Review Summary: In the wake of a changing landscape in metal, Overkill decides to revamp it's sound, challenging old school fans to embrace the band's new style.
Following the critical successes of 1989's The Years of Decay and 1991's Horrorscope, Overkill (along with many other thrash bands of the time) started to lose the interest of top record labels and thus, were desperately clinging to a quickly dwindling audience in the US. Thrash bands who were once selling out large and respected venues were quickly relegated to smaller clubs and bars. So it's not that surprising that the band's 1993 effort would mark a change in style.
Whether they were trying to appeal to a new audience, or just simply growing musically; Overkill, like many other thrash bands of the time, decided to tone things down a bit in favor of a more groove oriented style that incorporated slower riffing and drumming. There are even traces of a grunge-like sound in the track Shades of Grey, with ominously dark and slow guitar play dominating most of the song. That's not to say that the band lost it's edge though, as the opener Dreaming in Colombian demonstrates Overkill's patented high-energy thrash style. I Hear Black manages to strike a fair balance between Overkill's classic thrash style and the band's new-found interest in groove metal, giving old school fans an easy transition into the album.
Not surprisingly, Bobby Blitz gives an impressive vocal performance that is insanely unique and over the top in a compelling way, utilizing his signature raspy and guttural vocal style to it's fullest potential. However, as most fans know, Blitz's vocals are somewhat of an acquired taste that can take some getting used to, so not everyone will dig them. Another highlight of the album has by far gotta be the extremely catchy riffing that truly shines on songs like World of Hurt, Spiritual Void and the title track. To compliment the solid riffing, the album utilizes two guitarists, which gives I Hear Black a layered sound with stunningly executed solos backed by rhythm guitar, which makes for an even heavier final product. Also, the riffs are alternated rather frequently so as to not be overused, largely eliminating the complaint of repetitive material.
Despite all of the great things I Hear Black has going for it, one thing that must be pointed out is the diminished technical use of the drum kit. Aside from a couple speedier tracks, drumming is much more slower and subdued when compared to Overkill's early discography, and one gets the sense that the drummer is merely playing along with the band instead of establishing his skill and leaving his own mark. There are more notable bass lines than there are drum patterns, and that is a serious problem. The album is also slightly on the lengthier side, clocking in at 51 minutes. That's not to say that the songs are too long, but rather that there is a fair amount of material to be found here. Lastly, the production on I Hear Black is more than acceptable, allowing for audible bass lines and decent sound quality which is in stark contrast to the band's earlier work from the 80's.
I Hear Black marked the beginning of a new era for Overkill, as they would soon find out that the US was no longer accepting of anything smelling of the 1980's. As a result the band would endure a relatively unsuccessful decade or so, only finding success touring European festivals. Despite a smaller audience and a change in sound, I Hear Black is still an exceptional album that reflects the band's struggles of that time. This is an album that fans of the band should certainly check out, just don't expect mind blowing over-the-top thrash metal or you will be disappointed, this is Overkill like you have never heard them before.