Still feelin’ the fire

Thrash metal icons Overkill return to Dayton (finally)

Overkill rocking since 1980; photo: Hakon Grav

By Gary Spencer

It seems that once a musical artist becomes a household name, they become complacent later in their careers, resting on their laurels and previous achievements and in turn, losing the fire that made them successful to begin with. That is certainly not the case with Overkill, the iconic New Jersey-based thrash metal band that formed all the way back in 1980 and is still going strong – both activity wise and creatively – nearly four decades after it all began.

“The band started when I met (bassist) D.D. (Verni) through an advertisement in a musician’s classified publication,” explains Overkill vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. “It contained a lot of similar adjectives like ‘heavy’ and ‘fast’, and the meshing of those adjectives attracted us in regards to what we were trying to do.”

What Overkill wanted to do was take the rigorous sounds of the old school punk rock and classic heavy metal they loved and turn it into a hybrid style of music that eventually became known as thrash metal.

“Overkill was the bastard child of both those genres,” Ellsworth says. “We were influenced by the punk scene happening around us in New York and New Jersey – it was cool and fast. Simutaneously there was the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ containing bands like Angel Witch, Iron Maiden, Venom. You put both together and you’ve got energy, and that’s where the thrash metal moniker comes from.”

Overkill spent the first half of the 1980s making a name for itself on the regional circuit, and soon it caught the attention of Megaforce Records, a label that was at the forefront of the 80s metal scene. Megaforce signed the group and released its first album Feel the Fire in 1985 that is considered to be a landmark release for the burgeoning thrash metal sound. Throughout the rest of the 80s and early 90s, the band would go on to sign a major label contract with Atlantic Records and release a string of albums now considered to be classics in the thrash metal genre including Taking Over, Under the Influence and The Years of Decay. But Overkill’s mainstream success was soon derailed by a cultural phenomenon that no one could anticipate, but still the band managed to weather the storm thanks to the dedication of the hardcore fan.

“Metal was crushed by grunge and became a bad word in the 90s,” Bobby explains. “But it kinda thrived in the 90s because it was presented by people who loved it for people who loved it – that became a characteristic that helped keep it going. It seemed like an obstacle but in retrospect going underground allowed (the music) to revitalize itself and re-emerge again as a strong music force in the 2000s.”

Overkill has definitely found itself revitalized the 2000s as the band has continued to relentlessly churn out new tunes and opening up mosh pits across the globe, slamming the metal hammer down much to the delight of their legions of headbangin’ followers. Along the way, Overkill has also managed to reach a new generation of fans digging the fast chugging, buzzsaw style of its old school thrash metal sound, evidenced by the fact that their last three LPs all cracked Bilboard’s Top 100 in an age where illegal downloads tend to be the trend. According to Ellsworth, Overkill’s ongoing appeal is keeping things pure for its audience.

“The attractive nature of what that thrash is evoking is an energetic emotion,” he explains. “A great reaction to a thrash song is really about feeling it. There’s a real honest approach to this music for both those who create it and listen to it. I think you have to be a metalhead to create metal and metalheads like that – it’s a unique bond, almost spiritual. It’s beyond just music and that’s honestly what this band is about.”

This spiritual bond between Overkill and its audience is best exemplified in the live setting where the band rips through choice cuts from its newer records as well as the tried and true classics from which it made its name all while they feed off the energy of fans thrashing through the pit and throwing up the horns.

“It’s the purest form of experience,” Ellsworth says. “Metal in its truest form has gotta be heard live with a little bit of sweat, little pushin’, a little headbangin’. It contains more energy when it comes out live, and that’s where we excel.”

And after nearly four decades of excelling in the thrash metal business, Overkill has no plans to quit and still aspires to put on the best show a metalhead could ever hope for.

“It’s the perfect formula to stay successful and last this amount of time with this kind of impact,” Ellsworth says. “I would never forecast how much longer we’re gonna keep going. You never know it might be our last show, and if it’s possibly the last I want to give it my best. That’s how I keep on top of my game, and I think that’s where our credibility comes from.”

The Metal Alliance Tour featuring Overkill will take place this coming Friday, Sept 29 at Oddbody’s Music Room, 5418 Burkhardt Road in Dayton. Crowbar, Havok, Black Fast, and Invidia are also on the bill. Show is 18+ and tickets are $30 in advance. Doors open at 5:30pm. For more information, please visit Oddbodys.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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