There is an interesting irony to throwback bands like White Wizzard and a lot of the other thrash throwbacks that are coming out right now, which is that at one point in time what these guys were doing was forward thinking. I know it’s hard to believe, in a world where metal is used to support stupid ideologies, backwards thinking or just generally brutish and retarded behavior, it’s hard to think of metal as progressive, but in 1980, metal was outside of the box. Bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard were just cutting their teeth, Lars Ulrich was busy stealing their riffs and ideas and heavy metal was fresh, young, innovative and above all rebellious and really, really interesting.
These days are long gone. Metal has genrified so much to the point where one can’t hold a conversation with another metal dude who likes exactly the same bands as you, and you’ll probably argue about everything: but you’ll both agree that Iron Maiden slayed back in the day. The only other time in metal history that was as exciting as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, in my opinion any way, was probably the Bay Area Thrash scene (though I’m not the biggest fan) and the Swedish Death scene in the early 90s. But those days are gone… They remain, largely, not forgotten however, as is proved by LA native metallers White Wizzard who return in 2010 with an album that would have put them on top of the world in 1982.
Now I won’t be coy: I’ve already unveiled how it is that I feel about retro heavy metal. Sure, it’s got its moments, but all-in-all I think that these styles are better left in the past. However, Over the Top is definitely a record to give a shot if you’re even a passing fan of the style. White Wizzard does a good job of capturing the things that made the scene great: the dueling guitars, the epic riffs and the song structures on Over the Top sound like they come straight out of Killers-era Steve Harris’ playbook. Tracks like “High Roller” and “Iron Goddess of Vengeance” replicate that sound with ease and to pretty good effect. The band is tight and solid and the production is good, showing that real bands playing real heavy metal don’t have 13 guitar tracks so that you can actually hear the bass sometimes. The title track, as well, is old school, rocking and fun to listen to.
On the other hand, just like those old metal records, Over the Top has its share of filler. “40 Deuces”, “Strike of the Viper”, “Death Race” and “White Wizzard” all left me wanting more and feeling underwhelmed. These tracks don’t have the same kind of pop that one would hope to get out of an old school metal band. They lack the kind of fire that I look for when I go back and listen to classic metal. I also thought that the song “Out of Control”, while a pretty good track, had some pretty lame lyrics that sort of point out what’s going on here: a group of dudes who are longing for something that ain’t coming back. And in a way that’s sad.
The high point of the album for me personally is the track “Live Free or Die” which not only embodies the Heavy Metal spirit, but also has the vocalist (I think, or it’s another member of the band doing it) backing away from his metal voice and showing that he’s got some good melodic sense and some good pipes behind his metal shriek. This song and “Iron Goddess of Vengeance” (another just kick ass track) show off the talent that is definitely contained within this band. I just wish that they could do something musically that wasn’t so campy and throwback. But that’s me: I’ll probably be a bitter old guy living in the past some day and I’ll love the Gothenburg throwback bands because they take me back to a time when I was cool and on top of things.