Saturday, 2 March 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Overkill, "The Wings of War"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 22/02/2019
Label: Nuclear Blast 

Overkill have never made a bad album and with “The Wings of War” they have made another good one. I expected nothing less and once again Overkill have delivered

“The Wings of War” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Last Man Standing 5:49
2. Believe In The Fight 5:03
3. Head Of A Pin 5:56
4. Bat Shit Crazy 4:33
5. Distortion 6:09
6. A Mother's Prayer 3:58
7. Welcome To The Garden State 4:42
8. Where Few Dare To Walk 5:25
9. Out On The Road-Kill 4:41
10. Hole In My Soul 4:47

The Review:

Overkill roar back into action two years after “The Grinding Wheel”. I reviewed that beast at the time and judged it to be a continuation of their superb run of form since 2010's “Ironbound”. “The Grinding Wheel” was somewhat meandering in song structure and perhaps dipped just a little before the middle of the record in terms of energy and catchiness.

“The Wings of War” sees the band with a new drummer- Jason Bittner of Shadows Fall fame- who was expected by many to bring the band a new enthusiasm and perhaps some musical changes. Ron Lipnicki was the best drummer Overkill had up until his departure and his contributions in terms of energy and bringing the real thrash back cannot be overstated. It was Lipnicki, in my view, who played on the band's very best records and his precise and wildly energetic style was a major plus point from “Immortalis” onwards.

Bittner brings similar energy and plays a blinder here- lots of fills where the kick drums reinforce the stick patterns and lots of fills where the hands and feet answer each other. Bittner is the state of the art in terms of thrash drumming and the band could not have found a better replacement.

Regarding the rest of the record, Overkill have continued to keep their output quality astonishingly high. The first four tracks are absolute rippers. The opener “Last Man Standing” builds via a machine like intro to a classic Overkill thrasher, “Believe In The Fight” is more varied in tempos but similarly aggressive. “Head of a Pin” starts slower but introduces a familiarly swinging time feel that Overkill excel at when they use it. “Bat Shit Crazy” is a heavy and catchy beast and made for the live arena. So far, business as usual.

If “The Wings of War” differs from recent records it is in song length- only one track exceeds six minutes and most are concisely under five minutes. “Distortion”, the longest track is also one that I have not taken to yet; it is slower, meaner, moodier... nothing wrong with that as I love Overkill's 'different' albums such as “I Hear Black”- which was a Sabbath influenced murky metal record. However, the long intro leads to... another intro before the track starts its insistent mid tempo groove. To be fair, “Distortion” is not a bad track but it does break up the momentum of the previous 40% of the album. It has a killer ending, but the hooks here just don't do it for me. The distorted bass that heralds “A Mother's Prayer” is  a much needed wake up call, but again the track does not thrash as hard as the opening four tracks. It's still thrash, but with a hefty dose of traditional heavy metal in there as well.

The comparative energy dip of the preceding two tracks is consigned neatly to the past when “Welcome To The Garden State” kicks off after a textbook “Noo Joisey” sample. Overkill excels at this type of thrash/punk hybrid when they choose to write them. It leaps out of the speakers and really kicks off the latter half of the record. Encompassing as it does the band's pride in their home state and their fuck-you-too attitude it promises to be a big live staple and a fan favourite at home and abroad. A killer that doesn't take itself too seriously.

The final three tracks keep the quality high and the material varied. This is not a straightforward thrash album like, say, “Electric Age” and instead mixes the band's thrash, groove and Sabbath influenced material to good effect. “Where Few Dare To Walk” is a good example of a slower Overkill power house. It's moody and dark and it WORKS. The track is more heavy metal than thrash and those seeking an adrenaline hit are pointed to the album opener, but this is quality metal.

The band go for the throat on “Out On The Road-Kill” and turn in a song that would have fitted neatly on 90's crusher “From The Underground and Below”. It grooves and hammers its point home with thrash and finesse- not to mention a killer solo.

The album closes strongly with “Hole In My Soul” which features a kind of smorgasbord of the album as a whole- it has a moody intro, thrash tempos, a fair amount of melody in the vocals and superb individual performances from all band members. Bittner's drums are mechanically precise and superbly produced. The triggered sound of previous records is present here and if you listen to early thrash albums these days, you can hear just how much extreme metal has benefited from technological advancements in recording. Verni's bass is as crushing as ever while the guitar duo of Linsk and Tailer is rock solid as per. Bobby Blitz Ellsworth continues to defy age and gravity with his soaring screams and is the major recognisable factor in Overkill's sound.

Overall, then, “The Wings of War” represents a continuation of the run of form that Overkill have held for the last decade while also ringing the changes in terms of variety of material. This is a more melodic and slightly more restrained work than the previous four albums. In my view, it is as strong as “The Grinding Wheel” but does not quite reach the godly heights of “Ironbound”, “Electric Age” or “White Devil Armory”. For a band going since 1980 (!) whose frontman is pushing 60 years old, the energy levels on display here are incredible. Overkill have never made a bad album and with “The Wings of War” they have made another good one. I expected nothing less and once again Overkill have delivered

“The Wings of War” is available HERE

Band info: official || facebook