You'll never see a Lulu out of Overkill. Don't expect any Illud Divinum Insanus-style industrial turn from these guys either. Aside from adding a heavy dose of groove back in the early 90's, the band have never really deviated from their no-frills brand of gremlin-voiced, hook-driven thrash. The very appeal of Overkill (aside from their sheer talent, of course) is that they act as a stalwart anchor in an ever shifting metal landscape, where artistic credibility is often judged these days in experimentation, often to a degree where the end product ventures further and further from anything properly metal at all. Which is A-OK with me, but sometimes you need a familiar home to come back to, and Overkill fill this niche better than any band this side of Motorhead.
The Grinding Wheel is, remarkably, the group's 18th studio album – consider the output of other contemporaries like Metallica (10), Anthrax (11) and Testament (11) – and the even more remarkable thing is that the band have yet to lose their step. A big part of that vitality no doubt lies in the occasional fresh injections of new talent: singer Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni are the sole remaining original members, with the next most elder member of the band joining in 1999 and the newest in 2005. Which means that this current incarnation has been playing together for well over a decade, and the chemistry shows. Ron Lipnicki kicks off album opener "Mean, Green, Killing Machine" with a propulsive double kick drum beat that almost demands the exact riff that Derek Tailer and Dave Linsk soon swoop in with. The deluxe edition boasts a cover of Thin Lizzy's "Emerald" that features some pulse-racing dual guitar action, and the start/stop groove of "Our Finest Hour" gives D.D. Verni a chance to pair with Lipnicki on some nifty fills. Throughout it all Ellsworth wails over the top like a man deeply pissed off, but just Dyonisian enough to have fun with it all.
Since there isn't a lot of musical variation from one Overkill album to the next – not a complaint, by the way – the best way to assess one Overkill album against another is in the number of instant classics it adds to the catalog (consistency is never a problem with these boys). The band have been on a tear this past decade, so it's difficult to say this record is objectively better than the few preceding it, but with a wealth of anthemic songs like "Goddamn Trouble", the low-key bravura of "Shine On", and the epic, old school build of the 8-minute title track, The Grinding Wheel is every bit the equal of late period fan favorites White Devil Armory and The Electric Age.
At 60 minutes – 64 if you get the deluxe edition – it's also Overkill's longest effort to date, though at no point does one get a sense of bloat or coasting, just a restless procession of musical ideas that have had close to three years to germinate. Not much more to say about this one than that, if you're an Overkill fan already, this would be a bad time to jettison the boat. If you're not already and you dig this one, it's nigh time for a deep dive into their back catalog. Another solid, no bullshit effort by a band that seems almost incapable of producing any different.