Tuesday, 22 July 2014

#353 Overkill - White Devil Armory

If. If White Devil Armory is a great record, it marks the third superb Overkill in a row, after Ironbound and The Electric Age. Both of those albums considered, Overkill have a lot of impressing to do, and while there are numerous bands that I feel considerably more invested in, it would still be sad to see a sub-par record. Consequently, listening to White Devil Armory today is going to be an interesting experiment in how cheerful I can be for the rest of the afternoon. Without further ado, lets find out.

The first feature of the record to strike me is the tempo. After the relatively ferocious, if slightly disjointed, "Armorist" - which I suppose is sort of the title track -  the record slowed down rather tangibly. For the most part, it isn't ponderous, but it definitely doesn't seem to hurtle along at a thousand miles per hour, as the last two records did. People out there will, in their more critical moments, probably play around with the idea of describing it as a groove-metal record, as much of the bands mid-career output was. While there's something to that,  I'm not sure I'd go that far; there's still a bit more kick to it than a lot of those records, even though said kick-to-the-face which the album delivers is substantially less than the two before it. So far - and subsequent re-listens shall surely tell - the problem with White Devil Armory is not that it's a bad album, but that it exists in a musical purgatory; it's not a big enough step down to be disappointing, but not quite hitting the targets well enough to be satisfying; it shatters the invincible air which the band had, after Ironbound and the, by my reckoning, equally good Electric Age... indeed, it says a lot that the record is probably excellent by the standards of second-wind eighties thrash-bands - I doubt the Megadeths and Metallicas of this world could summon something this good at all. From Overkill, I think some will have been hoping for more.

Of course, it's easy - too easy - to simply say the album is missing something. What exactly is the problem? Answering that is the real meat of the review. White Devil Armory has plenty of catchy, near-classic Overkill moments - the playing remains tight, the production is relatively good, aside from a clicky, treble-heavy drums, and Bobby Blitz sounds as ferocious as ever, still commanding the vocal department with no sign of weakness. There are a few reasons which are potential candidates, however. Foremost, the lack of bite. It's odd, that while the sections themselves tend to have me without complaint - heck, there are some great riffs, even the slower ones - but the way they are arranged doesn't favour them. When the songs feel like they're really cruising along, exuding thrashy goodness to an Ironbound standard, they can grind to a halt and, almost arbitrarily, divert into a slower, mood-killing section which, as some tracks manage to show, need not be the case. The record has slow sections - slow songs even, which really work, in the way tracks like Necroshine did in days of old, but there are, likewise, plenty of slow sections which really jam a spanner in the works, curbing the energy and velocity of what could have been - at times, it feels like the whole songwriting process has grabbed a fist-full of solid sections and accidentally put them together badly. Attempts to describe the problem aside, after a paragraph of trying, it's still best described as an album which just isn't quite as good. 

So, harking back to the introduction, how cheerful will my afternoon now be? I suspect reasonable. White Devil Armory isn't poor or abysmal - it's still a solid record, in fact, it's that very term above; reasonable. There's a line in the sand between disappointing and underwhelming, and I'm not disappointed. The album, however, is underwhelming - it's not part of a holy trinity of great releases, as I'd hoped, instead, it's the runt of the litter. Enjoyable and with hints of glory, for sure, but as the record draws to a close, I can't help but feel what I just listened to weighed in at "not bad", as opposed to "great".

This is a 7/10.

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