Review: Overkill – The Atlantic Years 1986-1994
BMG (December 3rd 2021)
Reviewer: Chris O’Connor
I have an inordinate amount of Time for Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’, DD Verni and their ‘Wrecking Crew’. Never quite ‘cool’ like Testament nor somehow revered like Exodus – which is plain ridiculous, ‘Blitz’ DD, and the New Jersey thrashers have sold in excess of sixteen million albums to date and have done so despite rarely selling out or compromising their authenticity in any shape or form. … with one exception – more on that later. Frankly, it is my opinion that Overkill belongs as part of ‘The Big Five’ before any of the other bands are considered. This very box is a statement in itself – as the New Jersey mob were amongst the very first of the Thrash Metal bands to be signed to a major label for a multi album deal.
This boxset takes in the rea that most older fans seem to think was the definitive era – featuring the other ‘key’ Overkill members: drummer Rat Skates, guitarist Bobby Gustafson, and then drummer Sid Falck. What you have here then, is six albums worth of material, lovingly remastered, and presented in a very tasty boxset – and not before time too I might add! All the proper covers are lovingly recreated, and for you old school freaks out there, the vinyl version is mastered at half speed, for dynamic range and pressed on 180gram Vinyl.
I remember buying ‘Taking Over’ at ST Records when it first came out, and being absolutely smitten with it, it had the savagery I craved and blew away both Anthrax and Megadeth’s early releases, matching Slayer and Metallica for sheer intensity – listen to the likes of ‘Wrecking Crew’, ‘Deny The Cross’, ‘Powersurge’ and ‘Overkill II’ and tell me the neck-snapping frenzy doesn’t still grab you today? You must be old and deaf if you say anything else!
‘Under The Influence’ was the next level of crushingly heavy, a veritable smorgasbord of Thrash Metal nirvana. The band had found a whole new groove and ran riot with it: ‘Never Say Never’, ‘Hello From The Gutter’, and a series of epic numbers: ‘Drunken Wisdom’, ‘End Of The Line‘, ‘Head First’, and ‘Overkill III (Under The Influence)’ makes this a truly vintage album for me, it still sounds amazing today.
Just when I thought Overkill could get no better, they released the absolutely astonishing ‘The Years Of Decay’ … and this album should have made them the biggest of all the Thrash Metal bands. With sounds as insanely powerful as ‘Time To Kill For‘, ‘Elimination’, ‘Nothing To Die For’, and three gargantuan thrash Metal classics in the form of the title track, then ‘Who Tends The Fire’ and finally the remarkable ‘Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher’. Pairing the band with Terry Date was an inspired move, as he gave them a massive sound.
It was at this point that the band had a rancorous split with Bobby Gustafson, and became a quintet, with Rob Cannavino and Merritt Gant creating a new axe attack for the band. I remember being horrified at the split and thinking the band was finished. Boy was I wrong! Again, working with Terry Date, the band created the simply monstrous ‘Horrorscope’ – an absolutely inspired Magnum Opus that found the guys in simply ferocious form. Gone were the progressive epic soundscapes they’d previously explored – this was a lethally focussed album, rammed to the rafters with shorter yet no less potent Thrash Metal classics. Just listen to the title track, the spiteful ‘Thanx For Nothing’ (I can’t imagine who that was aimed at!) ‘New Machine’ or ‘Nice Day For A Funeral’ …this was a band on a mission with everything to prove, and they did so in spades.
For me, what came next was a kind of ‘what the actual f***’ moment in time. Slitting with Sid Falck and bringing in outside writers (again, what the f***?) Overkill released the erm … “different” ‘I Hear Black’ album. What had been a Thrash Metal war machine was suddenly a Stoner type I have no idea what. It’s an album I rarely visit, suffice to say the band seemed suddenly to have a Black Sabbath/Kyuss/Corrosion Of Conformity fixation … and I lost the will to live briefly. Listening now and I still find it a ghastly misstep. Ouch.
Thankfully for 1994’s ‘W.F.O’ (an outlaw biker term that stands for ‘Wide F***ing Open’) sanity had been restored. I remember having doubts about even buying it at the time, but I’m glad I did, as it’s very much an old school Thrash Metal album. From the opening bars of ‘Where It Hurts’ through to album coda ‘Gasoline Dream’, it was a masterclass in how seriously special the band still was. You want examples? Check out ‘What’s Your Problem?’, ‘Supersonic Hate’, or the venomous ‘Bastard Nation’ – here is a band in furious form. Sadly by 1994, unless you were Metallica, Megadeth, or at a pinch Slayer, then you were completely out of step with ‘fashion’ Grunge was the new God, Thrash Metal was redundant to the major labels, hence this was to be the final major label release for Overkill.
This boxset is a wonderful and affordable way to re-examine the New Jersey mob’s major label career, and to relearn how to bang that head that will not bang!