February 18, 2019 Overkill – The Wings of War (Album Review)
Forged in the dark milieu of 1980s North Jersey, Thrash Metal legends Overkill have spent the better part of thirty years paving their own path, leaving detractors behind as quickly and efficiently as they do impressive albums. Their nineteenth such opus, The Wings of War, is due for release on Friday, February 22nd through Nuclear Blast.
A band that has sustained some changes through the years, new Drummer Jason Bittner proves himself a more than worthy addition to the band, while Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer bring their usual one-two guitar attack. The old guard, Vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and Bassist/Backing Vocalist D. D. Verni, are as strong as ever. In fact, somehow the raspy voice of Ellsworth is getting sharper with age, along with his lyrical content, while the patented bass tone of Verni—best described as “electrified rebar,” is as instantly recognizable as ever.
While the band was always a steady seller, both of records and tickets, as well as a critical success, the mid-to-late oughts was something of a resurgence for the band. The procession began with 2007’s Immortalis, followed by 2010’s Ironbound, 2012’s The Electric Age, 2014’s White Devil Armory, and, most recently, 2017’s The Grinding Wheel. This consistent lineup was recently disturbed by the departure of Lipnicki, who was replaced first by Eddy Garcia for live events, and then both on stage and in studio by Jason Bittner. Now, Ellsworth, Verni, Linsk, Tailer, and Bittner come together to unleash The Wings of War.
Ten songs in total, “Last Man Standing” is the opener which doubles as the lead single from the album. Overkill has made a strong habit of using proper introduction tracks, from the minute-plus of “Come and Get It” to warm up The Electric Age, to “XDM”—a track in and of itself—to kick off White Devil Armory, to the most recent “Mean, Green, Killing Machine,” which uses a few bars of solo drums to set up the ubiquitous clang of D. D. Verni before The Grinding Wheel comes into full view. These tracks all give their albums an almost-live feel, as if the band is slowly taking the stage, and leave no room for confusion as to the author.
Following quickly is “Believe in the Fight” and Bittner makes himself known as he continues dominance. Blitz adds a bit of “stage direction” during the track, adding to the “live” feel, and his odd vocal/word play a bit later shows that his mind, his pipes, and his words have yet to show signs of slowing. Later, the driving “Out on the Road-Kill” alludes to the same themes of touring and working your ass off. Then, a catchy guitar riff starts and strangles “Head of a Pin.” The second single off the album, it never lets go as the drums and vocals take hold for a spirited battle against blind faith and organized religion. The chorus has vocals from Blitz at his most powerful, with his unique vocals carrying the searing debate surrounding the well-worn question referenced in the title.
“Bat Shit Crazy” continues the streak of subtle title references to their winged mascot, Chaly, without being too obvious. “A Mother’s Prayer” starts with some quick wizardry by Verni, before Bittner cements his presence with heavy work underneath. “Distortion” has a little bit of everything, from the intro fit for a ballad, to the dueling electric guitar of Metal’s heyday, to a handful of progressions with the clashing bass of Verni at the forefront. There is even a nice, clean NWOBHM breakdown smack in the middle.
“Welcome to the Garden State” covers all the familiar ground of the band’s homeland New Jersey experience – Sopranos quotes, Turnpike traffic, Parkway exists, and chip-on-your-shoulder attitude. Without sounding tired or cliche, this should be a fun song played live whenever the band is just over the border into neighbors New York and Pennsylvania. This is while “Where Few Dare to Walk” almost sounds like West Coast Thrash – particularly frequent tourmates Testament, or even Machine Head. Just as the band has managed to record strong openers without the appearance of effort over the last handful of records, so does “Hole in My Soul,” closing out the album with effective force.
The Wings of War is the latest in a decade of strong releases for New Jersey stalwarts Overkill. Bittner is a welcome addition on drums, and the existing core of Ellsworth, Verni, Tailer, and Linsk prove that while this band may be thirty years into their career, they have another thirty years in them to continue pushing, moving, and making a name for themselves, selling records as well as selling out shows. To call the band refreshed would imply there was a middling era in their history that necessitated drastic improvement. Instead, The Wings of War is yet another masterpiece on the wave of strength the band has been riding. That is why Cryptic Rock is pleased to award the album 4.5 out of 5 stars.