As legendary thrash band OVERKILL might put it through its latest album, the bitter cycle to staying relevant is like a grinding wheel. Yet, for a band that could've been defined strictly by the breakout foursome containing Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, D.D. Verni, Rat Skates and Bobby Gustafson, OVERKILL has a treasure trove of alumni: Sid Falck, Rob Cannavino, Tim Mallare, Joe Comeau. Even come and gone players before "Feel the Fire" struck the scene in 1985: Robert "Riff Thunder" Pisarek, Anthony Ammendola, Mike Sherry and future ANTHRAX shredder, Danny Spitz.
For a band that has chewed guitarists to bits over the decades, OVERKILL has been not merely stabilized but blessed by a tremendous lineup that has weathered an unbendable resolution to play beyond their ages. In DEEP PURPLE terms, OVERKILL might be considered long inside its "Mark III" era: Blitz, D.D., Dave Linsk, Derek Tailer and Ron Lipnicki. It's freaking impressive what OVERKILL, TESTAMENT, DESTRUCTION and KREATOR (four of the quickest bands on the planet) continue to achieve after all these years. As OVERKILL has steadily dropped new albums, it has only grown stronger under this "Mark III" squad.
"Ironbound", "The Electric Age" and 2014's "White Devil Armory" are some of the fastest albums in OVERKILL's history. "White Devil Armory" charted the band's highest strike on the Billboard 200—peaking at # 31. If you think OVERKILL expended its tanks producing output with such astonishing velocity, you don't know this band very well. For its eighteenth (!) album, "The Grinding Wheel", OVERKILL does the unthinkable: it outdoes itself. Consider that some fans dropped off after 1991's "Horrorscope", which is those poor saps' folly. For the diehard wrecking crew, "The Grinding Wheel" is going to be a gift to cling to throughout 2017.
While "The Grinding Wheel"'s marathon-sized tracks may initially seem intimidating, particularly if you're hung over by METALLICA's long-running sprawls on "Hardwired…to Self-Destruct", it flies. Punk, power metal, a touch of prog and a shit ton of thrash catapults "The Grinding Wheel" in with some of OVERKILL's rowdiest numbers ever. The catch to this album, however, is the emphasis on progressions and melody.
"Mean Green Killing Machine" and "Goddamn Trouble" are tirades incarnate, in particular, Blitz's hilarious jiving amidst "Goddamn Trouble"'s punk-driven speed. The gang snarls of the song's choruses will prompt clenched fists and unified growls by every listener within its seething wake. "Goddamn Trouble" is a boatload of moshing fun, which never lets up through its 6:23 spree. Prior to, "Mean Green Killing Machine" slaps together every OVERKILL trick through its seven-plus minutes, which explode with a manic thrash burst and chorus huffs that will become a new live gig standard.
The incredible velocity of "Our Finest Hour" is kicked on by D.D. Verni's chunky bass ticks, which sound like a literal ignition as the song sprints away. It's not enough for OVERKILL to bludgeon its listeners with unrelenting speed on this track for another six minutes—the group lives up to the song's title with full majesty. Dropping an old-school thrash peel with a nod back to "Feel the Fire", and slowing only enough for a bulky breakdown, "Our Finest Hour" becomes indeed just that. The final minute is a gorgeous, neoclassical shred as the song closes in time for the pounding aggression of "Shine On". What fun Blitz and the band have with "Shine On"; here Blitz gleefully summons everyone to join him in the proverbial flames. The yowling responses on the choruses behind him are just as fun as Blitz scatting: "Come on, come on, come on…". For good measure, OVERKILL drops a mesmerizing bridge inside of "Shine On", hardly deterring its muscular swing. If anything, it gives Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer the opportunity to tag team an intense guitar solo.
Keeping in mind that OVERKILL's foundation was power metal aside from punk, the IRON MAIDEN-saluting intro on the six-minute-47-second song "The Long Road" rings like a tribute. Unrepentantly, the song swings right into the pit thereafter. The song is a lyrical and instrumental journey of OVERKILL's entire path. Though it doesn't hit a full thrash, the compensation on "The Long Road" is spectacular bass and guitar grooves that are engineered to keep a floor whirlpool churning. The melody prior to the final chorus is superb as the band blares, "Onward!" like there's no quitting—even if metal were to die tomorrow morning.
What OVERKILL achieves by dropping a banged-out, BLACK SABBATH toast on "Come Heavy" will please everyone, especially once the song vaults for a moment. It, along with "The Long Road" are breath catchers that prepare you for the enormous grind of "Red White And Blue". "The Wheel" thereafter is a seamless mash of thrash and power metal, and it is up to the listener which song drops a harder kick. The entire album sets up the eight-minute title track, which takes half the journey to build up to a blazing outburst. D.D. Verni's bass frolic and Ron Lipnicki's hi-hat dancing along the way gives "The Grinding Wheel" another MAIDEN feel, and sets up a somber death march, complete with funereal bell tolls and maudlin gang moans.
Why OVERKILL has remained relegated to the second tier since thrash's beginnings is perhaps attributable to the revolving door madhouse that once plagued the band. OVERKILL has long been on solid ground, and, if anything, the band has proven this lineup can take on, much less defeat just about anyone in its way. "The Grinding Wheel" well surpasses the recent offerings by the Big Four, noble as most of the latter's recent offerings have been. If DESTRUCTION won the thrash sweepstakes in 2016, consider OVERKILL early on front runners for 2017.