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The only Overkill interview you ever need to read

When guest contributor Turk Durmac pitched an interview with Overkill, we thought we’d be reading Bobby Blitz’s thoughts on their upcoming album and tour (which includes two headlining NYC dates). We did not anticipate reading an album-by-album rundown of the band’s 17-album (including their still-untitled 2014 effort) career. “Overkill” has taken on a new meaning for me. Pour some coffee, fix a snack, and enjoy. —DM

It’s difficult to talk about thrash metal legends Overkill without acknowledging the breadth of their recorded catalog — seventeen albums (plus a new one in the works), not to mention several EPs and two live albums released over the past twenty-eight years. Their relentless schedule of recording and touring is a marvel in and of itself; even more impressive is the consistently high level of quality the band has achieved across these many albums. Even diehard fans have a hard time wrapping their heads around the band’s catalog. It’s a fascinating trajectory: from their beginnings as a NWOBHM/hardcore hybrid, through their first-tier thrash albums like The Years of Decay and Horrorscope, through the metal dark ages of the ‘90s when the band made some of its most crushing, valuable music — all of this leads up to to their current masterpieces Ironbound and The Electric Age.

Hailing from New Jersey, Overkill is a true working-class American story, a band whose relentless work ethic and commitment to hard and heavy labor has yielded a self-made career that has survived and thrived outside the influence of the mainstream. Bobby Blitz, the band’s vocalist and mouthpiece, is one of thrash’s most visible and accessible heroes. In his mid-50s, the guy remains battle-ready: feral-eyed, with an ironclad stack of abdominal muscles and the off-the-wall energy of a man half his age. Not to mention that voice: grinding and gritty, instantly recognizable, toughened by the years. Anyone can name ten singers whose voice has degraded over the decades; Bobby still shreds vocal tissue on a nightly basis. Listening to the band’s recent albums, you have to wonder how they’ve done it.

I called Bobby at his New Jersey home at 11am on a Monday. Unfortunately, he’d not been alerted to my intention to discuss all seventeen albums with him. But Bobby’s a man of the people, of the fans. And we wound up talking for two and a half hours throughout the course of the day. Somehow, I had the sense he’d accomplished three times as much as I had in the intervals between our phone calls.

“We like working,” he said, “and it’s not about anything but successful results.”

— Turk Durmac

Feel The Fire [1985]

The classic first album, and the result of Overkill building their own stage sets, headlining clubs as an unsigned band, and getting in Johnny Z.’s (Megaforce Records) until he had no choice but to acknowledge this burgeoning New Jersey force. It features the “classic” line-up: Blitz, vocals; D.D. Verni, bass; Bobby Gustafson, guitar; and Rat Skates, drums.

It wasn’t about taking “no” for an answer. We might not have even understood what we were doing musically, but I think we understood that it had some kind of charm or power to it — that other people would be attracted to what we were attracted to. So, yeah, we relentlessly called this guy (John Zazula), who was selling our demo out of his record shop. Eventually we were sending him cases of the things (demos) and they kept moving out of his store — so, you couple that with phone calls, knocking on his door and jumping him at Anthrax gigs… he and Marsha (Zazula) were attracted to that tenacity and that “we’re not gonna take no for an answer” ethic we had.

When I think of Feel the Fire I think of chaos. It was chaotic, there was no plan. There was no map for the kind of music we were doing. I’m not saying we created that map, but it was being created simultaneously in different parts of the world. We were involved somewhere along the line — obviously we weren’t the first — but somewhere in the first handful of bands that were doing this.

In the early days, my father used to accuse me of doing this for free beer and girls, and to some degree that was true — it was just a cool thing to do. On Feel the Fire, I approached my vocals wide-eyed, just wanting to tear it up. Not over-thinking anything, just standing behind the mic. I remember in those days, I’d push so hard that I’d lose my voice. You know, I’m in my early twenties and I should be losing my voice, but I’d scream so loud or sing so hard that I did. But that was the approach: action versus reaction. Action was the tape I was hearing in the headphones and the Reaction was the vocal I was laying down, trying to match that energy.

The engineer was Alex Perialas (who later produced Anthrax, Testament, S.O.D. and many others), who was working with a lot of the Megaforce bands and produced the next two Overkill albums. It was the old school way: two-inch tape, minimal effects, and big-size equipment. You had to get the take correct; it had to have the energy, and it had to be in time. You know, it wasn’t the modern way. And in some cases, the modern way isn’t always the best. What we’re cut from that idea of: make the take great.

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