Now approaching their fourth decade New Jersey thrashers Overkill are about to unleash their 19th studio album and The Wings of War is the sound of a defiant band with middle finger raised while refusing to kowtow to fads and trends.
Although they’ve been fusing punk and metal since their inception in 1980 Overkill didn’t drop their debut album Feel the Fire until 1985. At this point Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer had all released their sophomore efforts and Overkill’s relatively late appearance on vinyl saw them in the slipstream rather than at the vanguard. If Feel the Fire had been released in 1983 I’m sure we’d be talking about the ‘Big 5’. However their status in the second tier of thrash means they’ve often flown under the radar and unlike some of the Big 4 they’ve remained staunchly loyal to thrash (albeit with brief dalliances in stoner rock and industrial metal) which means they have a solid back catalogue with no embarrassments in their discography.
Opening salvo ‘Last Man Standing’ begins with a series of electric shocks and pounding, warlike drums the band increase the tension like a rubber band stretched to breaking point until a brutal riff erupts like the bands mascot ‘Chaly’ bursting out of hell and this track is sure to be a set opener on their forthcoming tour. Fans won’t be disappointed as ‘Last Man Standing’ evidences all the bands essential ingredients from Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s unique V2 rocket squeal to D. D. Verni’s intricate bass runs. Guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer have now been together for 17 years and trade solos and riffs with an undeniable chemistry. Ron Lipnicki recently vacated the drum stool and his busy style was integral to the band’s sound and ensured their last four albums were all five star classics. In Jason Bittner (Toxik, Flotsam, Shadows Fall) they’ve found a worthy replacement and his schooling in jazz and Latin rhythms means he handles the bands trademark time changes with ease. Case in point being next track ‘Believe in the Fight’ where he firmly dictates the pace before mixing up tempos in the pit inducing mid-section. Likewise on ‘A Mother’s Prayer’ he cloaks complexity in simplicity: listen closely and you’ll hear a lot going on beneath the main beat.
Latest single ‘Head Of A Pin’ trades speed for a heavy groove and, like the Incredible Hulk on a rampage, it stomps all in its path. It’s this variety that makes The Wings of War such a rewarding listen as the “ambient” midsection of ‘Bat Shit Crazy’ briefly sucks the listener into another world before we’re rudely awoken with a blistering solo. The quieter passages serve as a foil making the heavier sections more weighty meaning when the drums hit they hit hard. Humour’s a huge part of Overkill’s genetic makeup and it surfaces on ‘Welcome To The Garden State’. Proudly proclaiming a love of their native New Jersey it’s kinda like ‘Theme From New York, New York’ only for the thrash generation and it’s a prime candidate to ignite mosh pits worldwide. Driven by a neat bass motif ‘Where Few Dare To Walk’ takes a darker turn with a powerful sound and it finds the band flexing their musical muscles. Those tantalising tempo twists are put to great use on ‘Out On The Road-Kill’ with Bobby sounding like a general calling his troops to battle. First and foremost Overkill are a thrash band and closer ‘Hole In My Soul’ is a pedal-to-the-metal adrenaline infused thrasher that’s set on a collision course with an ten ton lorry. Like all classic final cuts it leaves the listener hungry for more.
The Wings of War is an album that captures Overkill at the peak of their powers while surfing a creative wave. And while they aren’t reinventing the wheel there’s enough variety contained within to ensure things don’t get generic. One of only a handful of bands who’ve never alienated their fan base by chasing fame and fortune Overkill give their audience exactly what they want while still remaining fresh and vital. Here’s to the next four decades!
Reviewed by Peter Dennis
The Wings of War is released through Nuclear Blast Records on 22 February 2019
- Last Man Standing
- Believe In The Fight
- Head Of A Pin
- Bat Shit Crazy
- A Mother’s Prayer
- Welcome To The Gargen State
- Where Few Dare To Walk
- Out On The Road-Kill
- Hole In My Soul