Overkill is probably the most underrated thrash metal band in history. They formed in the New Jersey/ New York area in the early eighties, originally playing punk covers, with a few metal songs mixed in. Later, they converted into a full-fledged thrash outfit. Though they’re credited as one of, if not the first, thrash band, they don’t get nearly as much recognition as other artists of the genre that emerged around the same time, namely metal titans Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. Thankfully, Overkill has never changed their music to appeal to a more mainstream audience, like a certain band previously mentioned in this review that I will not name. In fact, they really haven’t changed there sound since their first album, Feel The Fire, keeping true to their roots with a shocking consistency. The Years Of Decay was released in 1989 by a lineup that included Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth (vocals), Bobby Gustafson (guitar), D.D. Verni (bass), and Sid Falck (drums). It is Overkill’s greatest achievement, and even though they’re still going strong and enjoying a boost in popularity since headlining the second stage of Gigantour 2006, they will probably never match it.
The Years Of Decay was released in 1989 by a lineup that included Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth (vocals), Bobby Gustafson (guitar), D.D. Verni (bass), and Sid Falck (drums). The main turn-off for most people are the vocals of Ellsworth. He has a high, nasally voice throughout most of the album, with a few exceptions, such as most of the song Skullkrusher. It sounds almost like Axl Rose, Rob Halford, and even lower-range King Diamond at times. However, I’ve heard very few people swear by Dave Mustaine or James Hetfield’s vocals, and, whether you like his voice or not, he hits every note and never sings out of key, which is a big deal for a thrash singer. His lyrics are good overall, and when they do get a little immature, he delivers them with the appropriate sense of humor. Just listen to the first few lines of Elimination, you’ll understand what I’m getting at. The rest of the band rarely falters. In Gustafson’s last performance with Overkill, he does not disappoint. His riffs are solid and technical, his tone is unrelenting, and his solos are good. They’re not quite as technical as, say, Megadeth, but he changes things up and stays away from shredding too much. Keep in mind that this is thrash, and shredding is still the name of the game, but solos like the one on the title track are refreshing.
D.D. Verni’s bass is another disputed point of Overkill’s overall sound. It’s distorted at times, and he tends to stray from what Gustafson is playing quite often, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it. However, he is a phenomenal bassist, and is allowed far more time to shine than the overrated (but still incredible) Cliff Burton (R.I.P.) The chorus of Elimination has a great bass riff in it that really carries that section of the song, and Who Tends The Fire as well as Nothing To Die For feature the bass at different points. Sid Falck finally steps up to the plate on this one, after disappointing performances on the band’s first few releases. There are nice fills scattered throughout, as well as some damn solid double bass work on The Birth Of Tension.
Variety is the spice of life. I don’t know who the hell said that, but it certainly applies to The Years Of Decay. Granted, they don’t stray from metal, but they definitely throw some curveballs at you during this one. After the first four straight-up thrashers, you begin to think that’s all that you’re going to get, but Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher dismisses that notion quite quickly. The first half is Sabbath-esque doom metal, with some interesting lyrics. Around 4:45, though, it switches into a more thrash-oriented song, before twisting into a layered solo that could have been written by Tony Iommi. Birth Of Tension is a well-done metal track that switches speeds quite a bit, and, as previously mentioned, featured some great drumming from Sid Falck. The next two, Who Tends The Fire and The Years Of Decay, are softer. In fact, the title track is most definitely a ballad, even though both of the songs have faster, distorted parts in the middle. E.vil N.ever D.ies is the fastest, most brutal song on the album, and would be nearly perfect if it weren’t for the completely unnecessary clean toned fills during the chorus. Ellsworth’s final vicious scream is cut short, and thus the album ends.
Review Summary: Lesser-known thrash band Overkill put out a true classic of the genre. The Years Of Decay is right up there with Rust In Peace and Master Of Puppets, and has more variety within it than those two put together. Even the thrash songs are varied, from more punk-influenced ones (I Hate) to just straight-up speed and aggression (E.vil N.ever D.ies). The guitars, while not as good as some, are above average, as are the drums, and D.D. Verni rocks the bass with power and precision. Ellsworth’s vocals may annoy some, but they are never sloppy, and it can be argued that he is one of the best vocalists in the genre (says a lot about thrash). A great album from start to finish, that lacks so minimally in a few areas that it is still deserving of praise, but not quite good enough to reach the perfection of a 5
Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher
The Years Of Decay