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Just about every review you read for a newer Overkill CD will begin with the bit where the writer tells you how they were the one classic U.S. thrash band that went the distance through the 90s without compromising their integrity. The thing is, it happens to be one worn-out old platitude that is undoubtedly true; while not everything they came up with after the seminal ‘Horrorscope’ back in 1991 is an essential piece of any metal fan’s collection, that Blitz, D.D. and their associated comrades continued to go their own way in the face of the most extreme adversity really does bear repeating.
My first experience of the band was actually a double pack of the mostly good ‘Necroshine’ and the mostly bad ‘From the underground and below’, with the former being all the proof you could ever need that groove metal can actually be done right if it is approached with the same level of care, dignity and honesty as you would expect any successful metal band to apply to their work.
2005’s ‘Relixiv’ though was a creative dead end – the songs had finally become slaves to the groove rather than the other way around, and it looked as though this once mighty thrash titan had finally succumbed. I understand that ‘Immortalis’ was supposed to be a something of an improvement, but such was my disillusionment with its predecessor I completely missed it out, but the pre-release hype surrounding ‘Ironbound’ was just too enticing to be ignored.
And thankfully, it has turned out to be fully justified. This is, without doubt, the best Overkill have sounded in close to 2 decades. And yes, it is thrash – pure, unadulterated, epic thrash, as though ‘Horrorscope’ happened only a couple of weeks ago.
Quite where D.D. Verni has pulled this multitude of astounding riffs from is just beyond me – with all the suddenness of a flicking switch he has jumped back into his youth and has Overkill thrashing likes there’s no tomorrow. ‘Ironbound’ shouldn’t be mistaken for some trip down memory lane though, as it is undoubtedly a modern piece of work. There are slowed down moments, breakdowns even, but classic thrash style is brought right up to date without sacrificing any of its qualities, and the more modern elements are used respectfully and incorporated carefully into one hulking, cohesive beast of a CD. “The green and black” opens proceedings in quite monstrous fashion, an 8-minute tour-de-force that leaves no doubt as to what is in store. Opening on a one of Verni’s trademark loping bass intros, it quickly sets the standard with a relentless barrage of old-school thrashing before sliding into a punishing midtempo midsection that twists and turns before exploding into life again at the climax.
Blitz sings out of his skin on this one, and is at the absolute top of his game throughout. One of the great underrated vocalists of our time, he spits and screeches like a man possessed and delivers his typically cryptic but nonetheless (and I use this term advisedly) badass lyrics with a relentless controlled power that defies his 50 years.
The rest of the band are right up there with him too, with the entire crew in blistering form. Verni of course is a rightly regarded bass legend, and hands in a display worthy of his reputation, either when taking the lead or harmonizing with the guitars, or when delivering a full-on rhythmic battering along with Ron Lipnicki. On his 2nd studio outing since replacing the long-serving Tim Mallare, the drummer is dressed to impress, and pounds the living hell out of his kit. His fills and footwork are incredible, filling any loose spaces and hammering the pedals together at all the most appropriate moments.
On the guitar front Dave Linsk really excels on lead, zigzagging in and out of the congested riffs and delivering solo after staggering solo on what must surely be a career-best performance. On the title track he even finds time to show a more melodic side as the song unexpectedly slows down in the middle, weaving a mesmerizing solo before kicking up it a gear as the songs explodes back into life. On “Endless war”, the harmonized leads at the conclusion (with Verni getting in on the act too) are breathtaking, blazing like Iron Maiden in their very prime. Derek Tailer, the quiet man of the band I suppose on rhythm guitar, is not someone you generally hear much about, but even if he remains in Linsk’s shadow, there is no shortage of complex rhythmic bombardments for him to sink his teeth into and the importance of him anchoring his axe partner’s extravagance should not be understated.
The biggest strength of ‘Ironbound’, all these magnificent performances aside, must be in its versatility. The songs each have a definitive identity of their own, and just about all of them could stand alone against virtually anything being thrown at them. After the pounding given out by the opening 2 songs, “Bring me the night” mixes things up a bit with the most old-school sound of the bunch. The upbeat main riff is something Diamond Head would have killed to come up with, and is complimented perfectly by a demented vocal performance by Blitz were he must spit out about a million words without missing a breath. Truly, truly superior stuff. “Give a little” is another song that simply breathes character, the trade-off vocals between Blitz and Verni in the chorus another little bit of innovation (it’s not rocket science, but someone still has to come up with it) that remind us they’re still just a pair of punks deep down. As the song slows down Blitz also shows off his best Elvis imitation in the CD’s strangest moment, but, like nearly everything else when they’re on this kind of form, it just clicks perfectly into place.
It is maybe true, having listened quite extensively to the CD now, that the 2nd half isn’t quite as strong as the first, but after the relentless opening salvo Overkill are definitely due a bit of slack – that it takes until 7 songs in to find something that isn’t completely outstanding tells its own story. “The head and heart”, despite an interesting attempt at growled vocals from Blitz, is a bit of a weak point, the only song where the non-thrash elements take centre stage and keep the song from reaching full flight, but it really would be nitpicking to get too down about what is ultimately still a pretty good song.
Further towards the end, the penultimate “Killing for a living” is the black sheep of the family. Partly made up of by-now-expected heads down thrashing, it’s more intriguing side is found in the dark sections where Blitz hovers above proceedings like a grim narrator, delivering menacing half-spoken vocals that paint a sweeping, nightmarish picture punctuated by the crushing thrash sections. A moment of genuine stand-out inspiration on a CD chock-full of the stuff, it keeps reminding (as if reminding was needed) that Overkill never were ones to do things by the book.
At the end of my first listen to ‘Ironbound’ I was pretty stunned, and that sensation hasn’t faded even now that I have given it a thorough mental dissection to get my thoughts down on paper. Overkill never looked like they were going to go quietly, but for them to hit out with something of this quality at this stage of their career – their 15th full-length in 25 relentless years (16th if you count 'Coverkill') – is nothing short of miraculous. I will definitely be astounded if my year-end list doesn’t have its number one position occupied already, before we even hit February. Believe the hype; Overkill rides again.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)