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As the saying goes – “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” . . . and that is exactly what New Jersey Thrash Masters Overkill are doing. The band recently toured Europe in April 2023 with fellow thrash royalty Exhorder and Heathen as supporting acts and they have included them on their current “Scorching the Earth US Tour” that made a stop in Anaheim, CA on Friday July 14 at City National Grove. The weather was scorching in the low 90’s and the band was ready to play the 2nd night of the tour supporting their April 2023 release (and 20th studio album) Scorched.

There is nothing better than a classic thrash metal show on a hot summer’s night and the Anaheim metal community assembled at The Grove for a night of good old fashioned break-neck thrash-metal. Sunlord a 3-piece thrash attack from New York were added as tour openers last minute and started the show a little after 7:00pm as fans were still making their way into the venue.

Things now were about to get crazy as a band from the original Bay Area Thrash Metal scene took the stage . . . Heathen opened the show with “The Blight” from their 2020 release Empire of the Blind and had the mosh pits going right from the start. These thrash veterans brought a beatdown to Anaheim over the next 40 minutes as vocalist David White led the band through 6 songs from all four of their albums. While original (and Exodus) guitarist Lee Altus was not on this tour, the dual guitar attack of Kyle Edissi along with longtime member Kragen Lum provided some tasty guitar shredding. Lum you may recognize as the guitarist who filled in for Gary Holt in Exodus when Holt was out with Slayer is a total crunch master and one of thrash-metal’s most under-rated axe slingers. The rhythm section was rounded out with bassist Jason Mirza and an unknown drummer who was a total beast on the kit. Heathen is firing on all cylinders live and raised the bar for the remainder of the night.

Exhorder goes way back to 1985 . . . those around during that time know the legacy of these southern boys while the younger generation seemed a bit unclear who this band was. Well once vocalist/guitarist Kyle Thomas, bass player Jason Viebrooks, drummer Sasha Horn and guitarist Pat O’Brien (YES the Pat O’Brien formerly of Cannibal Corpse) hit the stage and began their onslaught it was apparent Exhorder was the real deal. Their 1990 debut album Slaughter in the Vatican is a fierce, aggressive and pissed off masterpiece of groove-oriented thrash metal and they proved they are still that band.

Still out supporting their September 2019 release Mourn the Southern Skies, Exhorder is out for blood with their live shows. The band opened with the instrumental “Incontinence” and Thomas took the crowd through such brutal cuts as “Slaughter in the Vatican”, and “Desecrator” from the first album. It’s great to see Exhorder on stage to expose their brutality to a new generation of metal heads. The addition of Pat O’Brien to the band adds that additional element of brutality as he is one of the premier extreme metal guitarists and songwriters. Oddly enough bassist Jason Viebrooks was previously a member of Heathen – a true family affiar. Exhorder picked up right were Heathen left off and now ¾ of the way through the night the anticipation for Overkill was extreme . . .

Overkill is immediately mentioned in any conversation regarding thrash metal – yes there is the Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth & Anthrax) but bands like Exodus, Testament, Kreator, Death Angel and Overkill have kept the thrash metal flag waving often in much more of an authentic thrash sound in recent years. Having released some of the bands best music since 2010’s Ironbound, Overkill is better than ever in 2023 as proven by the new album Scorched.

Hitting the stage and opening with the title track off Scorched, New Jersey’s finest export delivered 90 minutes of chaos that had the first two tiers at The Grove turned into a giant mosh pit the entire night with lots of crowd surfers. Front man Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is animated and full of energy as he belts out his trademark gravely high-pitched vocals and his stage presence is huge with his constant movement, hand gestures and facial expressions. His one liners in between songs are classic and on this night included, “Look at You Motherfuckers – Bless this Mess”, never a dull moment when “Blitz” talks.

Bassist D.D. Verni, cool, calm and collective brought the thunder on his low hanging bass. Verni is without a doubt one of the premier bass players in the thrash genre and certainly a fan favorite. The guitar duo of Derek Tailer and Dave Linsk have been together in Overkill for over 14 years now and trade off riffs and solos while the new kid on the block, drummer Jason Bittner blasts away behind his giant kit. Bittner a fellow east coaster was a big Overkill fan his entire life and with the end of Shadows Fall, Bittner is now living the dream with Overkill and is certainly the perfect drummer for the job.

Song highlights included the classics “Coma” and “Horrorscope” and the main set ended with the breakneck thrasher “Elimination”. The encore included the mandatory “Rotten to the Core” and of course a cover of the Subhumans “Fuck You” to end the night.

The world is a better place with new Overkill music and having them tour again and again is a thrash metal fans dream. Long live these Garden State thrash masters! The “Scorching the Earth US Tour” runs through July 30 where the band finishes up on the East Coast in New York.

Chris Loomis

Photo Journalist - Orange County

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