OVERKILL - "Avoiding Manual Labour Since 1986"
July 12, 2014, 9 months ago
Overkill frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth is a favourite around the BraveWords office, and with good reason. He brings himself and his lust for life to the table whether he's talking metal or songwriting or the chocolate shop he runs on the side.There are no textbook answers and no bullshit with his delivery. Thus, settling in to discuss Overkill's new album White Devil Armory is a raucous conversation with an old friend punctuated by his trademark cackle, anecdotes left and right, Blitz's appreciation for his lot in life as obvious as the skull on the new album cover. It also raises the question whether he's ever going to slow down, having released albums consistently since 1985 with no more than a three year gap between them.
"I don't know if that's possible," Blitz laughs. "Somebody asked me the other day what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing this, and I told him I'd be dead in six months. It's still a cool feeling to just press play. As time goes on it's not that easy to make records because of the repetition factor; you don't want to repeat yourself. You want the music to have that energy, you don't want to feign it, but where it all starts coming together is when you realize that making music and being in a band is just what you do. When you drop all the pre-processing and just go for it, things work. Who am I to question that and try to fix what's not broken? It's obviously not broken at all."
Blitz is, of course, being paid lip service from all corners leading up to the release of the new album, but the positive feedback shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been on board the Overkill thrashwagon for the duration. As Overkill albums go White Devil Armory is a welcome high speed shred-and-spit rollercoaster ride.
"A guy I spoke to recently called Overkill the Motörhead of thrash, and that's one hell of a compliment," he says. "That pushes through it all. I think the general feeling is that White Devil Armory is Overkill at a high level and a fresh level. We obviously know who we are, and there's a revitalized feeling on the metal scene itself, so I think the record reflects that. I think the new record has more diversity compared to (previous album) The Electric Age (2012), which is what a lot of people have said to me. We have certain Overkill tools and D.D. (Verni/bass) uses them at will, but I think he uses them more on the new record. It shows that the band isn't one or two dimensional, but well beyond that."
White Devil Armory is a diverse Overkill album in comparison to The Electric Age and the Ironbound (2010) album before it, which was a predictably intense but dark and dense outing. There's no mistaking who is delivering the assault, but the way Overkill has gone about it this time stands out.
"Maybe so," Blitz concedes. "On this record I hear ins the diversity from all of those kind of rooted factions that make us. Overkill is this physical-chemical element made up of a lot of thrash, some rock n' roll and some traditional heavy metal. I can hear a bunch of that on this record, and I always think at the end of the day that we went around the block again which is the right way to do it, to bring out all those influences. Basically, the thinking was if we do what we do best we're probably going to have something that's relevant in 2014."
"Having too much Black Sabbath for breakfast is a good thing sometimes (laughs), and I hear that in a few instances on this new record. I really like the fact we blast off with a song like 'Armorist', which is the fastball right down the center. That's one hell of a way to start the record, and I think from that point you expect a certain presentation from Overkill, but by the time you get to the end of the record, 'In The Name' is cut from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal with almost Irish-themed melodies (laughs). So maybe that's where I'm getting that diversity feel."
From a personal point of view, White Devil Armory is something of a kick back to The Killing Kind (1996) and From The Underground And Below (1997) albums. That era at any rate. Not necessarily in terms of sound, but more with regards to energy and attitude.
"That's interesting. I never thought in those terms. When I think of The Killing Kind, that was when we went from being independent to going to a major label to being independent again, and there's something liberating about that. It's not that we were told what to do by Altlantic Records, but the other side of the coin is when you're dealing with guys that are wearing Motörhead t-shirts in the office, you realize you're among friends. There were no sharkskin suits and Pierre Cardin going on anymore, people in the office were wearing studded metal bracelets, so we knew those guys were going to get Overkill. I think The Killing Kind was liberating for that specific reason, and White Devil Armory could have that feel to it because we're on Nuclear Blast and eOne, and they're the same kind of people. They get it, and maybe that's what you're hearing."
With the new album under their belts, Overkill boast a whopping 17 studio albums over the course of their 30 year career. It's worth noting that although their early albums yielded "hits" such as "Rotten To The Core", "Hello From The Gutter", "Fatal If Swallowed" and "Elimination", the band has never really contended with fans being predisposed to hating a new album because it presumably can't and won't be as good as the classics. Their peers in Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth, who have all been around for approximately the same amount of time, haven't been so lucky.
"That reminds me of a conversation I had with D.D. before we did From The Underground And Below, around that era," says Blitz. "D.D. was in a mode and had his game face on and I asked him what he was thinking for the next record, and he said 'I'm gonna do what I wanna do, we should do what we wanna do.' I told him that was pretty ballsy, that I'd never heard those words come out of his mouth before. He said to me, 'Let's be fuckin' serious, we've been over singe fuckin' Horrorscope, what do we have to lose?' (laughs). I think going into the game with that attitude, whether it was true or not, was quite liberating. I'm in a band with the perfect guy for me to be in a band with. The scrutiny those Big Four bands are under is unreal, and I don't know if it gets to them, but from where I'm sitting life is good. My niece asked me what I actually do for a living and I told her I've been avoiding manual labour since 1986 (laughs)."
White Devil Armory also lays claim to the longest lasting Overkill line-up "in probably forever" according to Blitz, with guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer in the fold for over 10 years and drummer Ron Lipnicki into his ninth.
"We've got a good, gelled line-up. It's a bunch of guys with relatively the same background, same kind of upbringing, we're all New Jersey/New York guys, and we don't sit down and have these big meetings. Our meetings are like 'Ron, will you please stop fucking doing that?' (laughs). The key is to never take yourself too seriously, but put serious effort into the work. I think all the shit kind of works itself out. At the end of the day you find yourself rolling dice for t-shirt money (laughs). It's nice to be able to say that after all these years with the band it's still a fun ride. I mean, it's a band for fuck sake; we don't have political aspirations, we're not going to change the world socially, we might as well take advantage of what's there for us and that's the good time of banging our heads for all these years."
And in spite of the numerous line-up changes over the past 30+ years - with Blitz and D.D. being the only remaining founding members - the Overkill sound established decades ago is still instantly recognizable. It has evolved, sure, but there's really no question who's doing the damage.
"That identifiability becomes the ultimate compliment because it does kind of prove what I've been saying, that we do know what we are," says Blitz. "There's no chasing somebody else's process or idea of what a heavy metal band should be. This is our idea of it and I guess that shines through on White Devil Armory."
Photos © Håkon Grav