Two years ago, Overkill’s Ironbound topped my Best Of 2010 list, and the perfect score I awarded it [back when we assigned numerical scores] remains the only 10 I’ve given in my five years at Last Rites. (In listening back to Ironbound as I prepared for The Electric Age, I must say that I stand by that score wholeheartedly. That record simply kills.) So given that that last effort was a perfectly blistering thrash album by a band that still has the goods, thirty years into their career, what does that mean for the follow-up?
Well, for one thing, it means you have to take a moment to set aside the last release to let this one stand on its own merits. I can’t really say that The Electric Age lights up the sky like Ironbound did, but once I calmed down a bit from the inevitable anticipation high, once I gave it a few spins to settle in, I found its merits to be many. It doesn’t hit quite as hard, or quite as quickly, but it’s a bit insidious in its method – it’s a grower, and it’s not a perfect 10, but it’s a damned solid 8.5, and that is perfectly fine with me.
Of course, an Overkill record defined by solidity should surprise no one – this original East Coast thrash outfit has long been noted for consistency. After consecutive band and genre high-water marks in 1989’s The Years Of Decay and 1991’s Horrorscope, these New Jerseyans endured the commercial decline of their style, transcending a relatively fallow period by experimenting with doom-ish downtempo, groove and even a few scant dashes of industrialized chug, all to above-average results, if certainly not to perfection or to particular popularity. Briefly righting some lackluster song wrongs with Necroshine, Bloodletting and Killbox 13, the band back-slid a hair through ReliXIV and Immortalis (neither of which was bad, but neither of which was brilliant) before blind-siding the world with Ironbound. And here we are, on the dawn of The Electric Age…
But as usual, the dawn is a sluggish start. Opening with its worst track, The Electric Age stumbles only once, in that earliest moment. First track “Come And Get It” reeks of a designed opening number, perfect for the concert stage in title and style, but on record, it simply doesn’t add up, the chorus falling flat after a promising verse and a mostly bland chugga-thrash opening. (The track does redeem itself somewhat in a slamming bridge, replete with some Accept-esque Gregorian-chant backing vocals. Regardless, it remains The Electric Age’s least interesting tune.) And then…
With second track, the pre-release teaser “Electric Rattlesnake,” The Electric Age brightens, kicking in and never letting up. From the (ahem) electric humming that precedes it to the smoking riffs that drive it home, “Rattlesnake” positively crackles with kinetic energy, with Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s distinctive vocals soaring atop Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer’s guitars, until the whole affair drops into a surprising doomed-out midsection not unlike something from the much-maligned successor to Horrorscope, 1993’s I Hear Black. (That record remains my least favorite amongst Overkill’s vast catalog, but that’s not to say that it’s a failure, because it isn’t. I just don’t love it like I love the others.) From there, The Electric Age cycles through further first-rate rippers in “Wish You Were Dead” and the massive swaggering stomp of “Black Daze,” in which Blitz trades some chorus vocals with bassist / songwriter DD Verni, before kicking into the blistering “Save Yourself,” both the thrashiest number on hand and the best, with nods to NWOBHM and trad-metal amongst its melodic touches, though still well-rooted in good ol’ thrashing.
Though not given a massive mix by Peter Tagtgren like its predecessor, The Electric Age certainly does not sound markedly lesser. The band is tight as hell; the production punchy; the guitar tone is thick and perfect. Blitz growls and yelps like a man on fire, his idiosyncratic vocal approach still the defining characteristic of this band (love it or hate it, and if you choose the latter, you’re missing out); DD’s bass is still treble-heavy and yet somehow perfect, helping to hold down the low-end even as it clatters along in the mid-range. Special credit should be given to new-kid drummer Ron Lipnicki, now on his second Overkill outing; his drumming fits the band’s newfound surge, pushing both Ironbound and The Electric Age further out of their earlier groovy comfort zone and into tightly controlled modern thrash mastery.
Once The Electric Age sparks, it never dies, from “Electric Rattlesnake” through the swinging “21st Century Man” into the classical guitar intro of “Good Night” and beyond. Overkill never really disappoints me, though there was a period wherein I’d grown accustomed to interchangeable mid-level releases. But those days are gone, it appears, and though I must admit that, for a minute, The Electric Age seemed like a let-down, coming off the perfection that preceded it, that is simply not the case. I’ve spun this new record every day since I got it, and it stands stronger every time, even as it’s still stuck beneath its older brother. Think of The Electric Age as Eli Manning to Ironbound’s Peyton – one of them is an undoubted all-time great and favorite, but even then, forever in the shadow, the other one still seems to get the job done, every time.