When you “put your nose to the grind stone”, you are making a statement about the efforts and ethics of your endeavors. When you’re “back to the grind”, it means you’re working hard. And when you release more albums than any other metal band in your class and consistently toured for nearly 40 years, and you’ve earned the right to call your 18th studio album The Grinding Wheel. In support of this, their 2017 album release, Overkill appears as the top act on the Metal Alliance Tour 2017.
What does it take to stay relevant in a world where image is everything? Wornstar Clothing, costumes, Kabuki make-up, multimedia LED displays…whatever you can do to capture the audience’s attention. So,when a 36 year old thrash metal band from New Jersey takes the stage in jeans and t-shirts, they better have something up their sleeves to compete with cell phones, hot chicks, booze, and boobs that often distract concert-goers from a simple stage. If you’re Overkill, that trick is music: no tricks, no tracks…just good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll…the kind of music that music cut its teeth on back when you had to be good or go home. While the pomp and circumstance of a well-manicured full-sensory production has its own place in pop culture, it’s refreshing to know that bands like Overkill are still out there, with their noses to the grind stone, making records and selling out shows with nothing but a few light stacks, a bitchin’ frontman, and some thread-shredding guitar solos. For nearly 40 years, Overkill has produced good, solid, pure music.
The lights go down, the crowd chants “O-VER-KILL!”…”O-VER-KILL!”…”O-VER-KILL!”, and the band takes the stage in a fog of flashing lights and Jason Bittner, who joined the band in April 2017, reaches into your chest and your heartbeat stomps along to the beat of the opening drum riff for “Lean, Green Killing Machine”, the first track off the Grinding Wheel album. The unmistakable grit of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth’s vocals rip through the air like a piece of fine vintage shrapnel. It’s hard to believe that this song is less than a year old because without missing a step, it fits right in with their second opener “Rotten To The Core” off the 1985 album Feel The Fire. And that’s exactly the type of honesty you can expect from a band who forged their sound before computers did it for you.
On stage, Overkill spans nearly four decades of top shelf thrash metal, and although the names and faces of the lineup may have changed, original vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and original bassist D.D. Verni remain the core of one of the best metal bands to ever grace our blistering eardrums. They are joined by Dave Linsk on lead guitar, who’s quiet charismatic smile and squealing guitar are a perfect compliment to his sardonic stage right counterpart, rhythm guitarist Derek “The Skull” Tailer. Special guest Eric Knudsen from fellow thrash metal group Flotsam and Jetsam brought an already enthusiastic crowd to their feet in a sort of boss level bonus round of songs, sharing the center mic with Bobby. The sound bounces off the walls and there’s not a dry t-shirt in the house…it’s impossible to stand still while they’re playing. Whether you’re 16 or 60, the band still brings the raw energy they did back when we were all wearing worn out acid wash jeans (the first time it was cool).
But for as much shock and raw as the music is, Overkill uses music to focus on a spirit of community in these troubled times. As he leans waaaaaayyyy back on his mic stand, the message Ellsworth brought to the desert this night was that we’re all members of the human race. None of us gets out alive, so we just need to work together and live together…and listen to really good music that brings us together. The band closed out the night with the song “Horrorscope”, the title track off the band’s fifth studio album, which lyrics exemplify the consequences of human conflict resulting in the End Times.
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