Review: I feel like you're off to a good start if the figure of a leather-'n'-studs clad goat/skeleton/demon hybrid adorns the front cover of your album. No matter how much the actual music stinks, that's a statement of intent I can get behind. Plus the dude looks like he's enjoying himself, and I want to enjoy the White Wizzard experience too.
I feel like calling your album Over The Top is a smart move too, not only invoking a quality Motorhead track but also promising an embarrassment of headbanging riches. When compared with most other genres, heavy metal stands out due to its excesses - the extremes of speed and volume, the flamboyance of costumery, guitar solos spilling over into the realms of the ridiculous - so it feels as if the Wizzard are consciously tapping into that tradition of 'more is more'. Well, I had my fill of intimate minimalism last week - time for some all-guns blazing metal mayhem! Or so I hope...
I don't know what I was worried - the singer's name is Wyatt 'Screaming Demon' Anderson, fercrissake. About four different people are credited with taking lead guitar spots at various times. The songs have names like 'Iron Goddess of Vengeance', 'Strike of the Viper' and 'Death Race'. All of which, really, is a lot of shilly-shallying about to say that Over The Top properly whips ass.
I didn't know that the world needed tributes to Grim Reaper or Malice, but thanks to White Wizzard we've got them anyway. This album is the sound of people locked in a prison cell for ten years with only those aforementioned bands, the first three Iron Maiden albums and a smattering of Angelwitch, Riot, Dio and Tygers of Pan Tang to keep them company as their minds slowly sloughed off any and all residual notions of the 21st century. On Over The Top it is permanently 1983, everyone lives at Castle Donnington and the only materials available to mankind are denim, leather and chrome.
Which, by the way, sounds fucking sweet.
But of what experience do these minstrels hymn? Well, there's your demons of course, plus paeans to heavy metal (after rap, possibly the most self-reflexive genre?), the devil himself, travelling at high speeds, lightning, iron and a whole mess of fire (mostly rhyming the latter with 'desire', natch). More than once, the names of iconic metal tracks are tossed in there, such as the reference to Black Sabbath's 'Neon Knights' in 'Live Free Or Die', and the winking nod to 'Ride the Lightning' in 'Iron Goddess of Vengeance'. I see nothing cynical in this, nor any other endeavour on Over The Top. Rather, these guys just love classic metal, and take every available moment to celebrate the fact.
When I was at school, my Latin teacher (yes, yes...) once remarked that the great poets would pepper their works with allusions to myth and history as a way of flattering their patrons. If you were refined enough to spot them, you were 'in with the in crowd' as Bryan Ferry once crooned. I am choosing to also acknowledge each and every glimpse of Rainbow and Judas Priest in Over The Top in much the same way, greeting each one with a crinkling of the eyes and a knowing, beneficent smile. No, I am not reclining in my triclinium eating sparrow hearts and guzzling down garum like nobody's business, but I do have a pack of Maltesers and a Diet Coke, so the resonances can be felt, for sure.
Finally, I know that production is something I harp on about, but my poor sensitive ears have been assailed by too much mush in their time. You know what I mean - "quiet" songs that are never quiet, zero dynamics, clipping (one of the reasons I haven't reviewed Rush's Vapor Trails yet is that I don't want a headache); happily, this bad boy doesn't suffer from any of that. Firstly, there are no quiet songs - White Wizzard come hot out of the traps and don't let up, which is a-okay in my book. Secondly, in keeping with their fealty to the era of NWOBHM, I can actually hear separation in the voices and instruments! Yeah, it's loud and there's a touch of modern compression applied to the sound, but otherwise it's a pleasingly comforting old school racket these lads brew up.
Conclusion - Over The Top smokes, pretty much every track is a winner and if you like any of the bands mentioned in this review you'd be a dummy not to part with your geld. It's tough to pick a highlight, but pumping my fist (typing with one hand, of course) to the "Six! Six! Six!" chorus of 'Strike of the Viper' feels mighty fine. On this release, White Wizzard innovate precisely nothing, but when your homage to a particular moment is so spot on, so lovingly rendered, and with such expertise, who cares? Old school for life. Take it eass'.