Tuesday 16 May 2023

Overkill - Scorched (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Apr 2023
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14th April, 2023 was quite a red letter day for thrash fans, though it was also a curse for me due to my very deliberate policy not to duplicate genres within any week. Of course that was the day the new Metallica album dropped, but I was just as enthused seeing new albums from Holy Moses and Overkill. Of those three, Metallica may have found their way back to thrash after major depatures and Holy Moses took a long break, but Overkill have kept at it throughout, diversifying their style, sure, but never truly leaving it and they always deliver live.

I have to say that I wasn't convinced by the first couple of minutes of the opening title track. It was good but not great, which is what I thought of their previous album, The Wings of War. It wasn't a bad album but I wanted more from it, because I'm used to more from Overkill, who in a whole slew of ways are comparable to Therapy? Both have their roots firmly in punk and both firmly kept their musical integrity in the face of trend changes. However, Overkill were earlier, during my formative time with music, so they're ingrained in my musical identity; they emphatically turned to metal, a retained punk attitude notwithstanding; and I kept checking in with their new material even after I drifted away from music into the demands of adulthood.

The good news is that Scorched the song picked up for me, with a neat if surprising drop into Black Sabbath territory a couple of minutes in. I particularly dug the instrumental section in the second half, with a hyperactive bass from D. D. Verni and a tasty guitar solo from Dave Linsk. I'm still not sold on it as a complete track, even after a few listens, but it does a lot that's excellent. But Goin' Home is quintessential Overkill, right down to its gorgeous escalations and blitzkrieg of an finalé that will surely have your head banging in your office chair. The Surgeon picks up precisely where Goin' Home leaves off, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth spitting out bars in his patented fashion. Suddenly, this album feels a lot stronger than its predecessor.

It's definitely a mixed album, but there's a lot that's good here and it isn't remotely all the same. Goin' Home and The Surgeon remain my favourite songs, but Harder They Fall is another stormer, even if the band mix up the tempo rather often. I do like my Overkill fast and every fast song here is a highlight. My other favourite, though, is Won't Be Comin' Back, which shifts firmly into power metal. It kicks off like Iron Maiden and gets even more interesting when the vocals show up. It's a new sound for Overkill and I like it. I like Wicked Place too, even though it's a stubbornly mid-pace song. There are a couple more drops into Sabbath territory and there's a neat cello to wrap up.

The other song worthy of mention is one that I'm not as sold on but it's far more unusual than the brief vocal experimentation on Won't Be Comin' Back. This one feels like a breather after a set of energetic thrash tracks, whether mid-pace or faster. Of all things, it reminds me of the Police for a minute, a much heavier approach to the Police but the Police nonetheless. It crunches in, naturally, but it stays slow, and drops back into the opening mindset as well. Kudos to the band for taking on something very different, but I wouldn't call it the success it could be.

I don't want to dismiss the other tracks, because there are a host of moments that stand out even on the lesser material. Twist of the Wick has some interesting phrasings, both on guitar and in the vocals, while Bag o' Bones has the sort of chantalong chorus that some bands would kill for. This is at its best when it's fast though, or shifting up and down between high gears, and a few songs are screaming out for one of Overkill's patented injections of speed. The one stylistic shift I'm eager to hear more of is the power metal explored in Won't Be Comin' Back that sometimes sounds like an old school NWOBHM influence but just as often more recent European power metal.

Where this leads me is an odd situation because I'm going to give this the same 7/10 rating that I gave The Wings of War. However, this is clearly a better album to me. I thought about a 6/10 when I rated that one and decided that it wouldn't be fair. Here, I often thought about an 8/10 but I don't feel it's at that level consistently enough to make that fair. So think of the previous album as a low 7/10 and this one as a high 7/10. This is something a rating out of 100 would solve but I'm not going there. Let's just say both these albums are worth your time if you're into punky thrash, but this is the one you should start with.

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