Overkill

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Feel the Fire

Overkill - Feel the Fire ©1985 Megaforce
1. Raise the Dead
2. Rotten to the Core
3. There's No Tomorrow
4. Second Son
5. Hammerhead
6. Feel the Fire
7. Blood and Iron
8. Kill at Command
9. Overkill
10. Sonic Reducer

Over the course of a few years in the early 80s, New Jersey's Overkill enjoyed a rise to prominence in the East Coast thrash metal scene. They were well received on the touring circuit and their demo tapes were eagerly traded throughout the various networks. In 1984, one of their demos was given an independent release on a tiny label, which convinced Megaforce to snap up the band for their roster. In 1985, Overkill released their debut, Feel the Fire. Like many speed and thrash metal bands at the time, it was flawed and certainly not one of their finest moments. However, unlike a few of their contemporaries, it is also not totally embarrassing either. Anthrax will always have their rather dated and silly Fistful of Metal, but Overkill can look at their debut as earnest and overall, decent.

Feel the Fire lacks finesse and subtle touches, but it contains heaps of energy and enthusiasm. Sure, the guitar sounds like it was recorded in a broom closet and sometimes drummer Rat Skates strays off course a hair, but those are forgivable mistakes. In some respects, it contains much of the raw energy of the punk scene which helped inspire the band in their earliest days. Bobby Ellsworth's high pitched wailing is certainly distinctive, whether it actually appeals to your ears or not. While imperfect, Feel the Fire captures the band in an early incarnation in strong form without much of the clumsiness some of their peers demonstrated. It is not a classic such as Metallica's debut, but for those wishing to explore the realm of thrash a bit further, this album is worth a listen.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/2009

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Taking Over

Overkill - Taking Over ©1987 Megaforce/Atlantic
1. Deny the Cross
2. Wrecking Crew
3. Fear His Name
4. Use Your Head
5. Fatal If Swallowed
6. Powersurge
7. In Union We Stand
8. Electro-Violence
9. Overkill II (The Nightmare Continues)

By Overkill's second full length release, Taking Over, their label Megaforce had entered into an arrangement with the megalithic Atlantic Records, which brought Overkill more towards the forefront of the thrash and speed metal world. The band enjoyed such perks as improved studio production (courtesy of Alex Perialas, who had his hand in many thrash records of the era), increased visibility in the retail world, and even a video for "In Union We Stand".

Overkill unfortunately didn't help their cause by releasing a subpar album that failed to build on the energy of their debut.

Taking Over is certainly an ambitious title for a record that mostly treads water. Much of the songwriting is incredibly stagnant. Rebuking their punkish roots for more standardized metal conventions, Taking Over features more than a few songs that outlast their welcome very quickly. Even the video track, "In Union We Stand", is standard Metal Anthem 101, except it's hardly triumphant in any way. Except for perhaps "Wrecking Crew", which Overkill milked for the majority of their career as a motto and catchphrase, Taking Over is devoid of memorable songs and notable moments. For the most part, listeners are just subjected to Bobby Ellsworth's wailing and shrieking.

Overkill had a respectable beginning and would ultimately catch their wind after Taking Over. But unless you have time to burn, there's not exactly a burning need in anyone's life to listen to this one over and over.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2009

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Fuck You!

Overkill - Fuck You! ©1987 Megaforce/Caroline
1. **** You (studio)
2. Rotten To The Core
3. Hammerhead
4. Use Your Head
5. Electro-violence
6. **** You (live)

Somewhat of a superfluous release anchored by the famous (and mildly juvenile) "Fuck You!", this mostly live EP is nothing more than a bit of a bonus prize for Overkill fans. The five live tracks are taken from the Taking Over era of the band as Rat Skates was still a member of the band. To be honest, there's nothing particularly amazing about this EP. The title track, though supposedly controversial, is perhaps a decent crowd inciter for a live setting but is really nothing particularly special when heard in the privacy of your own home. The live tracks are decently recorded and has some inclusion of audience interaction. I was never particularly impressed with either of their first two records so the setlist here is nothing that'll blow me away to any degree. The novelty of instant rebellious gratification of an upraised finger might be enough to satisfy some customers, but overall this EP is nothing to punch out grandmothers to purchase.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2000


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Under The Influence

Overkill - Under The Influence ©1988 Megaforce/Atlantic
1. Shred
2. Never Say Never
3. Hello From The Gutter
4. Mad Gone World
5. Brainfade
6. Drunken Wisdom
7. End Of The Line
8. Head First
9. Overkill III (under The Influence)

Starting off with the mission statement of "Shred", Overkill's third full length album kicks off rather convincingly. Admittedly, I have a softer spot for Under the Influence since this was actually the first Overkill album I ever heard. But it is not without good reason. Overkill has basically had the same style for their entire existence, and this does not provide an exception. Peaking with the incredible anthem "Hello From the Gutter" and hitting high points with the crushing "Drunken Wisdom" and the propulsion of "Head First", the album generally is a good ride. Unlike a lot of the thrash bands of the era, Overkill made ample room for the bass of DD Verni, which gave the songs a bit of a boost. Guitarist Bobby Gustafson was indeed a talented shredder and his contribution is highly evident. Though there are some real clunkers on the album ("Mad Gone World", "Overkill III (Under the Influence)") the good songs outweigh the bad.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 05/1999

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The Years Of Decay

Overkill - The Years Of Decay ©1989 Megaforce/Atlantic
1. Time To Kill
2. Elimination
3. I Hate
4. Nothing To Die For
5. Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher
6. Birth Of Tension
7. Who Tends The Fire
8. The Years Of Decay
9. E.vil N.ever D.ies

To this day I still believe The Years of Decay represented the ultimate Overkill expression. After the album's release, guitarist Bobby Gustafson was kicked out of the band and in my opinion, the chemistry of the band was forever altered. But for one shining glorious moment, Overkill kicked out the thrash jams one after the other throughout this entire album, spitting out fiery raging songs and even crushing Sabbath bruisers. Though "Time To Kill" starts out the album without much fanfare, the dual punch of "Elimination" and the exceptionally venomous "I Hate" is the perfect pull into the album. The ten minute long ultra-slow and heavy "Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher" is another Overkill milestone, allowing the band to work in a new environment. The title track is another unique piece of work for the band as it is a slow, melodic ballad-esque song that doesn't fall into the pit of sappy/crappy power ballads of the era. Singer Bobby Ellsworth successfully exudes the loneliness and despair of the song, which is remarkable considering the limitations of his high pitched rasp. The Years of Decay has a couple lesser moments (Overkill has never ever been able to release an album without at least a couple weak filler tracks) but generally is the most devastating and enjoyable album in the band's career.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/1999

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Horrorscope

Overkill - Horrorscope ©1991 Atlantic
1. Coma
2. Infectious
3. Blood Money
4. Thanx for Nothin'
5. Bare Bones
6. Horrorscope
7. New Machine
8. Frankenstein
9. Live Young, Die Free
10. Nice Day...for a Funeral
11. Soulitude

Following a career milestone with The Years of Decay, Overkill began a cycle of lineup changes that has continued to this day. Longtime guitarist Bobby Gustafson was shown the door after butting heads with D.D. Verni and was replaced by the duo of Merritt Gant and Rob Cannavino. So by 1991, Overkill had lost half of the "classic" lineup and one could argue that much of the chemistry that had provided the band with momentum through the 80s was gone. Many people regard Horrorscope as one of Overkill's better records, but the reality is that it was a disappointing followup to The Years of Decay and kickstarted the era of irrelevance that has basically characterized Overkill over the last two decades.

Horrorscope is energetic but despite that, the album suffers from mediocre songwriting. The band's previous two albums featured more than a few really good thrash numbers, but perhaps the loss of Rat Skates and Bobby Gustafson depleted the songwriting batteries. Granted, I find this album a bit more enjoyable than when it came out in 1991, but there's not much material that really stands out. This is compounded if you compare any of these songs to "Hello From the Gutter" or "I Hate". Overkill had always had a tendency to include a few filler songs on each release, but Horrorscope seemed to contain more than just a couple. The production on this album has always struck me as a bit squashed, despite being recorded by Terry Date.

Looking back on Overkill's career, one can chart a steady decline from their peak in the mid to late 80s. No doubt that revolving door at guitar and drums didn't help. Horrorscope, to me, was just a warning sign that worse days lay ahead. It certainly snuffed by interest in the band back in 1991, at a time when I was a ravenous thrash fan who just couldn't get enough of the style. Thrash did essentially vanish after that point, although Overkill seemingly never did get the memo.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2009

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I Hear Black

Overkill - I Hear Black ©1993 Atlantic
1. Dreaming in Columbian
2. I Hear Black
3. World of Hurt
4. Feed My Head
5. Shades of Grey
6. Spiritual Void
7. Ghost Dance
8. Weight of the World
9. Ignorance & Innocence
10. Undying
11. Just Like You

In retrospect, it's interesting to see how the various stalwart thrash metal bands of the 80s responded to the winds of change that swept through the musical climate during the early 90s. Some broke up, some faded away and seemingly most modified their sound to get away from the thrash stylings of their past. In the case of Overkill, they attempted an album that was quite a departure from their tried and true formula and came away with a rather cumbersome dud.

I Hear Black featured yet another lineup change: drummer Sid Falck depart and former M.O.D. member Tim Mallare joined. But the biggest change for the band was the almost complete departure from high energy thrash and speed metal to a slower paced style that absolutely was not their forte. With a couple exceptions, plodding number after plodding number cause this album to be utterly bogged down from the very first note, with painfully unengaging song arrangements meeting with unimpressive melodies and songwriting. I seem to recall that I bought this album when it came out and it just sat on my CD shelves for months without being played even once. Something about it was hinting that I should not even bother. Eventually, while on a drive in the desert countryside, I tried to play the album and found it so dull I nearly drove off a cliffside as drowsiness took control. For a band that specialized in high energy music and full throttle ahead aggression, this lumbering record was a complete sore thumb. In a couple instances, such as "World of Hurt" and "Weight of the World", Overkill turns up the adrenaline-o-meter a couple notches (from 2 to 4, so don't expect a "Hello From the Gutter" or "I Hate" at any point on this album) and keeps the album from being a total chore. But that's hardly enough so save the effort.

No doubt that after Atlantic released this album, the label heard bad sales figures. Quite possibly the least essential Overkill release of them all.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2010

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Wrecking Your Neck Live

Overkill - Wrecking Your Neck Live ©1995 CMC International
CD one:
1. Where It Hurts
2. Infectious
3. Coma
4. Supersonic Hate
5. Wrecking Crew
6. Powersurge
7. The Wait/new Highs In Lows
8. Skullkrusher
9. Spiritual Void
10. Hello From The Gutter
11. Anxiety
12. Elimination
13. Fast Junkie
14. World Of Hurt
CD two:
15. Gasoline Dream
16. Rotten To The Core
17. Horrorscope
18. Under One
19. New Machine
20. Thanx For Nothin'
21. Bastard Nation
22. Fuck You

Poor Overkill. You gotta give them credit for slugging it out for as long as they have. Considering it's been nearly a decade and a half as of this writing and considering the trends they've survived, some serious respect must be paid to the band for being so darned resiliant. But there's this one nagging problem: everything they have released since Horrorscope (which was marginally uninteresting to me when it came out) has been insufferably generic. Wrecking Your Neck Live is a double live CD set that serves as a highlights package, complete with sharp sound and a broad selection from their discography up to that point. Unfortunately, it also comes across as pedestrian. Other bands who have survived for as long have been able to freshen up their sound or have the songwriting ability to take the same formula and make it sound invigorating. Overkill, sadly, has failed to do that. Naturally older tracks catch my attention: "Skullkrusher", "Hello from the Gutter", etc. But on a whole, Wrecking Your Neck Live creates about as much whiplash as a shopping cart hitting your car in a parking lot.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/1999

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Coverkill

Overkill - Coverkill ©1999 Steamhammer/SPV
1. Overkill
2. No Feelings
3. Hymn 43
4. Changes
5. Space Truckin'
6. Deuce
7. Never Say Die
8. Death Tone
9. Cornucopia
10. Tyrant
11. Ain't Nothin' To Do
12. I'm Against It

Although I do often enjoy it when a band breaks outs a cover or two, I do get very concerned when they see fit to release an entire album's worth of them. Or worse, a double CD set. To me that signals they're so uncomfortable with their inability to write some new material that they distract their audience with the shiny trinket of "hey, listen to us play a Jethro Tull song and make it all thrash metal like, because we're a thrash metal band!" In 1999, the long running Overkill decided to throw together one of these full length covers albums and of course managed to come up with the knee slappingly clever title Coverkill. (If I have to explain why this is "funny" or why I used quotes around the word funny, then I would appreciate if you'd just go back to reading the Hello Kitty blog.)

The selection of artists Overkill chose to cover is very obviously some of the bands they grew up enjoying: Judas Priest, Kiss, Motorhead, Ramones, Dead Boys and evidentally Black Sabbath. Overkill's versions are very workmanlike and thanks to Bobby Ellsworth's distinctive singing style, there is to be no mistaking who performed these covers. But much like their output from I Hear Black onwards, there's not a lot here that demands one spend a lot of time holed up listening to this record. Overkill has apparently made a career out of just not going away. I've listened to every album they've released in the 90s and frankly, nothing stands out at all. Coverkill might have at least had some novelty factor, but instead it just sounds like Overkill going through the motions on songs we already know from elsewhere. My reaction is disbelief that the band saw fit to charge their fans the full price of a compact disc to hear this.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2011

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