OVERKILL – Scorched (Album Review)

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The Wrecking Crew scorches all in its path.

For a band that has been trudging the dank swamps of metal’s thrashing edge for as long as the rest, Jersey’s original wrecking crew Overkill have never really garnered the level of commercial interest that has dogged their Big 4 contemporaries. But for those with any degree of familiarity with their sonic stock and trade, the question as to why answers itself, as this quintet of mosh pit builders don’t operate under the blueprint of mere commercial viability. Theirs’ has been an exercise in rugged consistency to the gritty, grimy, working class ideal upon which the very foundation of the thrash sub-genre stands, and they’ve held a near 100% consistency in adhering to its stylistic parameters despite some drastic changes in the market. Nevertheless, Overkill is not a band that simply plays it safe and settles for coloring within the lines either, and with the creation of their 20th studio album “Scorched,” they’ve opted to take a more varied approach relative to the warp speed brand of kinetic old school thrash that permeated their handiwork during the 2010s.

For the most part, all of the obligatory elements this band’s legions of green and black clad underground adherents have come to expect are kept in place, resulting in a sonic template that is equally as familiar as it is innovative. Now at the ripe age of 63, deranged vocal warlock and front man Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth continues to belt out gravely banshee shriek that have caused some to dub him thrash’s answer to Udo Dirkschneider, though at a few key points he proves more than capable in toning it down a tad for a more haunting delivery. In like fashion, fellow co-founder and iconic bassist D.D. Verni’s dark and distorted bottom-end continues to be a staple of the band’s sound, riding high in the mix and enjoying an increased share of solo moments relative to the last few studio outings. Long time guitar duo Derek Tailer and lead wizard Dave Linsk continue battering the foundations of sonic possibility with a riff assault heavy enough to rival any mainstay from the Bay Area, with the latter’s technical high-jinks taking on a bit more of an old school heavy metal vibe this go around. Relative newcomer and drumming machine Jason Bittner reprises the thunderous intensity he brought to 2019’s “The Wings Of War” and has gelled fully with the band as if he’d also been sloughing away with them since the early 2000s.

The high impact world of green goblins with black hearts that comes with any entry from this outfit is plain to behold, yet the architecture that adorns the landscape this go-around is of a more multifaceted variety. From the opening stream of notes that Linsk paints over the introduction of this opus’ riveting title anthem “Scorched”, it becomes clear that a more melodic and measured brand of chaos is afoot, incorporating a dynamic blend of mid-paced crusher riffing and frenetic burst of speed that occasionally exhibit a power metal-like quality. Though it ultimately qualifies as an epic number, this opening assault definitely comes off as more concise than much of what typically rounded out a 2010s kill box, and it foreshadows a more streamlined, though by no means less intense album. Indeed, frenetic cruisers like “The Surgeon” and “Twist Of The Wick” hit the ground running with the same fervor as anything this quintet has drawn from their creative well since “The Years Of Decay,” ditto the riveting old school series of sonic booms dubbed “Harder They Fall”, but one can’t help but notice the increased level of intricacy going on behind Blitz’s relentless rants and raves.

Subtlety has never been a concept that applies to Overkill, yet when considering the construction of some of the less conventional thrashers found on this album, it’s the best word to describe the method behind their madness. At certain times the stylistic adventures outside of the band’s usual fair come in the form of an innovative introduction or a more hook-oriented harmonic scheme hearkening back to their mid-80s modus operandi, both of which adorn the otherwise conventional modern thrash anthem “Going Home”. Then again, pulling back the tempo and layering the guitars a bit finds shuffling monsters like “Wicked Place” and the closing puncher “Bag O Bones” reminiscing upon the groove metal-laced material that typified this fold’s 1994-2007 catalog. But for those who are curious at just how capable Overkill proves in throwing in a massive left-turn to spice up the witch’s brew, one need look no further than the duo of power anthems “Won’t Be Coming Back” and “Fever”, the former sounding dangerously close to something that Black Sabbath might have thrown together during the early 80s with Dio, while the latter begins and repeatedly refers back to an atmospheric mode of spacey balladry (complete with Blitz employing a signature clean sound heard occasionally since the mid-90s) that’s pretty close to a reinterpretation of “Planet Caravan”.

Perhaps the only thing more auspicious about this being Overkill’s 20th go at upping the thrash metal ante is that it just happened to coincide with the release of the most prominent pioneering outfit in the sub-genre’s latest studio LP, namely Metallica. Whether by a random coincidence due to scheduling or a rather curious marketing approach by Nuclear Blast Records, this eventuality draws a very relevant contrast between two different philosophies represented in two elder statesmen, and the contrast in the result is nothing short of stark. Opinions will naturally vary until the end of days, and popular sentiment will no doubt see Metallica continue to prevail as the most commercially viable expression of metal, but there is something to be said for a band that is untouched by the whims of critics and the fickle masses getting the job done with a greater outcome both in terms of quantity and quality. That’s the ideal that Overkill lives by, it’s the very spirit that stands behind that green and black flag that they continue to fly, and like nearly every LP that has come to light since 1985, “Scorched” is sure to rivet any and all looking for metal distilled to its nastiest and most combustive form.

Order “Scorched” HERE.

Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: April 14th, 2023
Genre: Thrash Metal

Musicians:

  • Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth / Vocals
  • D.D. Verni / Bass
  • Dave Linsk / Lead Guitar
  • Derek Tailer / Rhythm Guitar
  • Jason Bittner / Drums

“Scorched” track-listing:

1. Scorched
2. Goin’ Home
3. The Surgeon
4. Twist OF The Wick
5. Wicked Place
6. Won’t Be Comin Back
7. Fever
8. Harder They Fall
9. Know Her Name
10. Bag O’ Bones

9.0 Excellent

Now 20 albums deep into the green and black realm of thrash metal chaos, Overkill opt for a slight yet noticeable change in direction to usher in the 2020s, proving once more that age is not necessarily a factor in raining mayhem upon the masses

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9.5
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