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Evil Never Dies: Overkill Discuss 40 Years of Thrash Metal and 'The Wings of War'

Wednesday, 20 February 2019 Written by Matt Mills

“I’ve been everywhere but it’s never like home,” Overkill singer Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth wails on Welcome to the Garden State, the seventh song on the thrash metal stalwarts’ new album, ‘The Wings of War’.

For these American speed freaks, “home” is Old Bridge Township, New Jersey: a semi-rural locale with an economy traditionally reliant on orchards and mills. However, what is today a quiet and unassuming corner of U.S. countryside was, four decades ago, a town being blasted from all sides by the roar of rock music.

Raging to the north were the nearby punk scenes in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut. Meanwhile, across New Jersey the more commercialised glam metal of Bon Jovi, T.T. Quick and Trixter dominated. It was in this environment of clashing soundscapes that Overkill’s brand of aggression began to take form.

“We drew from that punk rock that came out of Greenwich and New York,” Bobby remembers. “We took that energy and infused it with traditional heavy metal like Iron Maiden. We were the antithesis of glam. We would always say to ourselves ‘This is nothing to do with metal! This is pop in girls’ clothes with distorted guitars.’ And I think it became motivational for us to not be that, but still be heavy metal.”

Driven to differentiate themselves from the world of glam, Overkill imbued the power of heavy metal with the grassroots grit of hardcore punk. Their music became defined by its streetwise attitude and incessantly fast tempos, characterising a subgenre that would soon be popularised worldwide by contemporaries like Metallica and Slayer: thrash metal.

“Thrash was a voice in the dark,” Bobby says. “Somehow, these bands were all connected by having the same DNA—kinda like cousins you never saw, but with whom you shared the same interests. It was an absolute reflection of the social and political time.”

The ‘80s thrash movement quickly came to rule the dingy, underground stages of both east and west coast America. Bolstered by the momentum of this newfound, like-minded scene, Overkill had the opportunity to become key figures in heavy music. And to guarantee that they truly fulfilled their potential the band not only made their music reminiscent of punk, they ensured that their intense, DIY work ethic was, too.

In Bobby’s words: “We were taught to work hard and keep your fucking mouth shut. We grew up in the shadow of New York skyscrapers—our grandparents built them. But we felt we were always second, so we developed a chip on our shoulder.”

Inspired by the blue-collar workmanship of both their relatives and musical idols, Overkill followed suit. They built their own stage shows, drew their own logo, made their own t-shirts—colouring them fluorescent green to “separate ourselves from the pack”—and designed their own mascot.

You can still sense these roots in everything that Overkill does, even 40 years down the line. The thrashers are maintaining their fast-paced routine, having released a prolific 19 studio albums since first starting in 1980.

“This is a middle-aged boys’ club,” Bobby says of the Overkill of 2019. “I think the key [to our longevity] is to take the music seriously but don’t take yourselves so seriously. If we really believe we’re the best heavy metal band, then it’s easy to have a good time because you know someone is there to pick you up when you fall down.”

On ‘The Wings of War’, Bobby and his now-veteran bandmates prove that you can take Overkill out of ‘80s New Jersey, but you can’t take ‘80s New Jersey out of Overkill. The album is packed with stylistic nods to the music that its creators grew up on in Old Bridge Township.

Welcome to the Garden State is an in-your-face track of punk-flavoured riffs and yells. Distortion and Where Few Dare to Walk are mid-paced juggernauts with the drama of vintage English metal, while Bat Shit Crazy and Believe in the Fight are all-out thrash attacks that will light up their forthcoming dates on the Killfest tour starting in March.

“That’s because I happen to work with a partner [bassist and co-founder D.D. Verni] who loves diversity in all of his riffs,” Bobby explains. “We’ve never sat down and gone ‘We need some diversity.’ It’s just kind of a given beforehand that we’re going to be diverse, one way or another.

“This record, it shows where we came from. And, by showing where we came from, we’re showing where we are now. There’s no forethought of, for example, ‘Let’s try some punk’, somebody just goes ‘Check this riff out.’ That’s all the conversation there is. Then, you get five grinning motherfuckers in a room, sharing pizza and beer, that go: ‘Let’s do this!’”

‘The Wings of War’ is out on February 22 via Nuclear Blast.

Overkill Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri March 08 2019 - BOLOGNA Zona Roveri (Italy)
Sat March 09 2019 - BERGAMO PALOSCO Arcadia (Italy)
Sun March 10 2019 - MUNICH Backstage (Germany)
Thu March 14 2019 - BERLIN Columbia Theater (Germany)
Sat March 16 2019 - OSNABRUCK Hyde Park (Germany)
Sun March 17 2019 - FRANKFURT Batschkapp (Germany)
Wed March 20 2019 - PARIS Trabendo (France)
Thu March 21 2019 - LONDON O2 Academy Islington
Sat March 23 2019 - DUBLIN Academy
Sun March 24 2019 - GLASGOW SWG3

Click here to compare & buy Overkill Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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