Overkill – The Flame Still BurnsSunday, 2nd April 2023
When it comes to a blue collar, reliable brand of thrash, there’s no better place to return than in the hold of Overkill. Hard to believe that they’ve now arrived at their twentieth studio record Scorched – another effort that combines those heavy hitters with groove and traditional metal twists that showcase their metal philosophy through and through. It’s as if four years never passed between records, and Bobby Blitz once again was happy to bring the Dead Rhetoric readers up to speed on the different journey writing this record took on all fronts. We also got into the key behind the scenes players and what they bring to the table, live setlist talk, thoughts on the state of metal (and thrash), a little sports discussion and what’s in the cards for touring.
Dead Rhetoric: We’ve arrived at the 20th studio album for Overkill with Scorched. Did you ever imagine in your wildest dreams when this band started that you would release twenty studio records over this many decades? And where do you see this record sitting in the catalog of Overkill albums?
Bobby Blitz: You know that wildest dreams is the key right there. In my wildest dreams had nothing to do with twenty records; I was happy to have one or two. I was never able to think that long-sighted to have a third, fourth, or fifth. And maybe that’s how you get to twenty, it’s taking the opportunities as they come along and trying to make the best of them. I’m very privileged and proud as hell to live my whole life in this scene.
Where does this fit in the discography? I don’t know. You know what’s really funny about this record? I think this record can fit in a lot of different spots with our discography. Whether it be the thrashy side, or the crunchy, bluesy side, or the groove side. It contains a lot of diverse elements in it. I think you have to give me until the next record to see where this sits within the discography a little bit, once I get to play some of these songs live.
Dead Rhetoric: Recording this album long distance through file sharing because of the pandemic, what were the major differences you saw that in hindsight helped make Scorched that much better in the end? Does it come down to the level of trust you have in your bandmates to know when something is quintessentially Overkill worthy?
Blitz: You know, Matt, I use the word opportunity. I suppose there are two ways you can look at every situation. Because it was the pandemic and because the demo would be in the hands of everyone in the band to learn, to adjust, or to add to, and for me to write my sections – because this was a lockdown, this abnormal thing seemed like normalcy. Even though it was remote. It’s weird, because we are an old school kind of a band. We are hands-on. My father until he passed on thought I joined Overkill because of the free beer and girls (laughs). And to some degree, he was right. (laughs). It wasn’t that he was 100% wrong.
We’ve also taken the best out of the situation and made the best out of those opportunities. Because it was new, because it was different, because we weren’t as hands on with Jason for the drums as we were used to, we are now in a situation where we have time as a luxury. I think that we embraced that difference, and that really heralds the results for this record. There are only so many things you can do to it, and we did everything that was possible between the four year gap between this record and The Winds of War.
Dead Rhetoric: Because you are normally used to creating material on tour, having recording units on the buses. What made this different doing things from the home perspective, did you put ideas in file sharing/cloud programs and bounce ideas from there?
Blitz: There are ten songs written – it’s always just the way that it is. And then we focused on those ten songs. We get a skeletal demo, in March 2020 I was on my way to some medical clinic place because I was sick – I didn’t think I had COVID, I thought I had something else. I got an alert that Live Nation says they are going to shut down shows around the entire world. All this was a heads up so everybody doesn’t melt down simultaneously. I had that demo – and it was the light in the dark. We would transfer stuff, put some stuff on the cloud, we used whatever was at our disposal. Whether that be the telephone, the computer, songs developed.
For me personally, it became kind of a depressive version of Scorched, the first version. I took it, trashed a lot of it, and it didn’t reflect the personality of the band. We did whatever we could under the circumstances, and I think the results speak for themselves. We did the best we could, and we got some decent dynamics, some pretty eclectic results, and sewed it all together to make it an Overkill record.
Dead Rhetoric: Was “The Surgeon” the obvious first track to premiere from the new album?
Blitz: You’ve heard the whole thing?
Dead Rhetoric: Yes…
Blitz: Well, that song is Overkill 101. That speaks the truth that hey – shit hasn’t changed that much boys and girls (laughs). Hang onto your hat – you may not be able to go to ballgames, but this is the same. That’s a template song for us, obviously with a fresh face on it. Even the title of it lends itself to the pandemic, but it’s taken from the negative perspective to the positive pushback perspective to the bloodletting perspective, clearing the infection as opposed to succumbing to the infection. It was very thrashy and a good way to say, hey – the pandemic is over, and this band is back, hope you hop back on board.
Dead Rhetoric: You went back to Colin Richardson for the mix and also used Johnny Rodd to produce your vocals this time around. Discuss the importance of having those great behind the scenes people and what they are able to do to make the final product for Overkill that much stronger?
Blitz: It’s a huge confusion with the Johnny Rodd thing. He’s a long-time buddy of mine from Rockland County, where I record my vocals. I’ve done everything with him since Ironbound, it’s not the guy from King Kobra – it’s a different guy. He’s instrumental to it, he is able to help me get work done. When I work with DD and Dave, they like to discuss what I’m doing – I don’t care what they think about what I’m doing. I want to get it done so I can hear it fully, I don’t want to discuss it. I don’t need somebody bending those ideas – later on when it’s done, it’s fine.
Working with Colin, this is our fourth project with him. He’s done one album soup to nuts which was Killbox 13, we have a great amount of trust for the guy. We didn’t give him a lot of guidance with regards to this. To sum it up, we wanted a record that’s loud, but we don’t want a record so loud that it tires you. We want to be able to listen to ten tracks on this record. We don’t want to have to take a break at four to rest your ears. That can be mistake sometimes, to have a mix that is so sonically bludgeoning that it puts you in a position where you have to back away from it. I don’t know if that’s age for me, but that’s how I feel about it. I think we accomplished that.
What he also accomplished; I don’t think organic is the right word but there’s digital there. They use the right room resonance for the drums, on the toms, kick drums, cymbals. Everything had a real natural feel to it. He took the guitar and scooped the guitar to the point where it was reminiscent of something circa 1990, 1991. You are listening to two eras simultaneously – the present day and the past where you say I’ve heard this before, but I just don’t know where. That was a great accomplishment to the mix, besides the fact that everything is heard, he made it travel to another space and time but still put a fresh coat of paint on things.
Dead Rhetoric: Travis Smith once again handled the cover art for Scorched – as he’s been working with the band since 1999 with Necroshine. What do you enjoy most about his approach and output for Overkill – and do you believe the fans enjoy this consistency not only with the band on the musical front, but in these finer details of imagery, packaging, designs, etc.?
Blitz: I know I do. When I got into this, I wanted to hold a vinyl in my hand, an Overkill record with Feel the Fire. I wanted it to be a gatefold (laughs). That’s what I wanted. I think the metal community always appreciates that. It’s representative of what’s inside. When you talk about Travis and his artwork, the thing I love about Travis is he loves what he does. That’s why it works between Overkill and him. He is not the guy who is too busy for that. He does Overkill art on his own without even being asked. If we called him and told him what we were thinking about, he already has two or three things done. He is so far ahead of the game. We sent him a picture of a snake – he had six or eight different variations of what he came up with on the cover. The demons facing off on each other, it had this conflict look. When the record was finally titled Scorched and you add these flames to it, it was almost like a throwback. Boy he did a great job on it, and made it a frameable piece of art. That’s due to his love and commitment to it.
Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to come across with the lyrical content this time around? Did you feel like the extra time off due to the pandemic allowed you to dig deeper into what you wanted to craft with the lyrics as well as the music this go around?
Blitz: I don’t have as much depth as many other lyricists. I’m usually a surface person, I look for cool phrases, I collect words like gems, dust them off, and use them multiple times or for different songs. There is a real fine line between style and plagiarism. The big thing for me is to try not to repeat the actual phrase. I’m sure there are topics that have been repeated throughout the years. Because of the times, or the time it was written in, it was a little depressive at first. “The Surgeon” had a different vibe at the beginning, it was a surrender kind of vibe. By the time I’d written it three times, it moved to more of a push back. That’s more of an accurate representation of Overkill. We are not big tough guys, but we aren’t shit takers either. We have our friends, and they have us.
My lyrics are straightforward, as if I’m talking to people I know. If you take a song like “Won’t Be Coming Back”. It comes across like a traditional heavy metal tune – lyrics, melody, guitar-based. I remember talking to DD when we were getting together, my take on it was write your end like it’s the last record you are ever going to write. Whatever you do, it’ll succeed. I get to the song and insert that into my lyrics as my friends will understand that. It doesn’t mean we won’t do another record, but it was written with that (concept) in mind.
Dead Rhetoric: Having been a hard-working touring act for your whole career, what types of changes have you seen in that regard for metal bands? In a competitive marketplace, does it come down to putting together the best packages for the best budgets, and building the brand one metalhead at a time?
Blitz: Yeah, I think that you are pretty on there with that question. This is the long haul. Pop stars, there are very few pop stars that become iconic. The majority of pop stars are really one-hit wonders. This was always – could I see the long haul? Of course not, but when I look back in hindsight, you realize it is the long haul. Because it is packaging, it is building things one person at a time. And keeping them one at a time, because of personal contact. It’s like we just said with the lyrics – what’s the depth of the lyrics? It’s like I’m talking to my friends, it’s the way it’s perceived on the other end of it that’s an endearing quality between two people or a band and a listener.
To do a package is necessary in the modern day. We are taking a tour package with Heathen to Europe with us, and it’s necessary to put a couple of hungry acts in front of you. More for the Euro, more for the dollar is expected – and I don’t blame them. I’m a concert-goer myself, and when I pay for a ticket, I want to have the choice of I want to see this tour, or I’ll pass and go for the headliner. Because of that, it doesn’t necessarily build the brand, but it strengthens the quality. We use Travis because we are concerned with the quality of artwork, and if we are bringing a huge light set for us, we want to make sure people remember us. We are not going for a ten foot backdrop – we are going for the festival backdrop. That’s the way this band has built the quality of its brand.
Dead Rhetoric: One of the things I’ve always respected about the band too is when it comes to the live setlists, you’ve always found a way of balancing the new material with old favorites, plus put a few surprises in there due to the vast catalog of songs at your disposal…
Blitz: When you are inside the band, you say to yourself how many times are we going to play “Electric Rattlesnake”? I remember DD saying as soon as he heard that song, it would be in the setlist forever. You start to push stuff around, mix it like a puzzle. Let’s go back and get something from Under the Influence. The necessity for the band to stay interesting is to do three or four cuts from the new record. I don’t care about being in the novelty section of the record store – used vinyl. It has to be relevant today, and to stay relevant you have to play the new songs. We are going to open this whole tour with “Scorched”, that’s for sure. “Wicked Place” will be in there, I love the song and it has a nice groove, heavy blues ride. “The Surgeon”, and “Twist of the Wick”. It’s going to peppered with some new stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: Being an elder statesman in heavy metal, how do you see the state of the movement? Where do you think more care, energy, and finances need to be put in place so that this movement can survive in a healthy state for future generations to cultivate and treasure?
Blitz: Boy, that’s a really nice way of calling me old! (laughs). I don’t know – it’s hard to say in regard to thrash metal bands. With metal in general, it’s in a fine state. You still have people excited about a Judas Priest record, and different people excited about seeing Falling in Reverse. Maybe they aren’t my thing, but I can totally respect the fact that they have a hold on a huge part of the youth – and that’s the way it should be. This is an old guy talking about young guy stuff, so I know this is not a forever thing. I have more years behind me than ones left in front of me, I have to be able to appreciate the changes to be able to see and feel that it will continue in a forward, positive movement.
My place in it. If you look at Falling in Reverse, they gear themselves to a majority of the metal community and what their brand of metal is. A band like Overkill, we are endearing ourselves to a minority, and we’ve always endeared to that. The minority stays with us tightly, based on that over all these years. But things have to change eventually. This is my music. I think its going to turn – but when it comes to the thrash bands, I think you will see a falling off in popularity over the next couple of years.
Dead Rhetoric: What worries you most about humanity in the current state of the world? Where do you think the leaders of the world should place most of their care and attention on to make things better for the general public?
Blitz: I don’t usually get into politics, but this is kind of social. It’s such a confusing issue when it comes to politics and social issues. Because many people define them as one and the same. (laughs). And that’s a problem. Somebody asked me something the other day in regards to the state of things and my father explained politics to me in a very simple type of way, so it wasn’t confusing. He had many friends who were on the other side of the aisle. He loved his friends that loved to debate him. They would get twelve-year-old scotch out, a thing of ice, and discuss things even if their political ideals or aspirations were different. They wanted the best things for their families. The current state of everything, the chaos is based on the few wishing the many error. It needs to be addressed with how politics and social issues work separately from each other. One is based on voting and need, and the other is based on humanity. Humanity with all that’s going on in the world be it the war in the Ukraine, situations we have here socially in the states, can be straightened out in my opinion with that simple amount of understanding by world leaders. We can not always neglect the majority.
Dead Rhetoric: Any thoughts on the New York Jets and the moves they need to make in the offseason for a stronger team in 2023-24? Should they land Aaron Rodgers as a quarterback or draft someone younger as the future of the franchise?
Blitz: I’m not a big Jets fan. One of the things I love about the Jets is no matter how good their pre-season looks they always manage to rip the heart out of everything. They reach way down there. I would like to see Aaron Rodgers play in New York, just for that. Brett Favre came here during the end of his career, and it was interesting. It was good to see someone of that Hall of Fame stature, to be playing in Met Life Stadium.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the gameplan for Overkill after the album comes out for the rest of 2023 into early 2024?
Blitz: The plan is business as usual. And it’s nice to be able to say that again. I remember when my biggest concern was hearing rumors of Phil Murphy the governor of New Jersey thinking of closing all the liquor stores during the pandemic. Now what am I going to do? (laughs). I would be calling out to the bar to get three cases of Heineken. We are going to take the boys club out on the road. Through Europe in April, down from some shows in June/July in the US. Which is great for us – we are barbequing outside the bus, everybody has a beer at 5 o’clock after the soundcheck. And then a couple of festivals and doing it all over again. A relevant record needs a relevant schedule too. We want to stay hungry for that stage. That’s my drug and I have been chasing that for years.