Sunday, March 7, 2010

ALBUM: Overkill "Ironbound"

The release of a new Overkill album is always one of my favourite times of any year, and after considerable anticipation their latest offering ‘Ironbound’ is finally here and on high rotation in my stereo, PC, MP3 player and shower-based accappella.
   Next to Iron Maiden Overkill have long been one of my favourite metal bands. I can still remember hearing ‘E.Vil N.ever D.ies’ for the first time on Year 8 camp, on a mix-tape borrowed from Troy ‘The Box’ Roberts, who was oblivious to the treasure that his TDK C-60 contained. Oh, how utterly blown away I was by the unique sound and vibe this band had. Nightwish’s ‘Wishmaster’ is the only other album that I can think of that left so much impact on me upon first listening.
   Veterans of the late 80’s thrash metal movement Overkill have remained intransigent, maintaining their distinctive identity as they explored and expanded their sound and style, always eschewing the urge to conform to trend, or type. Exodus disappeared only to reappear a decade later with a new ferocity. Testament imploded into the ‘Best-of’ badlands before returning as if nothing had changed. As countless other acts disintegrated due to lack of interest or from lack of inspiration, Overkill, helmed by the main-men, singer Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth and bassist DD Verni, have persisted pugnaciously. Glory be!
   The pivotal album ‘I hear black’ saw them introduce groove and relax the rigidity that hampers their particular genre of music, starting to elasticise, and embroider, surprising the listener when least expected. Ellsworth with his recognisable New Jersey jeer, (a voice that divides many listeners, though I’m a devout fan) has often been at the core of these experiments. He’s had a sing with his sister, a croon and a whistle, and on ‘Ironbound’ he continues to pull out unexpected flourishes, without resorting to gimmick. Whether doing his best Bruce Dickinson woh-oh-woh in ‘Endless War’ (…and you, dear reader, know how I love a good woh-oh-who), blaring a bullhorn bark in ‘Killing for a Living’ or rumbling a rasp in ‘The Head and Heart’ Ellsworth continues to prove himself one of the best frontmen in the biz.
   The opening track ‘The Green and Black’ and the closer ‘The SRC’ feel traditional, over-familiar, Overkill, book-ending the strongest material. The title track is a slashing thrasher, sporting a soaring chorus and the first of many moments with a very Maiden-y mid-section that builds to a frenzy of Dave Linsk lead-work. This ‘Iron’ influence can be heard later during ‘Endless War’, as a massive intro of howling harmonies and torrents of cascading fills progresses with peppy aplomb into a terrific gallop and a passage later on worthy of those hale Brits in their hey-day.
‘Bring me the night’ rocks right out with a notably Motorhead-like riff; simple, catchy, with plenty of Verni’s bass popping up. This bad-ass sexy rocking cockiness continues across the album, thankfully: ‘In Vain’ has the sort of feisty riff born to inspire waves of windmilling neck-wrecking; while everything is thrown into ‘Give a little’. Dishing out a crunchy riff, some fantastic funky finger-work from Verni, one of those classic stomping, chunky riffs, and a huge sing-a-long chorus, this is easily one of my favourites on the album.
   The goal is your soul’ falters as a spooky intro goes nowhere, sounding stuck on as the song fades over it rather than segue from it. This track and ‘Killing for a living’ are the  songs on the album that stumble. The latter is rescued by busting out some booty shaking grooviness; though this span seems to belong to another song. ‘The Head and Heart’ is more successful as its introduction transitions to a song that evokes a fist clenching and unclenching. A rigid core riff yields to verse passages pattering with snare and eerie chords, and a boppy, catchy chorus that would no doubt prove an audience pleaser.
   Ron Lipnicki follows his dynamite drumming debut with another superb session, eclipsing Tim Mallere’s workman-like approach with stop-on-a-dime precision and plenty of unexpected exuberance. Punch instead of paunch. Lipnicki’s aplomb has brought a welcome renewal of vigour; the songs sounding largely fresh, and contemporary, in spite of the band’s stalwart status. The production and mix on ‘Ironbound’ is one of their best, reminding me of Testament’s ‘Practice what your preach’. Verni’s bass thrums away at the heart of things and the over-caustic guitar sound from ‘Relixiv’ has found a middle ground with the slightly subdued skein from the previous album.
   Over the years the core crew of Ellsworth and Verni have flailed through revolving casts of guitarists, and yet continued to contribute one strong title after the other, and this new title is no different. ‘Ironbound’ is yet another righteous release; a total thrash metal album, stripped of their proclivity for power ballads and slabs of stomping doom that proves to be a pure pleasure to listen to.
   I say that as if it was ever going to be anything else.

   Let me tell you now, dear reader, how much I am looking forward to attending the Slovenian Metalcamp festival in July this year. For it is there that I will finally have the chance to see the band live!
   A few weeks later I will have the chance to see them again at Germany's Wacken festival!!!
   Twenty years I've waited now I get them twice in a month.
   I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am at the mere thought of it.
   Boy, oh boy, am I going to be a happy little camper. (Quite literally.)


It’s that time of the year again dear reader, the moment when I set aside my disdain for the meretricious masquerade and artificial artifice that is Hollywood and verily, and vicariously, enjoy the edification of those more fortunate than ourselves. How I cheer the victors, or gnash in anguish as my preferred candidate loses to someone less worthy. Nevertheless they show what a true pro they are  by masking their bitter disappointment. Bless.
   Oh, how I wax factual, elucidating to whomsoever is unfortunate enough to be stuck in the lounge with me the worthiness of writers, editors, cinematographers, production designers and the like. Oh, how I emit despondency at the death of a talent during the memorial, or trail tears during a montage of classic moments. Y’know, dear reader, I do love a good montage.
   As many have uttered in their winning speeches I too was one of those kids who watched the ceremony thinking one day that could be me, as my as yet unmade films spooled through the projectors of my mind.
   For now, as I take time from my writing tales of violent villains on the streets of Melbourne or some sort of sci-fi saga, I’ll cast my runes and offer my predictions on this years winners.

Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air.

The Hurt Locker.
A rare ‘apolitical’ war film that managed to be both a tense visceral thriller and a portrait of the psychology of servicemen; intelligent and moving, with top performances and indelible imagery.

The only real threat to The Hurt Locker is Avatar. Okay sure the latter was an amazing cinematic experience, pungently polemic with its environmental message and allegory of human history but it was shallow and memorable for the tableaux rather than the text.

Kathryn Bigelow ( The Hurt Locker ), James Cameron (Avatar), Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds)

Kathryn Bigelow.
Bigelow, though hardly prolific, has wallowed too often with films like Point Break or the routine, K-19, but always delivers tight, tough films of integrity in the vein of Robert Aldrich or Sam Fuller. I’ve been a fan since her debut the classic vampire flick Near Dark, and the cultish Strange Days, a showcase for her ability to imbue an off-centre genre piece with stellar film-craft. Hopefully the success of her latest film will offer more opportunities to show off her skills.
The gong will no doubt go to Cameron though. Arguably, he did invent a new technology to shoot films in 3D, which will change the face of film production. He's always been the guy ahead of the pack, so in spite of everything else, I'm sure he'll end up asking us all to offer a minute of silence in memory of the indigenous people wiped out by capitalist greed.

Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Mogan Freeman (Invictus), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

Colin Firth.
I was surprised and pleased to see both Firth and Jeremy Renner included with the likes of Bridges, Clooney and Freeman, with the former a long time fave and Renner for his powerful performance in The Hurt Locker. I’d love to see Renner win as he perfectly presented the conflicted conscience of the servicemen that I know and have met, but I think Firth will get up in spite of Bridges much lauded turn. Firth is the king of the introspective, ‘quiet’ performance, and this film is his crowning moment.

Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Meryl Streep (Julia &Julia)

Carey Mulligan.
As a long time fan of Sandra Bullock I'm glad she was recognised for contributing a serious role, instead of phoning in her usual pratfalls in yet another pile of poo, but Carey Mulligan should beat out Bullock and the stalwarts with her brilliant performance. She is more than worthy to be listed in the same ranks of Streep and Mirren. She is that good. If she doesn’t win here her future is a bright one, you can bet on that. She’ll always be Sally Sparrow to me though.
   Gabourey Sibide may be a dark horse, but if she’d actually stacked on the weight to play her character she would be in a with a greater shot.


Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds)

Christoph Waltz.
A mixed bag here with a lot of great character actors though Waltz’s Colonel Landa easily joins the ranks of the great screen villains. Suave, softly spoken, ever patient, every scene featuring him was compelling and electrifying.


Penelope Cruz (Nine), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Mo’Nique (Precious)

To be honest I haven’t seen any of these films, but Mo’Nique has won everything else and seems the safe bet.

Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds), Allesandro Camon/ Oren Moverman (The Messenger), Joel & Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), Tom McCarthy, Bob Peterson, Peter Docter (Up)

Mark Boal.
I think this will come down to Boal and Tarantino, though I think the honesty and empathy of Boal’s script will beat out a WW2 fantasy piece.

Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell (District 9), Nick Hornby (An Education), Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannuci ( In the Loop), Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious), Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)

I think this one will come down to Precious or the Nick Hornby adaptation. In the Loop was an extension of the brilliant TV show The Thick of It, offering more of the same, which doesn’t quite seem the same as transferring a book or play to the screen.

Ajami (Israel), El Secreto de Sus Ojos (Spain), The Milk of Sorrow (Peru), Un Prophete (France), The White Ribbon (Germany)

Un Prophete.
Along with The White Balloon this has been garnering awards from Cannes onwards. I think these are the only two contenders, and Un Prophete will pip Haneke’s film because that man is just too nihilistic for most.

Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, Up.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Wes Anderson is a near-genius film-maker and neither repeats himself nor produces anything generic. This was yet another eccentric choice with a top-notch cast, gorgeous stop-motion puppets and production design. A perfect match for the imagination of Roald Dahl.
Odd that Up is nominated for two best film categories. If it doesn’t win ‘the big one’ it will surely win this one.

Avatar (James Horner), The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Alexandre Desplat), The Hurt Locker (Marco Beltrami/ Buck Sanders ), Sherlock Holmes (Hans Zimmer), Up (Michael Giacchino).

Hans Zimmer.
Whereas fellow veteran James Horner delivered a routine, forgettable score, Zimmer’s composition was a surprising, rousing, skein woven with piano, violin, and accordion. It’s been a long time since a score has been so suitable, striking and so idiosyncratic.


This one is a three-way photo finish between Star Trek, Avatar and The Hurt Locker.

The Hurt Locker
I'll go with Bigelow's film again. The soundscape created for the film was eerie, humming, unnerving, almost a 'score' in itself. The other films are more voluminous, brimming with whizzes and bangs while The Hurt Locker is the opposite; clenched, hushed, subdued.

Avatar, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Young Victoria.

Sherlock Holmes
Again I show my bias towards the 19th century but Holmes was a grim, grimy London, unlike any other presentation of the time. Dark, dour lanes and ale house, clogged docks, the unfinished bridge balance with the opulence of wealth and pulchritude of parliament.
Gilliam’s imagination is wild and wonderfully rendered on screen, and Avatar’s world was a jungle with big blue people and some cool dragons, showy but superficial.

Bright Star, Coco before Chanel, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, The Young Victoria.

Bright Star.
All fairly traditional period pieces or sexy frocks with Gilliam’s film the exception.
Supporting the locals on this one.
Avatar (Maoro Fiore), Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (Bruno Delbonnel), The Hurt Locker (Barry Ackroyd), Inglorious Basterds (Robert Richardson), The White Ribbon (Christian Berger)

Robert Richardson.
A long time favourite DP of mine he is up there with the greats: Ballhaus, Kovas, Zsigmond, Willis; always delivering awesome, impossible cranks and tracks, with a consistent lustrous palette.
Ackroyd perfectly captured Bigelow’s neo-realism though loses out for not being able to hold the fucking camera still.
Maoro Fiore will probably win for the sheer technicality of his achievement, along with Cameron (notoriously hands-on), working on Avatar. Though I wonder how much actually photography, as opposed to ‘framing’, is involved when so much of the imagery is digitally rendered.

Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, Precious.

While The Hurt Locker was a series of tense set-pieces edited with the slow burn of DePalma at his best Avatar will win, again, for the sheer enormity of the task of combining so much multi-media.

Avatar, District 9, Star Trek

A no-brainer that one. The opening ten minutes of Star Trek was truly exhilarating, and continued to remain impressive throughout, and District 9’s prawns were gorgeously grotesque and realistic, but as I said earlier Avatar’s artistic achievements are largely advances to the artform.

Il Divo, Star Trek, The Young Victoria

Star Trek.
Clearly the front runner here, though that isn’t saying much.

* * *

Right, there you go. Almost as long as the ceremony itself.
I’ll be off to sort the cake, biscuits and cider, and maybe what T-shirt I’ll wear to watch the whole thing, all the while working on my own acceptance speech.
“I’d like to thank the Academy…”
Seems a good start, if a generic one…
Not sure where to go from there. I guess I should make notes while I’m watching.
You just never know…