Almost thirty years now…
For nearly one-third of a century, through five different American presidents (three of them two-termers), through sixteen studio albums and three live releases, through at least seven record labels and thousands of live performances including one in which vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth had a mild stroke on stage, through… well, almost everything… Overkill has kicked some serious ass.
I make no bones about this: I love this band. I have loved this band since I first heard Under The Influence back in the day. I loved them when I was riding to high school whilst listening to The Years Of Decay on my yellow Sony Walkman. I loved them when I had my first job, working in the mailroom at a large company and blasting W.F.O. whilst I stuffed envelopes. I even loved them three years ago, cranking the ho-hum Immortalis as I ran on my treadmill, back when I actually ran on my treadmill instead of just using it as an unusually low shelf.
And I love them now.
I especially love them now because Ironbound is hands down the best Overkill record since the second-best Overkill record, that being 1991’s monsterpiece Horrorscope. (As good as Horrorscope is and was, its predecessor, The Years Of Decay, is still the band’s high-water mark. Some will argue Taking Over to be the second-best, and that’s valid, but I prefer Horrorscope, and this is my review.)
Overkill hit their stride awhile back. They’re old school, and they’re proud of it. But as perpetually mentioned, even in those years when metal wasn’t particularly en vogue, Overkill soldiered on, modernizing parts of their sound but never changing enough to warrant cries of “sell-out.” It seems that virtually every review of virtually every record between From The Underground And Below and Immortalis included some permutation of these comments: “This is an Overkill album. This is what Overkill does, has always done, will always do. Fans of the band will be happy with this. Solid and respectable but not incredible.” (All of that was and is true about each of those records, in varying degrees.) Partly, that repetitive reviewing stops now. Yes, largely, Ironbound is what Overkill does, has always done, will always do, but yet, it’s better, bigger, badder. And yes, fans of the band will be happy with this—more than happy, truthfully; they should be ecstatic. Where Ironbound differs significantly from Immortalis or ReliXIV or Killbox 13 (possibly the band’s best record of the new millennium) is that Ironbound is not b-grade, both/either by the band’s own standards and/or by those of thrash as a whole. It’s not “for the fans and maybe a few others.” Ironbound is the record this band needed to make, has needed to make since W.F.O. at least, maybe longer. Ironbound is a return to form par excellence, a longtime thrash fan’s thrash record, a year-end best-of list contender if ever there were one.
Opening strong with “The Green And The Black,” Ironbound simply does not let up. These songs are nonstop badassity, from the ominous bass intro of “Green And Black” through the NWOBHM-isms of “Bring Me The Night” to the half-sung moody verses of “Killing For A Living.” From start to finish, Verni’s riffs are the strongest they’ve been in years. (“Bring Me The Night” alone contains a wealth of riffs Hetfield and Ulrich would kill to have written.) In place now for nearly a decade, the guitar tandem of Tailer and Linsk has solidified into a tight, pummeling unit. Drummer Ron Lipnicki pounds his kit like a man possessed, the newest and youngest member of the band playing like he’s got something to prove. Vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth has always been love-him-or-hate-him—almost all negative criticism I’ve read of this band centers around his feral snarl—and that much hasn’t changed. Ironbound is easily among his best performances—time and experience have weathered his voice, smoothed off some of the shrill edges, and he employs a more varied attack these days, from his usual vibrato-laden midrange to piercing screams to a crooning baritone to the death-ish growl of “The Head And Heart.” The production is massive, engineered by Verni and Tailer and mixed by Peter Tagtgren (Hypocrisy, among others)—the guitars are thick and meaty; the drums are tight and crisp; Verni’s bass is… well, Verni’s bass. His tone is as much a signature of the band as Blitz’s snarl, and only in the case of DD Verni can I ever stomach (let alone enjoy) a bass tone with that much treble.
I have found fault with Overkill records before, for a long time now, ever since Horrorscope. I can find no fault in Ironbound. It’s just that simple. It’s just this simple:
Ironbound is awesome. Ironbound is metal. Ironbound is Overkill. Long live the green and black; here’s to another thirty years…