Overkill had a good thing going. After becoming one of the top bands of the 80s thrash movement, they settled into a career as flag-bearers. Their albums from the early 90s on have all been dependably decent to varying degrees—enough to satisfy the hardcore fans and maintain life as a righteous touring act without causing those annoying “artistic expectations.” Without a doubt, Overkill had a good thing going, and no one really expected much to change.
Enter Ironbound, a return to studio dominance so sudden that it was borderline unbelievable, but undoubtedly welcome to countless ears. For the first time in ages, a new Overkill album brought with it some real anticipation, and 2012’s The Electric Age, while lacking the immediate “HOLY SHIT” factor of its predecessor, has proven to be right there with it in terms of blazin’ quality.
One great album by “veteran touring band” could be viewed as a fluke, but two is a resurgence. Now, the next Overkill album would not only be met with anticipation, but expectations, something that hasn’t happened in many an age. White Devil Armory is that album, bringing with it hopes that Overkill is not just riding some wave of reinvigoration, but has truly returned to form as one of the best thrash acts on the planet, both on the road and in the studio.
To the legions of green and black thrashers, know that White Devil Armory not only meets and passes all expectations with devil-grinning satisfaction, but is possibly the best of this wildly fun new era. Now, let’s qualify that for a second. Because of what Ironbound represented to Overkill fans, it will likely maintain the strongest hold on their hearts, but the band has systematically settled back into this whole “being an elite band again” thing, and White Devil Armory reveals the fruits of that newfound confidence and songcraft.
It will come as little surprise that this confidence is most apparent in the inimitable vocals of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, who is on complete fire throughout this record. Only someone with Blitz’s charisma and brash rage could get away with lines such as “It’s a G-D-M-F blood filled station!” from “Armorist,” as only Blitz could turn something as seemingly cornball as cursing-by-acronym into a wickedly fun passage of a wickedly fun song. But beyond his magnetic personality, Blitz’s attention to detail on White Devil Armory (and all of the band’s top-notch records) is truly notable. From his rants of “I’m a pig pig pig!” in – you guessed it – “Pig,” to his brilliant vocal ascension and biting delivery during “King of the Rat Bastards,” there are countless moments in which the man comes up aces. (I am also hereby nominating the latter as the Song of the Summer 2014. Too much goddamn fun.)
However, a beastly vocal performance does not a great metal album make, at least not on its own. Backing Blitz are some of the most meticulously constructed songs of Overkill’s career, with every drum variation, D.D. Verni bass rumble, well-placed solo, and key transition working in favor of the whole. The chorus of “Down to the Bone” is a snapshot of this, riding the layering of a simple chord progression with a great lead and Blitz’s vocals into a gang shout finish. The chorus of the aforementioned “King of the Rat Bastards” likewise benefits from a bit of layering, doubling Blitz’s bite with some blunt drum hits and extra muted chords, resulting in a unified dropping of the hammer.
White Devil Armory also benefits greatly from small variations in mood and delivery, as well as from a very well thought-out track sequence. For example, both the mildly brooding “Bitter Pill” and intense-enough-to-finish-an-80s-Metallica-album speedster “Where There’s Smoke” benefit from their juxtaposition, while “In the Name” features the kind of Blitz vocal that feels like a last exhaustion of energy, perfect for an album closer.
It’s pretty amazing that Overkill was able to come up with something so refined and supreme a mere two years after The Electric Age. It’s also amazing that they’re able to continue this killer run after so many years of middling material. Which brings us to the key question: what in God’s name took them so long, and how were they able to just flip the switch back to being an elite studio act? Catching late career lightning in a bottle once is one thing, but Overkill is now on a run that no one really expected. So whatever the answer to that question is, one thing is perfectly clear: this is no longer a resurgence, this is the new normal, and I for one am happier than a pig in shit.
Get thrashed, you rat bastards.