February 18, 2010

Album Review: "Ironbound" by Overkill

Any metal fan who knows their history knows that American metal began with the Big 4 of thrash in the 1980s. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax are the bands that helped make metal popular stateside. In the two decades since their rise to prominence, though, the Big 4 have lost much of their significance and clout in the thrash scene, and while they are (mostly) still producing music, they are continually being upstaged by other bands. Germany's Big 3 (the Teutonic bands), the "lesser" American thrash bands, and even crossover thrash albums by bands in other genres continue to make the Big 4 less impressive each year. The latest band to do that is Overkill, one of the few American thrash bands in the '80s not to emerge from the Bay Area. The New Jersey quintet has gotten tighter and faster in their sound on their recent albums, and their latest release, Ironbound, shows that even after a whopping fifteen studio albums, Overkill still has the chops they possessed in their infancy.

There are two things that distinguish Overkill's recent albums from their releases of the '90s. The first is a return to their thrash roots, which they had shied away from after their debut album, Feel the Fire. The songs on Overkill's newer albums are faster, more aggressive, and a lot more technical than those of their mid-career years. Ironbound capitalizes on this rejuvenated thrash attack with more ferocity than ever before. Almost every single song on the album is fueled by intense double bass and fiery lead lines, injecting lots of spirit and vibrancy into the overall atmosphere of the album. Every moment of tracks like "Give a Little," "In Vain," and the ripping title track is high-energy, raw, and concentrated. The attention to detail within this speed-fest can't be ignored either, as Ironbound contains some highly technical aspects that Overkill have not utilized in the past.

The second distinguishing factor on Overkill's latest albums is the grandiosity and ambition of the compositions, especially when compared to other modern thrash releases. With the exception of Exodus, Testament, and the Teutonic bands, most modern thrash groups continue to produce shorter songs focused on speed; comparable to Slayer's early releases that pushed them into the limelight. However, Overkill's songs have gotten longer over the course of their recent albums, allowing them to include more elements and develop more elaborate structures; much like Metallica did during their glory days. The results are much more satisfying than the focus on speed, as Ironbound successfully replicates the epic environments of some of the best thrash albums of the '80s. With album opener "The Green and Black" clocking in at an impressive eight minutes and twelve seconds, and an average song length of close to six minutes, these songs are much more stylistically driven than the majority of new thrash, which helps Ironbound stand out from the pack in a huge way.

I would go so far as to say that Ironbound is one of the best albums Overkill has ever produced. In many ways, though, this epic has been a long time coming. After Killbox 13, ReliXIV, and Immortalis, it made sense that Overkill would produce an album with the grand scale and atmosphere that Ironbound does. However, Ironbound goes above and beyond what anyone could have expected because of how fast and technical it is at the same time. This is a thrash album that will be remembered for a long time, and it doesn't come from the Big 4. Don't be surprised, because the changing of the guard is complete.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

Track Listing

1. The Green and Black
2. Ironbound
3. Bring Me the Night
4. The Goal is Your Soul
5. Give a Little
6. Endless War
7. The Head and Heart
8. In Vain
9. Killing for a Living
10. The S.R.C.

Album Personnel

Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth - Lead vocals
Dave Linsk - Lead guitar, backing vocals
Derek Tailer - Rhythm guitar, backing vocals
D.D. Verni - Bass guitar, backing vocals
Ron Lipnicki - Drums

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