Album Review: OVERKILL White Devil Armory
Slayer's Kerry King has been quoted in recent memory as stating that if the so called Big Four of 80's thrash were expanded to a fifth member, it would be Exodus (comments he's somewhat walked back since). Exodus are a worthy choice, but far from a bulletproof inclusion… you've also got Testament and, yes, definitely New Jersey's own immortal Overkill; immortal not just for their legacy of top notch albums and punchy thrash anthems, but also because they're one of the few acts of their era to never break up or even so much as take more than three years between albums.
Of course, Overkill has managed to maintain a small core over the years compared to contemporaries like Anthrax and Metallica – singer Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni are the only members to appear on all recordings – but the fact that the two have managed to pen all the material themselves while juggling a revolving cast of guitarists and drummers is remarkable in and of itself. That they've managed to maintain a consistent level of quality throughout it all is even more impressive (even their more mediocre albums are rarely full-blown misfires).
Aside from one of those former members inciting political controversy a few weeks ago, there has been little by way of either drama nor activity visible on the Overkill front for a while now. That's usually the way it is with these guys. They go slug it out on the road for a year, maybe 18 months, return home to the studio and crank out another reliably raging album. Clockwork.
At the risk of repeating myself, you already know what to expect out of an Overkill album: you're fairly confident it will be engaging yet formulaic, so the only real concern when the band put out a new album is how many of the songs you think you'll still be listening to ten years down the line. On 2012's The Electric Age, there wasn't much that struck me as an instant classic. "Classic" may be premature, but there are in fact a handful of ragers on White Devil Armory that definitely sound like shit we'll be requesting live in 2024 (and yes, I fully expect these ageless bastards will still be on the road a decade from now).
Lead single "Armorist" has a somewhat stiff, predictable chorus that is more than compensated for by the energetic, upwardly mobile pace and Ellsworth's downright chipper delivery. On the other end of the spectrum, "Bitter Pill" is classic moody, midpaced Overkill, one of those six minute epics that gets catchier and catchier as it moves from verse to bridge to chorus. It's a busy tune that has a multitude of riffs and parts and is the best example on the album of the Ellsworth/Verni team's songwriting chops.
Elsewhere guitarist Dave Linsk lays down some truly blistering solo work on "Where There's Smoke" and "It's All Yours". Linsk is the third longest-in-the-tooth in the Overkill camp, having replaced Joe Comeau shortly after the recording of 1999's Necroshine. I really liked Comeau – the trilogy of mid-to-late 90's albums that is concluded by Necroshine being some of my all-time favorite material – so it's been a real pleasure hearing Linsk ably fill Comeau's shoes, not to mention even more distant predecessor Bobby Gustafson.
White Devil Armory may not quite become anyone's favorite Overkill album anytime soon, but even it's lesser moments hit their marks better than the lion's share of material on The Electric Age. A relentlessly fast endorphin rush for the most part, this album shows a band wreckin' as many necks as they ever did back in their heyday.