Evaluating an Overkill album is at this point much the same operation as evaluating an AC/DC album. If you like one, you’ll like them all. So for me, it’s more a question of how much I like the album relative to other Overkill efforts. I’m always curious to see what new minor cosmetic tweaks the band has made ever since finding their stride with “The Years of Decay” in 1989. Much the same as their American thrash contemporaries over the past two or so years, Overkill does not disappoint with their newest release, “Ironbound.”
What serves to separate Overkill from the rest of the fathers of American thrash is that they remain unchanged. All of the others, from Anthrax to Metallica to Exodus, have experimented, however briefly, which changing their image or modifying their sound. No so with Overkill. They remain fundamentally the same, as “Ironbound” reflects the same kind of “shotgun to kill a fly” mentality as “The Years of Decay,” “Horrorscope,” “The Killing Kind” or any of the others. Part of this is surely due to the continued influence of Bobby Blitz and DD Verni, who were there in the beginning, and will likely be there until the end. The band is still youthful and virile, like they never grew up, or never saw a need to. There is still a lot of punk influence in Overkill’s music, which has faded from most of the other American thrash bands over time. “Bring Me the Night” is similar to a song Megadeth would have written in 1984, but not in 2010.
Dave Lipnicki, who defected from Hades and joined the band as drummer in 2005, has been a tremendous addition that’s helped to rejuvenate Overkill on the whole. The title track of “Ironbound” benefits greatly from his impact, as his powerful but rhythmic drumming keeps the song moving at a blistering pace. It’s been too long since a drummer has effectively leaned on the snap of his snare to carry an album. Lipnicki does it one end to the other.
“Ironbound” from end to end is probably the crunchiest album of the American thrash revival (if I can call it that,) as the combination of cymbal, snare drum and high end, screeching guitar lends an experience like that of chewing on icicles. It’s sharper than “ReliXIV” and less refined than “Immortalis” which for Overkill is a good thing. We also see a more indulgent Overkill on this album, content to wander more than they would have previously. The album’s opening track, in a clear message that this effort will be just a little different than the others, is an engaging eight minutes long. Several tracks, including the title track, have sections that are more reserved and exploratory. That said, they always come crashing back to form.
Still, so much of what we’ve all come to expect from Overkill is present on the album. Simple but infectious hook-y guitar riffs like “Bring Me the Night” and “Endless War” serve to make the songs stand out from each others. There are large sections (in “Give a Little,” and “The Head and Heart” for example,) of perfect head-banging fodder, akin to Overkill’s fan favorite “Skullkrusher.” It in these more moderately paced but thundering bridges that the album really shines, and highlights the contrast between the breakneck punk roots and the speed metal pedigree. The tried but true metal standbys of free-wheeling guitar solos with room to move, and sparse verses accompanied only by cymbal and light guitar make “Killing for a Living” one of the album’s best tracks. Gang choruses are in full force, and the strength of the album, as it has been for so many thrash acts over time, is knowing when to take just a little bit off. Rather than beat the listener over the head with cacophonous noise at all times, Overkill artfully saves it for the right moments, and uses more accessible and melodic riffs and construction to set those parts up. The album’s end, “The S.R.C,” uses all of these pieces to great effect.
There is nothing about this album I don’t like. On about my third pass through, the parts I liked suddenly exploded for me, and the rest fell into place as I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before. Every note is a testament to the continued skill of a band who refuses to change, and shouldn’t. “Ironbound” is true, nasty, fun-loving Overkill combined with echoes of “Killing is My Business…,” “Speak English or Die,” “Ride the Lightning” and just a taste of “Scumdogs of the Universe.”
If you’ve a fan of the old school, or ever been any kind of thrash fan at all, you owe it to yourself. You just do. I can’t say it any other way. Overkill is exactly as you remember them, and exactly what metal should be.
Is “Ironbound” perfect? Probably not, but it’s damn close.