Review: Overkill – The Wings of War
The wings of war are looming above, but is it an old-fashioned, medieval bloodbath of excitement and thrills, or a boring-ass modern day cyberwar of ones and zeros?
There was a time I could have called myself a fan of the New Jersey thrash metal veterans Overkill. Even now, as their career spans 19 albums and almost 40 years, I was still intrigued to check out their latest record. It helps that they’ve always been rather reliable, rarely, if ever, having produced a flat-out pancake. Unfortunately though, after the apparent resurgence in popularity and acclaim on 2010’s Ironbound their reliability has extended into predictability.
Whereas throughout the 80’s and early 90’s each of their albums seemed to have a different set of influences and ambition of it’s own, while retaining their workmanship-like punky thrash, which along with Blitz Ellsworth’s vocals gave them, and helped maintain, their recognizable sound. Lately they’ve seemed to have settled into a groove with turbocharged thrash and melodic aggro-groove alternating in the lead, and each album only seems to, at best, approach the sound from a slightly different angle.
For The Wings of War that angle was reportedly to be a more perfect marriage of aggressive thrash and melody. In practice, this means simpler, more straightforward songs, a more pronounced, though hardly increased, sense of melody; almost fifteen minutes shorter run-time than The Grinding Wheel and rawer, noisier guitars to a more furious effect that puts the rest of the band on the same level of piss & vinegar with Blitz, for the first time in years.
All of that sounds pretty great, and truthfully works in the favour of the albums finest cuts like the opening duo of “Last Man Standing” and “Believe In The Fight”, both archetypes of the essential Overkill song in 2019, or the drunk-anthem-to-be “Welcome To The Garden State”. Unfortunately, the more straightforward approach to works to demerit the rest. The Grinding Wheel may have been extensive in length, and much like every Overkill album in a post-Ironbound world, suffered from bloated songwriting, taken out of the context of the album, many of the songs carried their length better thanks to the more adventurous, and I use adventurous in the broadest possible sense, songwriting. On The Wings of War practically every song is still a minute or two too long, and they’re weighted down worse, because it’s all repetition. Evidenced by an exercise where I removed the tepid halfway-mark “Distortion”, featuring some of the albums most lukewarm riffs and only over six-minutes runtime, a decision that would have made the record Overkill’s shortest in at least two decades, but almost none of the albums bloat disappeared with it.
While the aforementioned highlights mostly feel like they would benefit from less length, many others – “A Mother’s Prayer” featuring lively riff, and little else; unsavory aggro-groove cut “Head of a Pin”, the aforementioned “Distortion” or forgettable closer “Hole In My Soul” for examples – are dragged down into redundancy. Despite it’s bass-forward mix being largely compressed and entirely turbocharged, The Wings of War isn’t entirely devoid of dynamics, and maintains a decent pacing and flow, thanks to “Bat Shit Crazy’s” calm mid-section and a-little-too-close-for-comfort-to-black-album “Where Few Dare To Walk” – the only song on the album that doesn’t fall into “more of the same” -category. Regardless of serving just that for the majority of it’s duration, The Wings of War’s finest cuts are Overkill’s best on this millennium, and had the band learned to self-edit it could have fought for the title of this millennium’s best album as well, instead of struggling to keep up with it’s predecessor.
Much of Overkill’s charm is reliant on it’s frontman, Blitz, who remains a charismatic and vibrant vocalist capable of elevating many of the albums lesser moments from a slump. But The Wings of War can’t keep up it’s momentum, features little too much b-grade riffs and the bloat can make it tough long-term sell. Despite a smattering of greatness, I suspect I shan’t get much mileage out of it.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell