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The Grinding Wheel

Nuclear Blast (2017)
Rating: 8.5/10

It’s been three years since the last Overkill outburst in the form of 2014’s White Devil Armory, but the New Jersey thrash veterans never feel as if they’ve been away, and with their latest album they’ve well and truly put Metallica’s overrated latest (Hardwired… To Self-Destruct) in perspective.

Overkill has been a true thrash band since their inception in the 80s; at times no frills but ever reliable, alongside the likes of Exodus and Testament they’ve ploughed their way through the trends and fads, never once relinquishing their thrash roots or dropping out of the major league.

Maybe because of their consistency they’ve been somewhat overlooked; a tragedy when one considers that in the mid-to-late 90s and beyond the so-called giants Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth somewhat lost their way. But it really is time to look at Overkill, Exodus and Testament as the true “big three”; leviathans offering up juddering rhythms without fault of frailty.

The Grinding Wheel keeps the thunder ball rolling and thunderbolts frying – battering rams that you can count on. Sure, Overkill have somewhat become the Motörhead of thrash metal – bludgeoning, boozing, belting, and bashing their way to immortality, standing tall like some steaming hot bulldozer fuelled by the yappy sneers of main striker Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and his right-hand man, bassist D.D. Verni.

Yep, you know what’s coming but you just can’t help but be steamrollered by the epic ‘Mean, Green Killing Machine’ which begins with a weighty Ron Lipnicki percussive thud, a Verni bass rumble and then that crushing Dave Linsk / Derek Tailer chunky chug. It’s a moshing slab of madness to get the heads bangin’, and that’s what Overkill have always set out to do; ply their fan-base with bruising lumps of neck-breakin’ juggernauts. But it still sounds very much like Overkill; the combo casting aside mind-blowing progression to ply a bombastic trade within their destructive framework. Heavy, nodding rhythms give way to bouts of slower, trudging levels and gang chants, but as showcased with this opening track there’s heaps of melody too – crisp slams polished by Andy Sneap’s remarkable production and then faster, hammering bouts of catchiness.

‘Goddamn Trouble’ lives up to its title; and fist of fury constructed of trouncing drums and bass drubbing, Ellsworth’s snarls take an almost nursery rhyme-styled melody and turn it into an absurd cauldron of boiling intensity. Overkill just never has the ability to let up from its frantic energy and fizzing stride.

Detractors may argue that Overkill’s 18th full-length studio outing is generic, but I’m not sure what else they’re meant to do – why fix something they smashed up years ago? This isn’t just average thrash metal, but instead catchy, memorable fist-pumping menace. ‘Our Finest Hour’ brings a killer groove, and groovier still is ‘Come Heavy’; a deadly, blackened grunged-up slice of mid-90s darkness, but it’s also Overkill at their hippest and most upbeat.

In contrast, ‘Let’s All Go To Hades’ begins with a monolithic doom-laden trudge before embarking on a punky, rattling groove and silly lyrics, while ‘The Long Road’ opens like Manowar, with hints of Teutonic wizardry too during the solo. It’s another hefty bite of melodic metal almost combining Accept, Saxon and classic thrash with one mighty stir.

The eight-minute closer ‘The Grinding Wheel’ showcases the unequalled talent of these guys. There’s a doom-laden march of weighty drums, bass and guitar before Bobby Ellsworth’s calmer commands interject – hints of classic Candlemass if you ask me with his sombre tones, but it’s just a gargantuan structure that symbolises the diversity within Overkill’s wheel; the grinding, green-coated cogs turn and expel the rust as the riffs chug with a greasy ease.

It’s familiar but never formulaic with Overkill just doing what they do best – engulfing the listener before finishing them off with a sledgehammer to the skull. The Grinding Wheel is classic thrash – never ageing, never aching and always fulfilling.

Neil Arnold

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