Los Angeles, CA has always been the cornerstone of American heavy metal. Be it revered pioneers (such as Metallica, Quiet Riot, Megadeth, Armored Saint, and W.A.S.P.) or notable contemporaries (like Holy Grail and Behold! the Monolith), the city has spawned plenty of in-your-face awesomeness over the past few decades. Of course, one can’t talk about the modern L.A. scene without mentioning White Wizzard, a quartet founded by bassist/songwriter Jon Leon in 2007 and inspired by Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Rush, Scorpions, and Dio, among other mainstays.
Currently completed by vocalist Wyatt “Screaming Demon” Anderson, guitarist/keyboardist James J. LaRue, and drummer Dylan Marks, the band’s fourth LP, Infernal Overdrive, successfully “captures all of the ingredients of past . . . work” while also “expand[ing] upon the template with seasoned maturity, outstanding musicianship and a widening of influences” that include “’70s hard rock and progressive rock/metal.” While it’s certainly not a game-changer in any way (in fact, it feels fairly standard overall), the album definitely packs enough vintage charm and diverse stylings to satisfy.
The majority of Infernal Overdrive pulls you right back to the classic ‘80s landscape. For instance, the title track kicks things off with a wrath of low-end syncopation, spiky riffs, blistering guitar lines, and invigorating screeches. From there, the essences of Iron Maiden, Disturbed, and King Diamond bleed through Anderson’s abrasive range and the musicians’ relentless fury. Naturally, there’s a fair share of rhythmic trickery and dual-guitar dominance afoot, making it a thrilling—if also routine—start.
Subsequent entries like “Voyage of the Wolf Raiders,” “Critical Mass,” “Metamorphosis,” and lead single “Storm the Shores” maintain this retro directness musically, vocally, and even lyrically (that last song, in particular, evokes old-school battle fantasies with verses like "Storm the shores with cannon shell / Where the bloody heroes fell / Eagles fly into the mouth of hell.") Again, these aren’t especially fresh or ambitious pieces, but they absolutely work as contextual throwbacks brimming with strong performances and nostalgic appeal.
As a result of this penchant, however, White Wizzard shines most here when they deviate a bit from that pattern. A good example is “Pretty May,” whose Middle Eastern elements—coupled with its relatively strong sense of emotion and melody—makes it a clear standout in the sequence; it even recalls the greatness of Queensrÿche’s seminal Operation: Mindcrime a bit. Likewise, “Chasing Dragons” makes great use of both layered choruses and impactful compositional shifts (including subtle coatings of acoustic guitars and backing chants), so it's markedly adventurous and alluring.
Fortunately, lengthy closer “The Illusion’s Tears” feels like a proper finale, as its initial glum sparseness allows for grand dynamic shifts throughout. Of particular note are the recurring high-pitched guitar motifs, plus the tranquil mid-section deviation and concluding six-string freakouts (that channel early Fates Warning and Dream Theater, respectively). All in all, it’s probably the best of the bunch, acting as a tour-de-force of all the White Wizzard can do.
Infernal Overdrive accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: offer a textbook classic heavy metal vibe with glimpses of offshoot techniques throughout. In that sense, it’s not expressly substantial in any way, yet it also doesn’t disappoint because it focuses on a specific sound and, well, nails it. In other words, White Wizzard know exactly what they’re trying to do—and they pull it off—so anyone looking to scratch that vintage itch should find relief with this LP.