. While the riffs, aside from the mid-paced guitar scorcher on the trailblazer “The Wheel”, are serviceable, Blitz steals the show as he adds an element of party-hard rock to the usually dead-pan serious world of metal.

This album won’t set the world on fire but, in the end, it probably isn’t meant to. It’s a worthy entry into the Overkill canon that established fans will doubtlessly find some great repeat value in due to its lengthy songs and generally invigorating and infectious energy. However, if anyone is looking for a great starting point from which to approach Overkill, stick with Horrorscope, The Years of Decay or Under the Influence (1988).

Final rating: The Grinding Wheel gets 7 Chaly’s out of 10.

The Grinding Wheel will be available physically and digitally via Nuclear Blast Records on 10th February 2017.