By the time you read this, New Jersey Thrash legends Overkill will be on the verge of starting their European tour with Heathen and Exhorder in support. A bill that sadly misses the UK, it’s a veritable feast of such quality that I’m sure there are many on these shores who may be planning a trip. It will also coincide with the release of Overkill’s 20th studio album, Scorched.
Overkill – Scorched (Nuclear Blast)
Release Date: 14 April 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
For a band who have been remarkably consistent in their output and quality over the years, it is probably unsurprising to report that Scorched maintains the high levels we have come to expect. From a band over four decades into their musical journey, it’s impressively good. From the title track that opens the album through to the final track Bag O Bones, Scorched is a record that you will find yourself returning to over and over.
Overkill is undeniably a Thrash band at heart, and that style is still very much at the core of this album. However, Scorched has a more varied feel, with the aggression at the centre of their music still very much in evidence. As vocalist Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth says, “There are a lot of different elements on the record. To me, it’s more Heavy Metal and less of an outright Thrash record. There’s a hell of a lot of melody on it.”
Nowhere is that more evident than on the first single, The Surgeon. A snarling beast of a track, it’s still underpinned by a melodic hook on the chorus and a groove that you can rock along with.
Scorched isn’t an album that sees Overkill rolling out ballads or huge curved balls, but it’s evident that the band’s maturity in their songwriting is enabling them to craft the songs with real care and attention. From the frenetic thrashing burst of Twist Of The Wick via the bluesy caress of Goin’ Home and the anthemic weave of Won’t Be Coming Back, Scorched is an album that has taken time to create.
It’s been four years since The Wings Of War, albeit the global pause accounts for two, but it’s evident that the time has allowed Overkill to get to work in a way that may not have been permitted under their previous cycle.
Lyrically, Blitz is on point, bringing light to the darkness that at one time descended during the writing process. “It was a whirlwind,” he says. “The world said ‘enough of this bullshit,’ put their foot down, and came out of it. Our record shows that. It’s spinning something that was darker into something brighter.”
There are some stellar performances. Blitz’s distinctive vocals are dominant without overpowering. His screams and high-pitched delivery are the thing that makes Overkill the band they are. He is in inspired form, with a delivery that is, in places, phenomenal. The way he’s given room on the second single, Wicked Place, shows not only his ability but also the way the band continue to evolve.
Fellow founder member D.D. Verni’s bass lines run deep, locking in with drummer Jason Bittner, now an established member of over five years standing. Bittner’s display of machine-gunning drumming is one of many highlights on an album with an abundance of highlights.
Possibly the most surprising song on the album is Fever, which contains a real hard-rocking blues flavour. It still retains the classic Overkill snarl, but there’s an expansive feel, another song where Blitz can breathe and work, whilst the lead work of Dave Linsk is outstanding.
And then there’s the fabulous finale, with the chug of Bag O Bones, which oozes groove and provides a different flourish with which to finish. It’s probably not Overkill’s intention to get you dancing, but this is one that has the most chance of getting you moving.
Scorched is most definitely an Overkill album. They’ve always been a Heavy Metal band who embraced Thrash, and that remains the case.
There’s also a stunning piece of artwork courtesy of Travis Smith and a production quality that sits both in the ’80s and the modern day. This is thanks to Colin Richardson and assistant engineer Chris Clancy. “We wanted something that you could turn up to 10,” Blitz says, “and it wouldn’t get you tired after listening to it for three songs. Colin’s work is an ’80s throwback mix with a modern punch.”
With Johnny Rodd helping with vocal production and Maor Appelbaum taking over mastering and adding finishing touches, Overkill’s 20th album stands proudly alongside the best that they’ve delivered over the entire span of their long career.