There are two points of consideration going into Scorched, the twentieth(!) album from these Old Bridge, NJ greybeards Overkill. The first is how the thrash metal veterans have sounded entirely revamped and revitalized since 2010's Ironbound. For those keeping score, that's a decade-plus of a violently spiky and virtually flawless cherry on top of a 43-year-long career that wasn't too shabby to begin with. And secondly, with the pandemic forcing bands to retreat from the road and direct their energies solely towards the creative process, one would think that the majority of releases coming out the ass-end of the past two years would harbor significant improvements and further improve upon the elements which made pre-pandemic output what it was.
The examples of bands whose latest releases have been more elaborate, intricate, deeper and just plain better are countless (and we're still counting). Basic arithmetic tells us that one (band who has been on a jet-fueled upward trajectory) plus one (having the time to explore and exploit all that has made that incline possible) equals two (an absolute ripping barnburner of an album). Have Overkill achieved this particular Boy Scout badge in metallic mathematics with Scorched? Umm, sorta.
As per usual, frontman Bobby "Blitz" Elsworth offers up his happy-go-lucky, sand paper scowl and inventively catchy vocal lines. Dave Linsk's guitar leads are well-sculpted, smartly phrased and fall somewhere between guitar god shred and virtuoso juke joint sloppiness. And bass players everywhere who feel misunderstood and overlooked can continue to rally around Carlo "D.D." Verni, his ball-punching tone, prominence in the mix and the way he drives many of the riffs/songs with a thick urban twang. The downside is that there's something missing with Scorched. Usually the term je ne sais quoi is used to denote an inexplicable piece that elevates something above the pale. In this case, je ne sais quoi feels like there's a mysterious something missing; like doing an extensive jigsaw puzzle but not realizing a handful of pieces are missing until it's almost completed.
The album's opening title track fires off a fine fashion flare with finger-tapping melodies and an …And Justice For All cavalcade of crashing chords and palm muting shimmy in which Blitz sounds as vitriolic and vital as ever. Woe be to whomever that chorus is directed at! However, the song also puts on display the first of a series of questionable song writing decisions, if not the pervasive weakness that weaves in and out of this album. It comes at the 4:17 mark where they slow down an already half-time bridge and dissipate the guitars to leave a chunk of the song feeling empty. Granted, it picks up again as they repeat the initial sequences that initially made it cool, and the solo is a quirky masterpiece, but that particular move may not have been the slickest, most well-thought out of the year.
"Goin' Home" (song writing law dictates that one should never give the benefit of the doubt to any title that drops the "g" in favor of an apostrophe — those songs have to work twice as hard to be half as good!) sounds like it was written around its chorus. It's an infectious handful of seconds drenched in layered melody and a warm vocal embrace, but much of the path there is littered with what any band farting around in a garage could have come up with. But again, the lead work is stellar.
"The Surgeon" and "Harder They Fall" are bouncy and staccato melodic thrash ragers all heavily rooted in "Blackened," with energetic lashing guitars and terse drums propped up by a chorus that runs the gamut from epic melodic sweetness to street-wise gang vocals. "Twist of the Wick" sups at the same well, but comes up short with the inclusion of a meandering and chanted mid-section which totally takes the wind out of the song's sail. Another questionable creative detour that flops and wilts instead of flips tables. And speaking of lack of table flipping panache, the ineffectual ballad "Fever" feels like it's something that got pulled from one scrap heap and thrown onto another in order to satisfy a temporal contractual obligation.
As the album goes on, songs like "Won't Be Coming Back" and "Know Her Name" bake themselves in tropes and typicality that in and of themselves aren't terrible, but lack the ovarian-fortitude of what's become expected of Overkill, especially over the course of their last five albums. Having said that — and to repeat myself — Elsworth still sounds like he's gargling velvet, bleach and gravel and Linsk's lead guitar work exceptionally straddles lines between prog and classic rock as well as thrash metal royalty.
I don't want to give the impression that Scorched is a poor or lackluster release. Even if there are parts of it that don't live up to the high bar the band have set for themselves in recent years. That's not a bad problem to have — it could be worse, they could be have been perpetuating a poor imitation of themselves over the last decade — but it's a difficult problem to overcome. Ultimately, even if you don't agree with a single word of the above, most anyone with functional ears can all find plenty of value on Scorched. If not, we can all go back and listen to Ironbound, The Electric Age, White Devil Armory, The Grinding Wheel and/or The Wings of War.