Review Summary: A love letter to the magnum opus of Jersey bred thrashers Overkill. Stripping away their slightly cartoony nature reveals the monster of metal that lurks beneath.
I will preface this by stating that I have had a love hate relationship with Overkill for many years. Love their earlier work (Feel the Fire, Years of Decay) and can’t really stomach much of the late century recordings (Bloodletting, Killbox13). Their last two efforts have been above and beyond my expectations for the 20 plus year old band. That is not what this review is about however. Overkill was always viewed as a “not quite” band. They were known on the metal scene, but “not quite” on the level of Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. They were known for being an almost cartoonish thrash band with songs like Wrecking Crew and Hello From the Gutter. In 1989 they released the Years of Decay and the first whispers of the winds of change were felt. After parting ways with guitarist and songwriter Bobby Gustafson the band entered the studio to work on their next release. Blitz and D.D. (perennial cast members in the movie that is Overkill) hired on Merritt Gant and promoted guitar tech Rob Cannavino. Along with the highly, technically proficient drummer Sid Falck the band laid down what is considered by many fans a thrash metal masterpiece.
I recall buying this on cassette tape when it came out back in ’91. The first melodious strains of Coma started streaming into my headphones and I was completely unaware of the insanity that awaited me. 53 minutes later I turned the tape back over and started again. Gone were the humorous undertones of the previous albums. In their place were thick, layered melodies topped with astounding leads, precision bass work and some of the most technical drumming that I had experienced. Blitz had tweaked his vocals from the high shrieking wails into something much more sinister, lending a darker tone to the album overall.
I would spend time talking about all of the highlights, but I don’t subscribe to the track by track method. Needless to say, for metal fans, everything you could ever ask for is here in spades. Coma, Bare Bones, Blood Money, Live Young, Die Free all exude old school thrash in all of its glory. Technical and layered with a master’s proficiency they will satisfy even the most jaded of metal fans. It is the deeper cuts into the album where Overkill really makes their mark. The title track is one of the darkest, most brooding songs the band has ever recorded. Sid Falck has stated many times that the only reason he played Thrash Metal was to challenge him self musically. This track, over any that he recorded with the band shows him at his best. If a song can have a soul, this one is black and twisted with a tormented glee. There is an instrumental cover of ‘Frankenstein’ (originally by Edgar Winter) that is, dare I say, better than the original. Closing out the experience are 2 separate tracks that bond together with a refrain to form a devastatingly excellent piece of music. To this day, after arguably thousands of plays, I still get a chill the moment Blitz’s layered screams start up Nice Day for a Funeral. Each song (the previously mentioned and Soulitude) has it’s own style and structure, yet in the end, they meet to close out what I consider to be as close to perfect as an album can get.
Needless to say, if you are a metal fan and have not listened to this yet, go do so now. You owe it to yourself to experience Overkill at their very best. On a list of Metal albums that you must hear before you die, this would rank in my top five.