Album Review: Overkill – The Atlantic Years 1986 -1994

Album Review: Overkill - The Atlantic Years 1986 -1994
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings

It’s no surprise that in an era of constant re-releases, Overkill’s early albums should be given a bit of the spit and polish treatment. Having signed to Atlantic Records after their debut full length ‘Feel the Fire’ was released on Megaforce in 1985, the New Jersey outfit penned a deal with Atlantic and released albums two – seven over the next eight years.

With over 16 million sales during their 40 years as one of the integral players in the thrash movement, Overkill’s place in metal history is assured. Named after the 1979 Motörhead album, the band have gone through many line-up changes over the years, with vocalist Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellesworth and bassist DD Verni the only remaining members of the original line-up.

This collection features 1987’s sophomore release ‘Taking Over’, 1988’s ‘Under the influence’, 1989’s ‘The Years of Decay’, 1991’s ‘Horrorscope’, 1993’s ‘I Hear Black’ and finally 1994’s ‘W.F.O.’ Released on vinyl for the first time in a decade, this is a package which would be tempting for those without the set in their collection, should you wish to part with the best part of £130. What I would say here is that there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly new or additional on offer with this package. No bonus material, extras, or incentives, and therefore I’d anticipate only those with a real collector’s thirst or the desire to own all six albums on half-speed mastered 180g black vinyl are likely to be that interested in making a purchase.

Regardless of the package, the content is still well worth visiting again. Starting with 1987’s ‘Taking Over’, Overkill mixed their thrash brand with more traditional heavy metal songs like ‘In Union We Stand’, which could have been a song penned by Manowar. The standout track for me is ‘Wrecking Crew’, the band’s anthem for many years. Overall, ‘Taking Over’ is a solid if unspectacular release which contains some decent moments. If you consider that by 1987, we’d also had ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Reign in Blood’, ‘Peace Sells’ and ‘Among the Living’ was released at the same time, then you can compare the quality.

Things had moved to a more definitive thrash feel in 1988’s ‘Under the Influence’ with drummer Rat Skates having departed and been replaced by Sid Falck. The chug of ‘Never Say Never’ suggested that they style of near neighbours Anthrax might have seeped into the psyche but ‘Hello from The Gutter’, aided by some ferocious MTV rotation, remains a classic to this day. Most of the tracks on ‘Under the Influence’ work neatly, the carnage of ‘Drunken Wisdom’ with its gang chorus vocals and thick chugging riffs, the anthemic ‘End of the Line’ with the Metallica drive and the continuation of the ‘Overkill’ song series, this being ‘III’, all work well.

1989’s ‘The Years of Decay’ was the last to feature guitarist Bobby Gustafson. It’s an album that stands up today, with more diversity in the band’s sound, none more so that on the epic ten-minute ‘Playing with Spiders/Skullkrusher’ which draws deep on influences of Black Sabbath and the like. The production is improved from ‘Under the Influence’, with Terry Date enhancing the sound. There is still ample thrash for the diehards, but as always, Overkill retains plenty of melody within their song writing. Tracks such as ‘Elimination’ and ‘Birth of Tension’ fairly rattle along, with hooks and a groove that was copied by a plethora of bands in the following five or so years. It’s a long album, with several tracks over eight minutes in length but 31 years after its release, ‘The Years of Decay’ remains a solid and well-regarded album.

Album Review: Overkill – The Atlantic Years 1986 -1994

With Gustafson’s departure there was some consternation amongst the Overkill hardcore fanbase, but those concerns were dispelled within minutes of 1991’s ‘Horrorscope’s opening track, the visceral ‘Coma’, which showed the band to be in muscular form. The new dual attack of guitarists Merit Gant and Rob Cannavino combined with a fresh, even more aggressive style of song writing made ‘Horrorscope’ a career highlight. Crammed full of superb, pacey thrashers, and the dark, brooding title track which sat as a central pillar of the album, even the cover of Edgar Winter’s ‘Frankenstein’ worked within the confines of the record. It’s certainly one of Overkill’s best pieces of work.

1993 saw the rock world in the grip of grunge and groove metal and it’s evident on the band’s first clear release directly by Atlantic (the previous releases in this list having been co-released with Megaforce). A fresh change saw drummer Tim Mallare replacing Sid Falck. There’s still plenty to enjoy on album number six, ‘I Hear Black’ although the external influences permeated into the song writing of Blitz and Verni, who wrote almost everything on the record. The title track is the perfect illustration of the change in style, with Blitz’s high-pitched delivery over a thumping chug and groove base. ‘World of Hurt’ pushes the groove envelope even further. The whole album incorporates a wider range of styles including doom, stoner, and plenty of further worship at the Sabbath altar with Blitz singing some of the cleanest vocals of his entire career. Tracks such as ‘Shades of Grey’ showing a wider, more classic metal approach than previous releases although the likes of ‘Spiritual Void’ with its undeniable Sabbath groove seem a step too far away from the band’s more traditional sound.

To complete this collection, we have 1994’s ‘W.F.O’ or ‘Wide Fucking Open’. The last release for Atlantic, it’s also the final record to feature Gant and Cannavino. Fully produced by the band, the album sees a return to some of the thrashier aspects of their sound, with the reassuring pummelling tempo of opener ‘Where it Hurts’ featuring a throbbing bass line from Verni which dominates the track. It’s certainly a song to raise the blood pressure and whilst Blitz’s quick-fire lyrics aren’t that different to previous albums, there’s a snarl and lip curl that may not have been so prominent on ‘I Hear Black’. ‘W.F.O.’ features a tribute to Savatage’s co-founder Criss Olivia, who died a few months before the album was released, in the shape of the short instrumental ‘R.I.P. (Undone). It’s still an album that sits uncomfortably alongside some of the band’s heavier thrashier work but overall, it’s not as bad as its reputation suggests, with plenty of spunk and fire contained within the 54 minutes.

Would I buy this collection? Probably not, but that’s because I have them all already. Is it worth the money? Absolutely. Six albums by Overkill which represent some of their best known and lesser loved works in a solid if unspectacular package (from what I can see). To me, Overkill are one of the unsung heroes of the entire metal movement, with a constant output throughout their career, and these six albums contain more than enough absolute ragers to add it to those already bulging Christmas lists.

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