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Before some of you start complaining, I know I’ll never be able to write an unbiased review on OverKill. The band has been my favorite since the very second I heard them. Some people abandoned them when they had taken a slightly more groovy route halfway the nineties, but most people seemed to like the route the band was taking. Experimenting with more groovy parts, but never betraying their Thrash-roots. With the last couple of releases, OverKill seemed to create a pattern, releasing a more laid back album first (‘Necroshine’, ‘Killbox 13’) and a more furious album after that (‘Bloodletting’, ‘ReliXIV’). ‘Immortalis’ fits within that pattern perfectly, being a slightly more relaxed album, but DD Verni’s compositions have a certain inventiveness that makes this album a surprising listen nonetheless.
Verni is showing his love for Black Sabbath more and more on each album. That doesn’t mean that ‘Immortalis’ has become a Doom Metal-album though. But the typical Sabbath-thing of changing the song into something different right in the middle of it, is more present than ever here. When the songs start out, they usually have a trusted feeling, almost makes you feel like coming home after a long time of being away, only to be surprised by the new wallpaper a room has once you see it, that would be the change within the song.
In addition, OverKill explores the “Thrash ‘n’ Roll” area they laid the fundaments for with a song like ‘Damned’ a couple of years ago a little further. ‘Walk Through Fire’ has without any doubt been inspired by AC/DC and is probably meant to be played before ‘Elimination’ in the live set, judging from the fact that the song ends exactly the way the first verse to the latter opens. When ‘Head On’ really starts (after a bass intro highly remniscent of ‘Bastard Nation’ from the 1994 ‘W.F.O.’-album), there’s this awesome down ‘n’ dirty riff and the highly surprising ‘Hell Is’ starts out almost bluesy, only to cover every aspect OverKill has ever tried out later on. ‘Hell Is’ is probably the most pleasant surprise on the album because of that too, after the bluesy beginning, there is a groovy stomp, a fast Thrash-riff with Punk-ish energy and some slight Doom references as well.
For those who want to hear OverKill Thrash their heads off, there is plenty to enjoy here as well. Opening track ‘Devils In The Mist’ is an irresistable Thrasher with the entire band in top shape. In the end, it has Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth screaming from the top of his lungs like we haven’t heard him do in many years. And then there’s the closing track. A delight for everyone who has followed the New Jersey Wrecking Crew from the beginning. There is finally a fifth part to the ‘Overkill’-saga! For those who don’t know: ‘E.vil N.ever D.ies’ from ‘The Years Of Decay’ (1989) was the fourth, but wasn’t named that way. And now there’s ‘Overkill V: The Brand’, probably the highlight of this album. It starts out slowly with a guitar part slightly similar to Slayer’s ‘Dead Skin Mask’, in atmosphere at least, then there’s a midtempo stomping part, followed by THE riff! As long as I’m still single, I’ll just use that riff to have an orgasm! This is easily the most “old school” sounding song DD has written in many years. And one of the best ones!
New kid on the block Ron Lipnicki is versatile enough to handle every direction OverKill takes on ‘Immortalis’. His drumming on the Thrash-parts is just as strong as on the more groovy tracks, like ‘What It Takes’ and ‘Head On’. His style seems a little “looser” than that of his predecessor Tim Mallare. I just hope that on the next album, the production will answer to that a little more. The way his triggers are set makes the perfect rhythms sound a little stiff at some points. Great drumming nevertheless.
Another person who really stands out on ‘Immortalis’ is lead guitarist Dave Linsk, who has equallled Bobby Gustafson’s impressive record of playing guitar on four consecutive OverKill-studio albums with this album. Linsk is easily the best and most complete guitarist the band has ever had and just when you think you know how good he really is, he surprises you with some sick soloing. ‘Immortalis’ is no exception. It’s unbelievable how awesome some of his lead guitar work is here. Somehow it sounds like a little more feeling crept inside of his solos on this album. And that is an enormous pro.
The brightest shining star on ‘Immortalis’, however, is Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth. I have yet to remember an album on which he shows as many sides of his voice as he does on ‘Immortalis’ (maybe the criminally underrated ‘I Hear Black’). As mentioned before, he shows his full conviction again in ‘Devils In The Mist’, but he does some parts completely clean beautifully, check out ‘Hellish Pride’ for the best example on that. His abstract sense of poetry (which I consider his very best quality) is present again and is it me or has his range increased?
‘Immortalis’ has, for the first time in OverKill-history, a guest musician. And even though I think he’s a terrible singer, Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe surprisingly really adds something to the impressive stomper ‘Skull And Bones’. I still think Bobby should have done the verses he sings lead vocals to, but the parts Bobby and Randy do together came out really great. The studio footage Bodog Music released as a teaser for the album shows Blythe really tried to make something good out of it too. And although I never thought I would say something like this, he succeeded.
OverKill’s winged skull mascot has finally got his own theme song as well. And he should be proud of it too. ‘Chalie Get Your Gun’ is an awesome track with sort of a slight swing feel (that is Ron Lipnicki’s looser playing I’m talking about), but some kick-ass thrashing as well. It’s one of those surprising tracks, because every time you think you know where the band is heading, they take a different route. ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ is a great example in that matter too, especially its exciting middle part.
Productionally, DD Verni seems to get the hang of it more and more. Apart from the minor criticism on the drum sound, the production is improving greatly. Dave Linsk did the engineering with DD and that means we get all the trusted elements: the huge guitar sound of Linsk and rhythm guitarist Derek Tailer, the fat and dirty bass sound of Verni himself and the strong, choral backing shouts. The latter are better than ever actually. DD either turned his own backing vocals down or Tailer’s up a little, giving the backing vocals an extra choral feel. Where in the past, there was a lot of DD, you can actually hear it’s two persons on this record. Just check the both of them shouting in ‘What It Takes’.
‘Immortalis’ is neither a radical change from OverKill’s past work or a very predictable album. And that’s where the true power of the album lies. That and the fact that the level of the album is consistently high. OverKill has the tendency to cluster their best songs somewhere in the beginning (i.e. ‘Within Your Eyes’, ‘Loaded Rack’ and ‘Bats In The Belfry’ on the predecessor ‘ReliXIV’), but there are no standout tracks on this one. And that is only because they all rock.
It takes a little longer to get into ‘Immortalis’ than into most of the other OverKill-albums (coincidentally, ‘Necroshine’ and ‘Killbox 13’ had the exact same effect for me), but once you give it that time, what you have is an album that easily matches OverKill’s best work. Thrash elitists expecting another ‘Horrorscope’ or ‘The Years Of Decay’ will probably be disappointed, but those with an open mind towards good music will most likely enjoy this awesome offering from New Jersey’s finest band.