Title: The Grinding Wheel
Genre: Thrash Metal
Release Date: February 10, 2017
Length: 60 min.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Personnel: Bobby Ellsworth (lead vocals), D. D. Verni (bass guitar), Dave Linsk (lead guitar), Derek Tailer (rhythm guitar), Ron Lipnicki (drums)
It’s official. We are in the midst of a thrash eruption. Especially since early 2016, we’ve been getting many fantastic releases from thrash bands and bands wearing thrash influences on their sleeves: Anthrax, Death Angel, Flotsam and Jetsam, Havok, Kreator, Lich King, Megadeth, Meshuggah, Metallica, Sepultura, Sodom, Suicidal Tendencies, Testament, Vektor, Warbringer. Looking at releases in the near future, this movement seems to just be getting started! And now, here comes Overkill with The Grinding Wheel to plant themselves beside the other thrash legends and show today’s young whippersnappers how it’s done.
Surprisingly, I had always heard of but never really listened intently to Overkill. Then, I heard Coverkillernation talking about them over at his YouTube channel, and it got me interested in them again. So I decided to check them out on Spotify, and I began to realize that these guys have some awesome, gritty, killer thrash in their history!
Looking into Overkill’s history, I found that they are a seemingly ever present New Jersey thrash band respected and loved by many but always kind of underground in the metal scene, never getting that album that would jettison them into the mainstream of metal, let alone break through to the mainstream of music as a whole (not that the band has ever desired the latter.) They never truly got a Black Album or a Countdown to Extinction, and they also, unfortunately, never necessarily produced a bona fide metal masterpiece, like a Master of Puppets, Rust In Peace, or Seasons in the Abyss.
Forming in 1980, Overkill took their name from the 1979 Motorhead song, and, indeed, the boys in the band seem to have effectively transferred the Motorhead rock ‘n’ roll philosophy and work ethic into thrash. Though they have gone through various lineup changes, the two constants of the band are vocalist “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist D. D. Verni. No lie, The Grinding Wheel is Overkill’s 18th album! Ever since 1985, they’ve been delivering new thrash albums consistently every one to three years. Overkill may not be the most technical band, but they are always wild, energetic, and prolific.
A scrappy group throughout the 1980s, Overkill reached the ’90s more unscathed and true to their founding principles than most thrashers did, though their forays into integrating groove metal and might into their sound didn’t pack as much heft as they probably intended, and neither did they get the desired response. The 2000’s and 2010’s as well have seen mixed results and reactions for Overkill. Despite all this, they have always stuck to the path they sat out upon. So how is this new album of theirs?
In short, I liked The Grinding Wheel, but I didn’t love it. Before I say anything, though, I have to give the proper credit to Overkill. These guys have been bearing the thrash flag for a long time, even during the years when thrash’s greatest proponents were jumping ship a bit. So we have to give Overkill our respect for that, and for staying consistent.
Now, on The Grinding Wheel, I have nothing bad at all really to say about the vocals and instrumentation. Those parts are legitimately good, if not great. Unfortunately, the song compositions, selections, and writing are just okay, though, and that is where this album’s weaknesses lie, in addition the album as a whole seeming overly self-indulgent. The simplistic, punk influenced, early thrash nature of the overall music does not really justify the long run time of the songs or the album. There’s not enough variation, depth, or difference song to song to keep us from getting a little bored, no matter how good the vocals and instrumentation might be. There isn’t even much melodicism to give our ears a break outside Linsk’s incredible guitar solos. And the lyricism, while sufficient and certainly not boring, is also not always interesting, and it’s burdened down with half-hearted cliches, oddly placed cursing, and not enough focus.
Yet don’t get me wrong. This is not a piece of crap record by any means. Have any Overkill albums ever been truly terrible? On The Grinding Wheel, we hear many exciting influences like the aforementioned punk, NWOBHM, speed metal, power metal, old timey rock ‘n’ roll stuff, blues, and huge dollops of East Coast thrash. In the instrumentation, besides Linsk’s blazing solos backed up by Tailer’s solid rhythm, Verni’s bass is loud, proud, and delightfully prominent, and Lipnicki’s furious drumming comes at you fast and hard, with some impressive footwork at various points in the album. Ellsworth’s vocals are awesome too, and never mind his age, because he shows off his remaining range well. However, you’d better like hisvoice, because itis on this album a ton – only supplanted by off and ongang-shouted backing vocals from the other guys – and Ellsworth always has it dialed to maximum. The mix is good too, decently fair to each instrument, though the production quality isn’t really cutting edge, still sounding slightly dirty at times.
The record starts off with “Mean, Green, Killing Machine,” which is a fantastic opener and gets you excited and in the right mood, as well as featuring top of the line work from everyone and an amazing guitar solo. We get Metallica-type riffing, some Megadeth-like speed, and even some Sabbath-reminiscent heft to back it up. However, everything that follows in the next hour will, for the most part, be a variation of that song, both a good and bad thing. Not everything is too same-same though. “The Long Road” features Verni getting down with a rockabilly sort of bluesy groove. “Let’s All Go Down to Hades” shows that Ellsworth is not completely unwilling to occasionally trade off vocal duties, and it works. “Come Heavy” comes back around to the Sabbathy doom stuff, with blues-influenced riffing throughout. And “Red, White, and Blue” features a cool Anthrax-style breakdown. “The Wheel” is also pretty great, with some brooding riffs and mid-tempo stomps. It all ends with “The Grinding Wheel,” which, unfortunately, sounds like it should have been combined with something else, perhaps even “The Wheel” to create a different song altogether.
I’m going to give Overkill’s The Grinding Wheel a 70%. Never minding the album’s issues, it is certainly a worthwhile slice of thrash for fans. Here, however, in light of the currently expanding thrash movement, where we are getting high quantities of high quality thrash metal, The Grinding Wheel kind of shows itself for what it is: somewhat mediocre with persisting great elements. Much like Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self Destruct from last year, we see a legendary band that has produced themselves but probably could have benefited from a separate producer to trim the fat.
P.S.: Mr. Malone and I are doing our best to help document the thrash revival. You can check out our current reviews of Sepultura’s Machine Messiah (though that one is more thrash-influenced groove metal than actual thrash), Kreator’s Gods of Violence, and Havok’s Conformicide. Coming soon will be reviews of Warbringer’s Woe to the Vanquished, Lich King’s The Omniclasm, and Municipal Waste’s Slime and Punishment.