White Wizzard - Infernal Overdrive

White Wizzard Infernal Overdrive cover
White Wizzard
Infernal Overdrive
M-Theory Audio
Following a rather nefarious swath of line-up changes caused by internal strife some would qualify as self-sabotage, Los Angeles’ White Wizzard has managed to re-stoke the fire it so auspiciously lit with its early recordings, namely the 2009 “High Speed GTO” EP and memorable 2010 full-length debut, “Over the Top”, which established the traditional heavy metal revivalists as masters of their domain alongside late 00s soaring contemporaries Enforcer and Cauldron.
That said, I’m not the only one who was nonplussed by later offerings such as the watered down “Flying Tigers” and superior yet still slightly convoluted “The Devil’s Cut”, so I’m glad to announce the quartet and twin guitar venture has stoutly redeemed itself with its latest, “Infernal Overdrive”, released under M-Theory Records, as it features nine widely varying tumblers which, while not as instantly accessible or fluid as past worthies such as “40 Deuces” and “High Roller”, still make for a challenging listen, be they straight-laced haymakers such as the title track and “Storm the Shores” or experimental dirges in the likes of “Cocoon” and “The Illusions Tears”.
At just over an hour, “Infernal Overdrive” is in no way lean and mean like “Over the Top”, but instead, bent on exploring a myriad of possibilities, from an exotic, Middle-Eastern style mandolin sounding intro and potent, jazz-y lead guitar acrobatics on “Pretty May” (an allusion to the fairer sex in a similar catchy manner as the original EP’s “Celestina”, but with a tragic narcotic twist as opposed to liberally romantic overtones) to a 9.5 minute narrative odyssey paralleling Iron Maiden’s classic epic closers in “Voyage of the Wolf Riders”. Unfortunately, this last risks inducing heavy eyelids as it blandly meanders up and down for far too long like a Phoenician merchant galleon lost at sea before a storm of fluid and eclectic Steve Vai/Joe Satriani/Alessio Berlaffa style progressive rock solos prevents it from completely crashing against the rocks. Interestingly, White Wizzard succeeds at breaking out of its strict fast tempo formula so prevalent on past forays with the enterprising, Rush-like “The Illusions Tears”, which alternates between languidly mystical guitar progressions and mellow, unrushed bass lines/drum patterns in tandem with the star-struck, semi-crooning vocals. The fluttering guitar licks and slowly unraveling solo seven minutes in gracefully coasts into dreamy, Yes style keys and a choppy acoustic shuffle before the boys switch into top gear with revved up drums, fiery leads and heartier vocals.
Although something is to be said about the opening title track’s battling and thumping, rib-cage rattling rhythm section and outlandish set of zany solos, I’d have to say the best track, both lyrically and musically, is “Storm the Shores” thanks to its wickedly mellifluous, minor scaled and Blackslash-ish incepting guitar harmony, colorfully bobbing and bubbling bass line and high octane drum fills. Its overt freshness and zestful appeal also likens it to a belated “Over the Top” bonus track or alternate B-Side to the “Shooting Star” single, another commendable White Wizzard production worthy of high praise. The super melodic, signatory solo section two thirds of the way in is another reason “Storm the Shores” sticks out so prevalently.
Now, while I initially wondered what the frig was going on with the silly named, eight minute long “Chasing Dragons”, I can safely say it’s not a total flop in spite of its inherently tumid development i.e. slipshod riffing arrangement and random drumming blandishments as the leads adhere to more of that solo artist/Buckethead-like bent whilst it readily picks up the pace exactly seven minutes in with a much more direct and confident, linear tempo and rundown (or last minute escalation, if you will!). However, I’m even more flummoxed by yet another eight minute long off-the-wall endeavor in “Critical Mass”. I don’t get it – less wild exploration and more straight forward, Metallica sounding bars/verses (the ones at 01:47 and 03:34) would have been just fine. If anything, this track is way too florid and ornate for my tastes. “Cocoon” and “Metamorphosis”, on the other hand, are worthy inclusions which also come as a surprise but to their credit feel more inclusive and relevant to the album as a whole. Alternatively, if “Infernal Overdrive” edged more towards the band’s nascent glory so recaptured on “Storm the Seas”, I’d have certainly rated it higher.
As a parting shot, I’ve always preferred the looser and non-committal good time vocals of White Wizzard’s very first front man, John Paul Luna (now with fellow Sunshine state metal warriors Holy Grail) to Wyatt “Screaming Demon” Anderson’s upper-ranged dynamics but it’s nice to see the band partially re-forming thanks to his re-emergence, especially since he delivered such a poignant and fitting performance on “Over the Top”. The same goes for James J. LaRue, who’s back for the first time since his solid contribution to “High Speed GTO”. To his credit, founding member and guitarist/bassist Jon Leon makes up for past indiscretions while Dylan Marks lays a commendable foundation as the band’s fourth drummer in as many releases.
“Infernal Overdrive” may not be White Wizzard strongest outing overall, but at least it represents a promising return to form which also has me hope against hope it's finally turned the tide and will continue to move forward in the future.