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Ten Years Later: Overkill – Ironbound

There are days where I feel like something of a minority when it comes to Overkill fans, mainly due to the fact that they have like twenty albums, and I only truly adore like four of them. The first two are stunners, Under the Influence is really uneven but has some great tracks, I’m apparently the only Overkill fan on the planet who thinks The Years of Decay is a cheap Metallica clone that utterly fails to do what it sets out to do, and Horrorscope is the culmination of everything they’d learned on the previous four albums and acted as a glorious sendoff to thrash’s classic era. Then there were nearly two solid decades of excessively boring bullshit that I’d rather not think about again beyond using this sentence to express my bewilderment at the apologia that lazy era got and still gets to this day.

And then, in 2010, everything changed. In 2010… fuckin’ Ironbound happened.

Pictured L-R: Carrot Top, The Crypt Keeper, The Only One Who Washes His Hair, Your Dad, Jeff Hanneman

I feel like this album wound up shattering the illusion of their previous twenty years and nine albums because nearly every old fan like me wound up getting blown away by the band suddenly being good again. All the True Believers who stuck through the groove era likewise hailed this as a brilliant return to form. And it’s true, Ironbound is so far and away better than anything they’d released since I Hear Black that it basically altered the direction of the band entirely, as evidenced by the fact that the last four albums have just been Ironbound II-V. There are a few ways to look at their output over the last decade. Either they’re cynically trying to recapture the lightning in the bottle that made this album such a hit, or their career has caught a second wind, and they’ve been riding high on consistent excellence ever since. I tend to lean towards the former, but I totally get why somebody would think the latter.

This is an odd one to highlight for a feature like this because it seems to exist in its own little universe. The rest of their career up to this point barely matters since the band has changed so drastically in composition and approach since the classic era, and this album was a from-left-field return to the glory days. And their career afterward barely mattered because they’ve finally struck a winning formula and have been doing everything they can to keep this momentum going by refusing to experiment more than superficially with the template laid out here. Ironbound is a career revitalization and a blueprint for the future, and it’s rare that a legacy band of Overkill’s level ever pulls that off, but that’s what makes this so special.

If you’re new to the band, I can understand why that sounds like a weird claim. Ironbound is far from perfect and has a lot of easy to notice flaws. It’s really long, clocking in at nearly an hour with an average song length hovering around 5:46 or so. Nearly every song has a super ill-fitting Sabbathy groove bridge riff that usually transitions so suddenly that your record player will audibly clunk (“The Green and Black” and the title track are probably the worst offenders here). The songs themselves tend to be repetitive. The backing vocals and gang shouts are surprisingly weak for a classic thrash band with a stronger punk pedigree than most. Verni’s signature bass tone is super trebly and sounds like somebody saying “bong” through a talkbox. Blitz’s voice can be overwhelming if you aren’t already acquainted with him, et cetera.  There are plenty of things to criticize here.

But the reason I don’t knock points off for all of those issues, despite being so critical of most things Overkill has done since 1991, is because of what this album symbolizes.  Yeah, Ironbound is clunky and repetitive, but for the first time in nearly twenty fucking years, Overkill sounded alive!  There’s an intangible quality to this album that sees the band mainlining adrenaline directly into their veins for the first time in decades, and the breath of fresh air that this was for the thrash scene is nearly indescribable.  For years we had been busy rationalizing that Killbox 13 was at least comparable to the classic era because it was still kinda thrashy and had a few good songs. But then Ironbound crashed through the wall and reminded everybody how seriously fucking good Overkill is capable of being.  It’s not awash in new ideas, but it is overflowing with an intensity that had been sorely lacking for eons.  That brazen punk attitude that made them stand out so much in the 80s on tracks like “Fuck You” and “I Hate” is finally back with a track like “Bring Me the Night.”  That searing metal fervor that made “Elimination” and “Wrecking Crew” so memorable is back in force with tracks like “Ironbound” and “The SRC.”  That larger than life sense of scale that made “The Years of Decay” and “Coma,” so punishing is back on “The Green and Black.”  Their singalong hooks from “Hello from the Gutter” and “Rotten to the Core” are back on “Give a Little.”  I could go on forever.  To put it simply, every single thing Overkill has ever been good at is showcased on Ironbound, and they’re at the top of their game here.

The A-side tends to be better overall, but the B side is no slouch either, sporting absolute belters like “In Vain” and “The SRC.”  However, I think my favorite song will always be “The Green and Black.”  Just walk through this with me for a minute. Opening on a brooding acoustic intro is nothing new, but there’s an intangible feeling that this is going to be different somehow.  Once the melodic chugging part crashes through like a raging buffalo, Peter Tagtgren’s stellar production really comes to the forefront.  It’s super loud and overwhelming, which you’d think would be a problem in this immediate aftermath of Death Magnetic, but it’s not, and I believe it’s because this is what a live show feels like. Think about it. If you’ve ever fought your way up to the rail to be front row during a metal show, you know that every bass drum hit feels like a punch to the chest, and you know that whichever specific band member you’re looking at is suddenly the loudest one. It’s an all-encompassing experience, a total wall of sound that washes over you.

While you’re still adjusting, the main riff starts, and… honestly, it doesn’t sound too different from what they were doing on Killbox 13 or ReliXIV with it emulating classic thrash in tempo. But the riff itself sounding… just I don’t know, different somehow.  It’s almost like groove metal being played at a thrash pace — Pantera by way of Kreator.  I didn’t care for it when they spent the entirety of the 2000s playing this, but it hits differently here.  The verse riff kicks in, and underneath Blitz’s searing snarl, the riff is basically just “Bonded By Blood” (good luck ever un-hearing that now), but dammit man it’s rad to hear Overkill thrashing their hearts out again, right?!  But the true moment I knew this album was going to be something special was roughly the 2:30 mark.  Blitz’s scream leading into the chorus is positively fucking feral on a level he hasn’t reached in years, and through that, you can feel the walls start to crumble around you.  The reason the chorus is this turning point is that, for me, all I could think the first time I heard it was “Holy shit, this finally sounds like the same band that made Horrorscope.”  After 20 years, Overkill’s identity crisis was finally over.  They sounded like themselves again, instead of a bunch of imposters trying and failing to stay relevant by incorporating whatever trends were strong in the heavy music mainstream.  They are the Wrecking Crew, and they’ll wreck your neck.

The momentum never stops, even after the abrupt tempo shift in the bridge, it just keeps going.  The following two songs are also two of the strongest they’ve ever written, with “Ironbound” being one of the best straight-ahead thrashers they’ve ever written and “Bring Me the Night” sounding like Motorhead with a guest vocalist.  Even after a decade, Ironbound’s magic never wears off, and I can’t listen to it without being reminded of how fucking refreshing it was upon release.  I don’t care how repetitive “Bring Me the Night” is, it rides on an incredible riff.  I don’t care how much “The Head and Heart” doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, it’s a welcome change of pace.  I don’t care that “The Goal Is Your Soul” blatantly rips off “Master of Puppets” in the bridge, “Elimination” also borrowed heavily from “Master of Puppets,” and that’s one of their best songs so maybe they need to do it more often.  Ironbound is greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s pretty amazing considering how stellar those individual parts are in the first place.

This was a turning point in their career that more or less cemented their legacy as one of the classic thrash bands that stuck through the dead eras of the 90s and 00s and came out all the better for it.  I’m very critical of Overkill, and that’s why it might seem kinda weird that I’m the guy that chose to tackle this anniversary piece over noted IMV superfan, Nick. But the truth is that they were on top of the fucking world at a few select points in metal history, and this is one of them.  I love this album more than my children and you should too.

Ironbound was released on January 29th, 2010 via Nuclear Blast Records, and the only reason I didn’t get this piece out on time is because I had thrashed myself into a week-long coma.

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