2018: A new year bringing new experiences and opportunities. It’s a personal reset and we all get a pristine clean slate…and the same sweaty, unclean man back that plagued us throughout 2017. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Into this dichotomous environ journeys our intrepid Steel Druhm, eyes glistening with the ghosts of AMG’s past as he comes to grips with the site’s Great White Albatross. Yes, White Wizzard is set to release their fourth album, affording us a long-awaited chance to right a wrong that’s been hanging around our collective necks since 2013. I won’t go into the whole sordid affair as it’s been well documented, but our review of their last album left a hole in our metal cred roughly the size of Brooklyn. None of that is the band’s fault, as they’ve proven themselves a talented bunch of 80s retro metal fiends over their 3 album career. Infernal Overdrive sees them returning from a 4 year layoff after undergoing massive line up changes, with only one member from The Devil’s Cut returning. Guitar wizzard Jake Dreyer and talented frontman Joseph Michael (both of Witherfall) are history, and former singer Wyatt “Screaming Demon” Anderson and guitarist James LaRue are back in the fold. With so much upheaval, can the band fulfill their solemn duty as guardians of the olden ways ov metal?
Infernal Overdrive is the band’s most diverse outing by a wide margin, exploring 70s rock, alt-rock and progressive influences while retaining the core of their 80s-centric approach. Since they sound like a completely new band due to membership turnover, things feel vibrant and lively out of the gate on cuts like the raucous, over-the-top title track with its Nasty Savage meets Armored Saint assault, and the anthemic, Maiden-esque “Storm the Shores.” “Pretty May” is a particularly addictive ditty with a strong NWoBHM sound, and these early tracks all benefit from short runtimes, insuring they stick in the brain-pan.
After this things shift radically, song lengths expand exponentially and White Wizzard goes off the deep end into the realm of excess. “Chasing Dragons” is a simple, catchy rocker at its core, inflated into an 8 minute extravaganza via wild guitar heroics and musical showboatery unfettered by restraint or subtly. It works because the song is so accessible and the band is very talented. It works a bit less on the 9 minutes of “Voyage of the Wolf Raiders,” which borrows everything Iron Maiden ever had, including their stubborn refusal to self-edit. Seriously, this is so Maiden, Steve Harris felt a disturbance in the force when they wrote it.
Other songs dabble in dark proggy moods akin to Nevermore and lighter, Alter Bridge styled hard rock. The whole schizoid enchilada is topped off by the 11 minute mega-power ballad “The Illusion’s Tears” which is impressively done but definitely too long1. If this sounds like a lot to digest, it is and I wouldn’t call Infernal Overdrive a particularly cohesive album either. Still, the band manages to hit more than they miss, despite the ambitious milieu. The only song that face plants, rather ironically, is “Critical Mass,” a savage screed against music critics. While a decent speed metal number full of piss, vinegar and methane, it runs over 9 minutes when it clearly should end after 3.
And that’s the biggest problem here. A band known for lighthearted throwback 80s metal is now getting bogged down with one ginormously long song after another, with enough wankery to require medical intervention. They pull it off quite well, but several songs are screaming for major editing and the end product would be far stronger with judicious trimming. I enjoy much of this material, but it’s tough to make it through the album in one go.
The new/old line up performs exceptionally well here. Wyatt Anderson has a broad vocal range and you hear every bit of it as the material time trips from the 70s thru to the present. He’s not as refined and controlled as Joseph Michael, but he can sing, scream and wail while showing both versatility and adaptability. James LaRue had some big boots to fill replacing Jake Dreyer and replace he does, showing his enormous talent through a staggering collection of mind-blowing solos and tasteful harmonies. The man is a beast and the main reason the material is so listenable even when running too long. Sole original member, bassist/guitarist Jon Leon also impresses with a very Harris-esque performance, girding the band’s loins with a fat, plucky low-end, and he also lays down some solid supporting fret-work.
A new year begins with a review of (mostly) old style metal. Yep, things never truly change, but time is a human construct anyway. White Wizzard is back in a bigly way and they are out to prove there’s more to them than mere NWoBHM nostalgia. Infernal Overdrive is an entertaining, ambitious and colorful album that’ll grow on you. This would be music to Happy Metal Guy‘s ear2, and maybe yours too (two?). There, albatross removed. Now we can go sweaty back to the future!