Album Review: White Wizzard – Infernal Overdrive

White Wizzard is back after a long hiatus, and somewhat miraculously, “The Screaming Demon” is along for the ride. Frontman Wyatt Anderson, who performed on the group’s earliest and most acclaimed releases, including 2010’s Over the Top, emerges from the mists to pick up a heavy metal microphone once more. The band is unquestionably better for it, though the vocals aren’t the only thing worthwhile on Infernal Overdrive. Perhaps unexpectedly, many songs on the album are compelling, articulate, and inspired creations that stand well above the efforts of their contemporaries. Although the album’s back half loses some of the momentum established at the outset, Infernal Overdrive is nonetheless a highly satisfying release from a resurrected pioneer of the ‘80s heavy metal revival.

It’s been an odd career for White Wizzard, and for several years it seemed like the world might never again hear a full album from the act. Given the questionable quality of the band’s last full-length effort, 2013’s The Devil’s Cut, and the bizarre nature of the band’s one-off “Break Out” single from 2016 with founder and bassist Jon Leon on vocals, that might not have necessarily been a bad thing. Fortunately, the ugliest part of the new effort is the artwork, and White Wizzard has taken a significant step toward putting the band’s turbulent musical history behind them.

The great news for longtime fans is that Infernal Overdrive maintains the band’s familiar style, offering a modern take on the sound of classic heavy metal with accents of millennium-era pop punk and commercial rock, particularly in Anderson’s vocal delivery. In contrast with fellow NWOTHM acts like Lethal Night, Legionnaire, Satan’s Hallow, and Ravage, White Wizzard’s divergent take on ‘80s heavy metal is conspicuous. However, the traditional-metal-with-a-twist sound has always given the act a unique personality, and for those who don’t mind the modern alterations, the band’s return to form on Infernal Overdrive makes it easy to appreciate White Wizzard’s appeal all over again.

Infernal Overdrive’s title track opens the album with a bang, and two things about the song are immediately apparent: White Wizzard’s top-flight instrumentation and superb sound production are in full force. Before any judgment can be made of the songwriting, the album makes itself appealing with immaculate performances from every member of the group. The recording and mixing are similarly faultless, with each instrument given equal clarity and attention. As the opening track rips its way through the five-minute running time, a third, merciful truth becomes clear: the songwriting is every bit as strong as the production and performances.

“Infernal Overdrive” is immediately energetic and exciting, not simply because of its uptempo pace and highly detailed instrumentation, but because the players have an obvious passion for the material. There’s simply no way to fake artistic inspiration, and White Wizzard play their damn hearts out on the album’s opener. A rapid-fire drum solo opens the track and is soon accompanied by a rollicking riff and a coarse shriek from The Screaming Demon. An invigorating guitar solo flies across the music to seal up the intro, which then deftly shifts into a fresh verse section, held together with a classically handsome heavy metal guitar riff.

Numerous surprising and exciting moments arrive throughout the track to keep it engaging, including perfectly timed breaks, a vigorous bridge and bouncy chorus section, and two separate series of outstanding guitar solos separated by a brief vocal interlude. The song is constantly compelling and every bit as mentally stimulating as it is emotionally stirring. “Infernal Overdrive” is one of the best White Wizzard creations to date, and it promises great things for the rest of the recording.

The band doesn’t lose a step through the next several songs, delivering attractive Maiden-esque leads on “Storm the Shores,” a beautiful melodic composition with American folk influences on “Pretty May,” a carefully considered near-ballad on the eight-minute “Chasing Dragons,” and ‘70s prog rock touches with more Maiden-inspired guitar work on the almost ten-minute-long “Voyage of the Wolf Raiders.” In fact, one of the most surprising aspects of Infernal Overdrive is the band’s commitment to lengthy songwriting. The group offers up four pieces that exceed eight minutes, including one that crests the 11-minute mark.

These types of epic long songs have become something of a trend among modern heavy metal acts despite the fact that very few bands manage to make them worthwhile. Trial’s 2017 Motherless is one of the few recent traditional heavy metal releases that made appropriate use of the extra time in their pieces, and even that progressive album didn’t aspire to as many longform tracks as Infernal Overdrive. Incredibly, White Wizzard has done what Iron Maiden, Portrait, and Attic have recently failed to do by justifying the epic length of these songs.

“Voyage of the Wolf Raiders” swings, shifts, and builds in imaginative and exciting ways throughout its duration. The peaks and valleys offer moments of quiet vocal introspection, rip-roaring guitar solos, and galloping verse sections that balance one another in a carefully orchestrated composition. The well-paced and commendably diverse song structure succeeds in maintaining listener interest on its first playthrough while offering more than enough depth to reward multiple spins.

Unfortunately, the similarly long “Critical Mass” fails to rise to the same heights, with The Screaming Demon sounding like more of a pestered house pet for much of the track’s duration. The instrumentation is similarly jarring, with an overactive bassline and lurching rhythms polluting the flow of the music. The song hits its own critical mass before it even reaches the midpoint, and it becomes a relief to skip to the next song. Ironically, the opening sound clip and lyrics of “Critical Mass” are a rejection of the role of the critic and a statement of indifference to haters (of which White Wizzard has had many) yet the song is musically the easiest to take down of anything on Infernal Overdrive. Whether by design or accident, it’s a surprisingly coarse statement of pride.

A bipolar swing in quality carries the band through the remainder of the album, first on the likable, vocal-driven “Cocoon,” then the uninspired and repetitive “Metamorphosis,” and finally, the exquisite 11-minute-long “The Illusion’s Tears.” The song closes the album with more ‘70s prog-like touches and acoustic verse sections with an almost-unrecognizable vocal style from Anderson, who delivers one of the most powerful and compelling performances of heavy metal music in the current millennium. The minimal instrumentation in the ballad verse section perfectly accents his performance, and silky guitar tones are a sublime counterpoint to the vocal melodies.

The song is the most progressive offering on the album, and it once agains displays the band’s potential for meaningful longform songwriting. As on “Voyage of the Wolf Raiders,” several shifts in style balance out the structure, and the adept transitions between sections help the music to flow naturally across the track’s beefy running time. When the song finally erupts into its raging final form with aggressive vocalization and a series of invigorating guitar solos, the patient and beautiful build-up pays off in spades. It’s a masterwork in epic heavy metal songwriting and the crown jewel of the album, perfectly representing the band’s versatility and capacity for intelligent compositions. It also goes a long way toward compensating for the otherwise mixed quality of the recording’s back half.

Fans of White Wizzard will find plenty to celebrate in Infernal Overdrive, and relative to its contemporaries, the recording is a standout. The most recent releases from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Accept have ranged from mediocre to unlistenable, while promising and established NWOTHM bands likes AtticRam, and Ambush have released disappointing new outings in that same stretch of time. With most of the heavy metal heroes from the golden age out of the picture and some of the most promising new acts slipping or sinking, White Wizzard’s Infernal Overdrive is a welcome surprise at the start of 2018.

Quibbles about modern influences and the band’s slightly angsty, adolescent sound aside, Infernal Overdrive delivers numerous rewarding moments that match the finest efforts from the band’s discography. Tight performances, immaculate production, inspired creative decisions, and compelling song structures frequently round the musical bases for a heavy metal home run. A few tracks drag down the album’s overall quality, particularly a 10-minute collapse in the center of the recording, but it’s far easier to focus on Infernal Overdrive’s strengths, which are numerous. The best songs on the album reach the high mark of NWOTHM, delivered with clear passion and stamped with the signature sound of one of the first and most prominent acts to ignite the scene. It’s a happy homecoming.

Rating: 92 / 100

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