Overkill‘s ethos is overkill. It always has been. Be it their hyperactively punked out thrash or their New Jersey thug demeanor, everything with them is set to 12. On their 19th goddamn album, The Wings of War, little has changed. They’re still the scuzzy, bare knuckles brawlers from the Garden State who you would cross the street to avoid, and they deliver yet another overdose of hi-octane piss and vinegar-addled speed and ne’er-do-well attitude. Essentially the aural equivalent of being poked in the chest by a barroom goon for 51 minutes, this is fighting music for folks with chips surgically grafted to their shoulders, and that’s exactly what you come to this low-rent neighborhood for. But just how essential is this latest back alley sucker punch, considering the band’s ginormous catalog and 30-plus years in the filthy thrash business?
Well, it’s a mixed bag of hobo wine and brass knuckles. Cuts like scorching opener “Last Man Standing” show Overkill in all their energetic, brash glory, hopped up on rot gut and testosterone. It’s an aggressive rager with a catchy, punch drunk chorus and the legendary Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth sounds amazingly manic. One spin and you just know this will kill in a live setting. It’s a fine opener, an album standout and pretty much classic Overkill in a nutshell. But for all its sharp elbows and rowdy power, it’s a bloated thrasher that runs roughly 2 minutes past the point it should. Ditto for follow-up “Believe in the Fight” where the band’s love of 80s punk shines through during a fun, boisterous ode to hostility that should run around 3 minutes in true punk fashion but needlessly meanders to the 5-minute mark. This chronic bloat is the biggest issue with Wings, as it was with 2017s The Grinding Wheel, and it infects nearly every song.
That’s not to say that fun nuggets of amped up aggro like “Head of a Pin” and the hysterical “Welcome to the Garden State” aren’t worth the price of admission. The former features a really catchy, vitriolic chorus and the latter is destined to become a drunken anthem for New Jersey knuckleheads as the band sings the praises of their much-maligned home state with hilarious lines like “Out there where the medical waste and the water meets the sand.” There are some lesser cuts too, however, like “Where Few Dare to Walk,” which feels like a leftover cut from their Under the Influence album and suffers from a lack of direction as well as bloating. Album closer “Hole in My Soul” is another sub par number that doesn’t really do much to earn replays, and it’s a shame the album finishes on such a brown note.
The same lineup carried over from The Grinding Wheel except for drummer Ron Lipnicki, who is capably replaced by Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall, ex-Flotsam and Jetsam). This unit is very adept at the kind of blue-collar punk thrash Overkill is churning out these days. The guitar tandem of Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer throw fast, sharp riffs all over the place and give the music a seedy broken glass vibe which compliments the “drunk on Drano” vocals of Mr. Blitz. It’s a wonder to me this guy still sounds as vibrant as he does in 2019, having grown up with Overkill‘s music since I was a wee lad. He remains one of the best vocalists in thrash and a curiosity of science, giving yet another great performance full of venom and hooligan charisma. Original bassist D.D. Verni ensures the music has the bass-forward sound that’s defined much of Overkill‘s recorded history, and the band sounds as tight as a Jersey alley cat’s ass. It’s the writing and inability to self-edit that hurts them here. If they trimmed a minute off every song, this would feel like a much more concise, skull splitting platter of bad attitudinal splatter. As it is, the power the songs generate are undercut by the tendency to pad and drag things out too long.
I’m an Overkill fan for life and I’ll always find things to enjoy on anything they put out. The Wings of War just misses being another good album, and there are good and very good cuts scattered about the landfill. For a band this late into their career, they still sound edgier and angrier than most acts half their age, and they still sound like overkill. That’s why I stick around. Your mileage may vary here.