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.)

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