There aren’t many bands who can lay claim to sounding better now, with nineteen albums under their belts, than they did at their perceived peak. At least not many who can say it while keeping a straight face anyway. But then again, not every band is OverKill.Continue reading →
To celebrate the release of the awesome 11 album, 13 CD boxset of HistoriKill (via Nuclear Blast), that details the OverKill musical story from 1995 to 2007, Ghost Cult lit the touch paper, stepped back and let live-wire New Jersey chat-meister Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth do the talking…
On doing it for 35 years…
It’s become quite a ride! I guess I’m in forever now. But isn’t that the beauty of it? It never was a plan. It’s all just happened; finding a great working partner, having a great work ethic and continuously re-inventing ourselves as the world and the music industry crumbled around us. And somewhere in there’s the truth. If you can reinvent and embrace technology and changes, you have the opportunity to keep moving forward.
On I Hear Black and W.F.O (both Atlantic), the last albums before HistoriKill
I can’t tell you what I was thinking back then, but I can tell you for sure there was no record company pressure to change sound; that never existed for us. I think what happened is DD and I wrote Horrorscope, and that was the quintessential thrash record for us. We started understanding groove but without losing our identity. We had 2 new members, Merrit Gant and Rob Cannavino, for Horrorscope, whereas prior to that we had Bobby Gustafson writing. After Horrorscope, the two new guys said to us “If you want us in the band, we have to write music” and DD said, “OK, I’ll give that a shot”. But he had a hard time writing with these younger guys, who were thinking more in terms of what was happening at the time, the grunge, the rock scene. For sure there’s thrash on there, but the thrash numbers are DD’s songs.. So, we had a mix of the new meets the old, but we didn’t see the direction the record was going in until it was done. And still to this day I like I Hear Black, it’s just probably the one album that’s a departure from our path.
It’s multi-faceted to do this for so long – it’s not just sitting in the basement playing guitar, chain smoking and wondering why people don’t appreciate my genius! It’s obviously a business too. You’re in a band because you want to be in a band; you want to run through walls, knock through them, make some noise, with some people that you respect, admire and, to some degree love. But the other side is a business. And we started taking that over right post-W.F.O. and we became a self-managed band. We were forced into the underground a little more so by the grunge scene, so, and I don’t know if it’s genius or not, but we realised that licensing would be our future and we started licencing and taking a little less money so as not to let the labels own those records in perpetuity.
On “The Dark Days Of Metal”
When we started hooking up with Nuclear Blast, who are guys in fucking Exodus T-shirts, they know what’s fucking going on, so we said, “Hey, if we do worldwide with you, would you be interested in a package?” We wanted to call it “The Dark Days of Metal”. And they said absolutely. And these were the albums that got the least amount of light shined upon them. I don’t know if we knew it was smart move about the licensing, but it turned out to be, so we had this whole block of a period of time when metal was less popular where now we can introduce it to this whole new audience of whippersnappers that exists now who are wearing the uniform of white hi-tops and patches on denim jackets. They can know there was some solid releases in the late 90’s because we decided to not go home and work for Mommy and Daddy.
On Knowing Where He’s Been
It’s a great opportunity to even have the HistoriKill stuff and to introduce new people to it. It’s not so much for the people who were there at the time, but for those who are now fans who want that 11 CD history of us that only time can give you. To be relevant in 2015, I have know where I’ve come from to know where I am, and HistoriKill is part of that for sure.
On the standout moments of HistoriKill
As you can tell, I’m pretty good with remembering our past. One of my favourite records is From the Underground and Below. We had Colin Richardson come in and mix it. He was state of the art, in demand at the time. I remember picking him up at the airport, then we went to the studio in Conneticut. He was listening with the engineer, and we could see him through the glass. So, I see him listening to ‘Long Time Dyin’ and he’s doing the Pete Townshend guitar wheel while he’s standing on a fucking chair!
I said to DD “We’ve either made the best decision of our lives, or we’re fucked!” …and he helped turn that record into a gem for me. It’s one of my favourite Overkill records of all time. It’s cohesive. When I was a kid, when I put on Volume 4 (Vertigo), I never took the needle off until the record was done. That to me is a gauge of success. And it’s the way I think of Underground; a cohesive whole.
I remember going through some personal issue shit at the time of Necroshine that was like a 1, 2 to the stomach and then a 1, 2 to the jaw and I honestly didn’t think I was going to get off the canvas. I was waiting to get some results on some tests and it was a coin toss at the time how it’d go. In any case, I have a great relationship with DD and he was in touch continuously. I remember he called me when I was waiting for results, and he goes “Hey man, you need me to write you a cheque? You need me to come up, you need me to hold your hand or you need me take care of your family, tell me what you need, I’ll do it” but I knew what I needed was to get my mind off this shit. So I said “DD, I could use a song.” And he sat and did it, and three days later I had the rough musical demo to ‘Necroshine’ in my mailbox. I then remember writing it over this two week waiting period and I’ll never forget the song. It got me through the other side. I might be an abstract lyricist, and not tell you what this song or that song is about, but that song got me through that period and to this point in my life. It was a jumping off point because it gave me the opportunity to understand it’s not about the problem, it’s about getting through the fucking problem at all costs. It was a great lesson, but also a song that will remain the top Overkill song I ever wrote. It was life changing for me.
On his Health
It’s good. I mean, I walk around with that attitude that I’m bullet proof. Obviously I’ve caught a few shells here and there though! But I still think of myself as bullet proof, and that’s the way you should present yourself. You get one shot at this. I’m not going to sit here and worry about touring, or this or that… it’s just due diligence and fucking move forward man. I’m doing well and looking forward to getting on it all again!
There are very few bands that are instantly recognisable and have their own “sound”. Even within the distinctive refrains of Thrash Metal, Overkill have always retained identity, honed and refined over 30 years. Yet when Nuclear Blast picked them up on a multi-album deal five years ago (the are on eOne in the USA) a few eyebrows were raised as, despite a W.F.O. (Atlantic) or From The Underground And Below (CMC), it had been over twenty years since the release of the bone fide classics of their canon, the seminal thrashmeister-pieces Feel The Fire, Taking Over, and Horrorscope (Megaforce).
Overkill started their recent run with Ironbound in 2009, an album that stands comfortably replete in hi-tops and leather jacket shoulder to shoulder with the best of the bands’ career. This was big dog reclaiming the yard stuff. Any concerns this return to form was a flash in the pan were quickly dispelled as the band, always a force live, backed up the acclaimed Ironbound tour by releasing its follow-up The Electric Age, which continued in the same vein. Overkill was more than back, and was more than flying.
White Devil Armory completes the hat-trick of belters, possibly outshining its two companions and proudly ranks among their stand-out releases. Alongside having two trademarks elements – DD Verni’s snarling metallic bass growl and Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s unmatched nasal spit – one of the key aspects to the East Coast thrashers’ sound has always been their ability to marry aggressive thrash with melody and to produce memorable anthems. From the opener, the gut-punch pummelling ‘Armorist’, to the closing epic chug of ‘In The Name’, that is what you get. Aggressive staccato riffs welded into memorable, powerful thrash tunes, tunes with the vibrancy and commitment of the bands earlier days, but the muscle and know-how of seasoned veterans. These guys know how to get it done, and the win is what matters.
Whether that’s pulling out a manic, catchy chorus in track three ‘Down To The Bone’ and dovetailing that with some choice ‘Use Your Head’ riffage, or reprising the punk/hardcore battery of ‘The SRC’ with the face-smashing ‘Pig’, the consistency and delivery is high-level throughout. The darker stomp of ‘Bitter Pill’, all channelled hammer-to-anvil, leads into stand-out rager ‘Where There’s Smoke…’, a heads-down-see-you-at-the-end opening that hurtles out of the blocks and runs headlong into a trademark Blitz snarl, before seguing into a grooving, juddering mid-section. Any fears of the album petering out are laid to rest by a closing trio of ‘King Of The Rat Bastards’, a classic Overkill slam-dunk mix of the hook and the heavy, the neck-snapping tightness of ‘It’s All Yours’ and finale ‘In The Name’, an Overkill closer in the tradition of an ‘Overkill II (The Nightmare Continues)’, bring matters to a conclusion with its studded-wristband-pumping call-and-answer.
White Devil Armory presents a band at the top of its game. Health issues seemingly long behind him, Blitz personifies this, producing a performance of vigour and confidence, nailing and owning as you’d expect. He brings to the table an assurance in delivery as he knows, even 30 years on, no one does it like he does. He is the boss. This asserted presence filters across and applies to all parties. Guitar twins Dave Linsk and Derek “The Skull” Tailer have partnered each other for over a decade now and with seamless self-assurance bring the riffs, the finger-flurrying solos and the structured melodic links. Elsewhere DD Verni shows off his skills, bass runs filtering through the mix at appropriate times, while Ron Lipnicki is the perfect backbone, punishing when needed, able to groove when required, but at all times driving everything, and releasing the reigns when it’s time for the powersurge.
It may be patronising to say, but to maintain this level of quality, consistency, force and vitality at their age and this deep into their career is testament (sic) to the professionalism and ability of all involved with Overkill, but above all to the passion within the band to keep producing the very best of thrash. Thrash may have come and gone and come back and gone again, with very few of their contemporaries surviving, but when Overkill decreed “We are strong, We will always be” back in 1987 (‘In Union We Stand’) they uttered a statement that sums up their career. This is no Indian summer; White Devil Armory is simply Overkill doing what Overkill do best.
Two nights in a row I visited the storied Palladium in Worcester MA to see a great metal show. I’m not a kid anymore so by the end of the second night I was feeling my age. But until the final chord rang out on this evening I was rejuvenated by the sounds of the metal I grew up on. Not only are these veteran acts some of the premier names in Thrash Metal history, each one is proving vital and important as ever.Continue reading →