The Evolution of Thrash Metal – Overkill, Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth


Photo of thrash metal band Overkill.

New Jersey thrash band Overkill – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Frank White

Interview: Overkill’s Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth joins Anne Erickson to discuss the band’s new album and history of thrash

When it comes to thrash, Overkill stands at the top of the genre. The band, fronted by Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, was a major part of the early-1980s thrash metal movement. That scene also included bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Exodus.

While many thrash bands hailed from California, Overkill came up in the streets of New Jersey. With 20 studio albums to their name, from their 1985 debut “Feel the Fire” to 2023’s “Scorched,” there’s no denying the staying power of Overkill.

The Evolution of Thrash

Thrash is such a powerful form of metal music. Even though the genre has been around for decades, the core of it is still enact, with its aggression and fast-paced riffing. Of course, it’s not the same as it was in the ’80s.

“It changed, obviously,” Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth tells Audio Ink Radio in a new interview. “I think the beauty of the origins of this music is that there (were) really no rules to it. It was taking different genres and scientifically and musically experimenting with them by mixing them up in the lab, whether that be the new wave of British heavy metal and West Coast punk rock for the West Coast guys or the new wave of British heavy metal and East Coast punk for us. Or maybe for the German guys, German punk. I think that’s where it got its wings.”

He adds, “I always thought the unique thing about (thrash) was that it was happening simultaneously around the world when there was nothing like social media. When it was actually tape trading. If you knew a guy in Germany or San Francisco, you might have been in contact by the phone, but the way you really got your point across with your music was trading demos. It wasn’t just instantaneous information. There was no instantaneous information. The amazing part is that it developed simultaneously in different places.”

“But, I think the best part of it, or when the pillars were being made to hold this up, was that there were no rules,” he says. “That was the best part of it. That has obviously changed. I mean, thrash is, to some degree, a formula this many decades later, but the exciting part at the beginning was anything goes, everything goes.”

As mentioned, Overkill are on their 20th studio album. So, does releasing new music get old? Blitz says never.

“I think part of the principle or motivation is still rooted in the fact that when you’re a kid and pursuing something like this, there’s a huge amount of excitement to it,” he says. “Who at 18 or 19 is going to say, ‘I’m an artist, and people are going to need to know what I’m thinking.’ I think when you’re that young and you’re in a heavy metal band, the motivation is, wow, this is cool. You take that into adulthood and maturely, and there’s still a big element of that kind of excitement with regard to this.”

Overkill and the Big 4

Switching gears to a hot topic, we asked Blitz for his thoughts on the Big 4 of heavy metal. The term refers to that four “biggest” thrash metal bands of all time: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. Should Overkill be in a potential Big 5?

“I’ve never really concerned myself with that,” Blitz says. “I’m not saying it like…I never read comments about myself. I really couldn’t give a rat’s a**. I understand how this is based on sales, but D.D. (Verni) and I are not just a couple of guys who are- we’re not sitting on the hood of the car drinking beer all these years. We mange the band.”

“So, we understand why a Big 4 even exists, and that’s because of their popularity and the fact that they move units,” he continues. “So, if you would look at a Big 5, you would have to look at whoever moved the next most amount of units. I don’t know if that’s us or Testament or Exodus, for that mater. I don’t follow it like that. Units are a lot different in the current day, because it’s about streaming as opposed to physical things that you put your hand.”

“But, I do think what they did- Metallica obviously changed the whole game. (The whole game) was changed with ‘Kill ‘Em All,’ and the stuff that followed with Slayer and Anthrax and the Megadeth guys have done a lot for all those on other tiers in this scene,” Blitz adds. “Because, listen, if we’re in the second tier to the Big 4, there’s a third tier that are kind hoping they could be in the second tier with us.”

“But, the point is, if you worry about it, you don’t enjoy the journey,” he says. “That’s really the point of this whole thing. It’s not about gaining worldwide success or domination. It’s about enjoying the journey. I say it all the time. It’s been 40 years in engineer boots and Levi’s. What better testimony is there to a life well lived if you have rock ‘n’ roll in your soul? So, I don’t really concern myself with it. But, I do appreciate the fact that they brought this type of music to the masses.”

Overkill actually released their new album, “Scorched,” on the same day as Metallica, on April 14. Was that on purpose? No way. Blitz says he “did know” that it was coming out on the same day but, “It wasn’t planned.”

“I actually thought afterwards that it gives you that little crooked smile saying, alright,” he adds. “We’re going to show them who’s boss.”

Listen to Audio Ink Radio’s full interview with Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here. Check out Audio Ink Radio’s recent interview with thrash drummer Tom Hunting of Exodus here.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Features, Interviews, Metal, Music