Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth was asked to describe the Overkill sound the other week, and he said simply: “‘thrash with class’ I call it; the thrash that makes us what we are.”
Since 1980 he and the revolving door of Overkill members (I think I might be the only person in the Western world that hasn’t been in the group at some point) have been doing what they do.
But, crucially, they also recognise that the more things stay the same, the more they must change, as it were and that feeling is all over “Scorched”.
It is absolutely and unmistakably Overkill – just listen to the opening riff as Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer trade riffs and the way “Blitz” screams his vocals, promising “the best damn firestorm you ever had” by the end of the chorus – but album number 20 takes the band into places they’ve never before, and it’s a brilliant thing.
To that end, the second track on the album “Goin’ Home” underlines the brave new world. The intro isn’t them. I defy anyone to realise it was Overkill until Blitz kicks in, and even then, the band in 2023 reflects its surroundings better than it ever has.
As if to prove they can still do what they damn well choose, they knock out “The Surgeon” early on and its 1983 all over again. This is old-school moshpits, hi-tops and all the rage and hope of youth.
Indeed, there’s hope all through this. They began writing it at the outset of the pandemic and releasing it now, you can hear the thought that there is light at the end of the tunnel in work like the dramatically grandiose “Twist The Wick” or the militaristic groove of “Wicked Place”. Overkill wouldn’t be Overkill without DD Verni’s bass after all and it thunders here, and the lyrics are fun: “sweating like a fat man sitting in a sauna” offers Ellsworth here (and to be fair I’ve been in one and lasted about three minutes….)
The singer himself has reckoned that “Scorched” is more a heavy metal album than an outright thrash one and he does have a point. “Won’t Be Comin’ Back” is a full on NWOBHM thriller and perhaps the “anything goes” feel of it is best shown in the line that says “if I had another two fucks to give” and seems very much that on this Overkill have really stirred the pot, certainly, no one would be expecting the mid-paced brooder “Fever”, it lurks, malevolently in the shadows before it’s attack.
The thing sounds brilliant too. Colin Richardson and Chris Clancy (no strangers to mixing metal records) have made it sound stunning, so that the drums of Jason Bittner carry “The Harder They Fall” and the violence of the gruesome “Know Her Name” really comes through.
However Overkill 2023 have one last surprise. Did someone say blues-infused groover? No, probably not to be fair, but that’s what “Bag Of Bones” gives us and in common with everything else here, its done with a skill.
45 years as a thrash metal band – hell, 45 years as any type of band – is a stunning achievement, to still have the desire to push yourself to create is even more special. As “Scorched” proves, even after all this time, Overkill are still coming in hot.