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Motörhead definitely contributed to the development of a new sound, a new movement and a new era for rock. Eventually, some people would refer to that fresh raging music as heavy metal. This album features something special, unforgettable, like nothing ever heard before from any previous British band. That’s the reason why maybe this stuff took the attention of the UK rock fans, that started to demand higher energy and more intensity in music, tired of the topics and monotony of the decadent classic rock dinosaurs. Lemmy and co. satisfied them completely, with a record that made history and became hugely influential for many new groups in the business back then (talking about the NWOBHM, in particular).
From the very first seconds of this album, Motörhead make clear they refuse the common music patterns of 70’s rock. Tired of weighty rhythms, stupid cliches and excessive sophistication, these guys seemed to prefer the simplicity of punk, its fury and raw power. They were one of the pioneers of loose tempos and double bass-drum beatings, like the uncontrolled outstanding title-track demonstrates. This is way faster than most of the material from other British rockers of that time, also more violent and scruffy. Songs like “I’ll Be Your Sister” or “(I Won’t Pay) Your Price” are totally unpolished, dirty and rough, something new in the genre, so unpredictable. Clarke’s guitars are distorted, harsh, providing these cuts of humble riffs and at times chaotic solos that might lack virtuosism and grace, but whose presence and rage is impressive. Tunes like “No Class” make it clear, the sound of Motörhead goes straight forward, focused into speed and brutality (in their own way), stripped down from sophistication. The result is absolutely delightful, competent and truly solid. Lemmy and the boys sound punkish, but their ways are much more professional and efficient than the limited skills of punk musicians. All numbers are constructed on consistent musical bases, which are simple and far from ambitious, correctly developed, though, proving the admirable potential of the band on the song-writing process. A big percentage of these compositions go pretty fast, however, “Metropolis” or “Capricorn” are quieter and slightly melodic, less outrageous. The influence of 50’s rock & roll and blues is tenuous but evident on certain passages, we shouldn’t forget that was the kind of music Lemmy admires so much. So after all, the record has a fascinating variety of styles, some heavy direct moments, other more calmed and close to traditional rock. Songs like “Limb From Limb” or “Tear Ya Down” didn’t become instant classics, but they offer entertaining lyrics and an effective instrumental support to Lemmy’s leading voice. Quite casual, discreet...decent.
Motörhead didn’t develop a sound at all, their music is the reflection of their attitude and their spirit. It’s more about the leather, the bullet belts and the tattoos, rather than an exactly planned music pattern. Their sound doesn’t follow a musical path strictly; on other hand, there’s no lack of direction and each tune is correctly focused and executed. These guys had something special, indeed: who else would reach this level with such spontaneous ways? Their stunning talent must be the reason, the creativity and honesty that big hard rock bands of the 70’s lost once they started earning millions. Motörhead brought again that original concept of rebellion and fury. These fine numbers are plenty of that, and also include a remarkable professional performance from 3 great musicians. So unfair Eddie is never mentioned as much as other guitar legends. He made such a display of strengthful guitar lines, played with passion, not perfect nor immaculate, but that wasn’t required here. His solos are not the most memorable element, sometimes kinda repetitive and noisy, well-executed, though. And what can I say about Lemmy? Each lyric, expression and word from this guy is pure charisma, magic and fun. We shouldn’t ignore his bass parts, which sound so damn crude and tight during the whole record. He’s properly supported by Phil, who was one of the first drummers to use the popular double bass-drum speed metal rhythm. One of the first who decided to make use of both bass-drum pedals and increase the velocity of the tempos considerably. His looks are as scruffy as the music itself, not his amazingly precise technique, which is far from generic and dumb. With a line-up like this, no way these guys wouldn’t get far, sooner or later. Their superb talent luckily achieved the recognition it deserved, after the group’s tough beginnings.
A vital record like this is indispensable to understand the evolution of the whole genre, during the next 10 years and more. It’s a symbol of the beginning of a brand new era, as I mentioned before, an essential introduction to heavy metal’s next level. Of course, this material isn’t what I would call metal, I agree with Lemmy’s rock & roll tag for Motörhead’s music, because you can distantly notice the legacy and inspiration they took from people like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, even Elvis. But let’s avoid the debate and put attention on the brilliance of these guys, that remains immortal and amusing 34 long years after. Carly Simon’s lyrics of one of her most popular hits could be used as a good description for Motörhead’s immense talent: “Nobody does it better - Makes me feel sad for the rest”.
The legend about Lemmy is that he started playing bass by mistake - Hawkwind needed someone to play quick, he happened to be a roadie for them, they handed him a bass guitar and he started playing it like a lead guitar. Whether that's true or not, Lemmy developed a then-unique "lead bassist" style whilst in Hawkwind and based the Motorhead sound around that, plus a fat dose of speed metal aggression, and a punk rocker's appetite for good old-fashioned rock and roll.
Overkill is the album where the pieces of that formula really came together to create the classic Motorhead mode we know and love today. The title track is a bass apocalypse which is still a centrepiece of the band's live performances to this day, and closing track Limb From Limb is - when you look past the heaviness - a very traditional rock and roll number performed in an incredibly confident way. Between the two is a range of songs which begin to show the full power this trio are capable of.
Several songs are particularly notable - Capricorn and Metropolis are the two slower numbers on the album, Metropolis particularly effectively catching an oppressive and doomly atmosphere, whilst I'll Be Your Sister is an extremely odd love song rendered all the more unusual because, hey, it's Lemmy singing it. (Lemmy's famous gravelly tones are beginning to take shape here, sounding mliles away from the clean and inoffensive vocals he lent to Hawkwind tracks such as Silver Machine.)
Overall, the album's running length might not be up to much - a nose over 35 minutes unless you count bonus tracks (and I don't) - but typically of Motorhead it's 35 minutes of all (over)killer and no filler.
While often rightly seen as Motörhead’s turning point away from 70s rock towards heavy metal, the true nature of “Overkill” should not be jaded by overstating the contrast between this and the previous album (or albums if you count “On Parole” as it was recorded earlier, though released later). This is first and foremost a rock album, played with a rock guitarist who very seldom ventures outside of the blues box even during his wildest solos, and largely asserts its aggression by presenting the style in its hardest, nastiest way possible. The punk element has definitely crept its way into the mix and has given the band some broader dimensions in lyrical subject matter, though the line of succession back to the 50s and 60s format is still quite clear, in contrast to most 70s punk bands where the commonalities with Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Beatles, Cream, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin were falling away.
The major evolutionary jump that is seen here is manifest in the auspiciously fast and long title song. It doesn’t really cook any faster than a few other proto-speed metal classics such as Riot’s “Warrior”, Rainbow’s “Kill The King” or Judas Priest’s “Exciter”, but the combination of the fast paced riffing and dirty shouts definitely show an alternative template that was picked up a bit more by thrash metal bands than the others, which were a bit more consonantly tinged and power metal-like. It’s more of a slowly progressing riff machine in the style of the early 80s speed outfits, and isn’t quite as informed by the dark Toni Iommi sound that would later play a determining role in shaping thrash’s riff character. But beyond anything else, this is a timeless song that still manages to communicate that aggravated sense of angst with a dated, 3 decades old production.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this album, and one that would set a precedent for a number of bands, is that Lemmy and company let the cat out of the bag right at the beginning of the album. No matter how good the songs are on here, and there are many solid fits of rock on here, they can’t measure up to the sheer speed and intensity of what can be summed up as an amazing experiment in pushing the limits of present day practices. The infectiously catchy “No Class”, apart from sounding pretty damn similar to ZZ Top’s “Tush” in several parts, rocks pretty hard and showcases a pure 70s rock sound with a gravely as hell vocal display. Things get toned down a little bit and show Lemmy’s somewhat more sensitive and complex side in “I’ll Be Your Sister”, which doesn’t get quite as emotionally charged as “Only Women Bleed”, nor does it venture out of the up tempo pentatonic rock dogmas of the time, but is moving nonetheless.
Nevertheless, there some other signs of progression out of the prototypical 70s sound, manifesting primarily in how Lemmy’s bass sound has evolved. While the title song is an obvious example of him showing the instrument in a more prominent function than simply supporting the drums, the really interesting stuff comes into play a little later on. Most notably on “Stay Clean” and “Limb From Limb”, which generally stay relatively close to a rock format, showcase a raunchy, distorted bass sound that takes a few cues from Geezer Butler, but ups the ante as well. Bearing in mind that this was before the grand days of Joey Demaio and Cliff Burton really exploring the bass as a solo instrument, historically the contributions at work on these songs are of particular note, especially given that they occur in songs that are compact and easy to sing along to, rather than jam out epics typical to Sabbath’s earlier material.
At the end of the day, the historical significance of this album is undeniable, though the staying power of some of these songs is less so. Like any album that functions in a transitional way, there is a general inconsistency that develops, and a few songs seem unwilling to conform themselves to the new approach and come off as filler. In truth, despite being one of the greatest contributors to heavy metal’s glorious history, Motörhead has always had an issue with a few fifth wheel songs finding their way onto their studio releases, such is the case with “Damage Case” and “(I Won’t) Pay Your Price”, which don’t really distinguish themselves from a number of songs by Deep Purple or UFO, save the vocals. But whether treating this as a musical revolution or just another rock album with a few surprises, “Overkill” is definitely an essential album for the vintage metal fanatic.
Certainly one of the band’s defining moments, Overkill marks when Lemmy Kilminster stepped out of the shadow of the good ship Hawkwind into a rock ’n’ roll legend of his own. Gone is the confused and poorly produced scrabble of the debut, gone are the days of the Nm-fucking-E having the gall to label them bad, and gone is any doubt that this isn’t the greatest the real beginning of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band (Rolling what?).
Make no mistake about it, folks, this isn’t the screaming, blazing heavy metal juggernaut you wanted; it’s still a bluesy rock ’n’ roll record at heart, from well back in the day when I was naught but a twinkle in my father’s eye. It’s a time when wearing a leather jacket meant you had all three MC5 records and you, rightfully so, fucking loved them. Honestly, as much as Overkill marks a rather sizable step forward for rock music in a lot of respects (read: intensity) it’s still got a lot of the past hammered into its grooves*. I hear touches of Eric Clapton’s playing in Eddie’s style here; it’s got a lot of that old slow-hand feel, and unlike your Blackmores, Roths, Downings and Tiptons he’s got absolutely no classical influence to his playing. It’s no wonder everyone has such a difficult time trying to pigeonhole Motörhead. Is it rock ’n’ roll? Is it heavy metal? Do large carnivorous vegetables make it? All of the above?
Well, I don’t have the answers, do I? We’d probably just be better off in saying this shares more common ground with Damned Damned Damned and Blood Brothers than it does Stained Class and leave it at that. All we can truly be certain of in our studies of the almighty ‘head is that it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever heard in both qualitative and quantitative terms. The evidence is right in front of you, and it’s called ‘Stay Clean’: the evergreen second track in the band’s set and coincidently this album. ‘Stay Clean’ is not an anti-drug hymn, it’s not about finding salvation through Jesus and abstinence, in fact it’s about how the humble rock ’n’ roller – every WI mother’s worst nightmare – occupies a higher moral ground than the politician and the preacher. I know, difficult to believe, right? But yes, there’s certainly something cool here we’re talking Italian American jumps shark levels of cool here: the way Lemmy ends almost every line by inhaling very audibly, the simple dynamic alteration between wah pedal on and wah pedal off, and the song’s absolute climax in which the searing bass overtakes Eddie’s guitar and burns so bright with that simple melodic solo that’s effortlessly memorable. It’s over in just less than three minutes, but then again so are a lot of things, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, for instance.
I know what you’re thinking; you’re going to complain about the lack variation, subtle nuances and shifting textures, right? C’mon now, this is Motörhead and it’s all about those things! No, really. ‘I’ll Be Your Sister’ is something very unusual for the band; it has a good-time feel to it that’s certainly nothing too special for the band. It’s a strangely feminine song, just read the lyrics – it may well be played at the same volume as the rest of the album but it’s such an oddity in the Motörhead canon. Apparently people need variation spelt out in a very obvious rocker/ballad format with MASSIVE CAPITAL LETTERS or they completely miss it. Honestly, next time you think Motörhead think subtle variation… maybe it’ll get through. But then that’s the problem with your favourite bands, right? When other people listen to them they have the habit of getting it wrong and you have to go “You’re doing it wrong!” whilst screwing your face up like a small child who’s just fell off his bike.
‘Capricorn’ is another one of the band’s strangest numbers; all mystical, astrological and spacey. It’s another one of Lemmy’s “I’m this, I act like this and you’re fucking against me” songs. He does them well. Motörhead really shed off most of this experimentation after a couple of ill-fated moments on Bomber (though they certainly reared their head in rather striking form on Another Perfect Day). Maybe it’s because passing Motörhead fans only really listen to Ace of Spades, which is one of the band’s more straight-ahead records, that they miss out on this weird side. But anyway, a great song, one of many; personally, I wish they’d put it back in the set, it would be cool to hear fucking 63 year old Lemmy singing ‘but they could never last this long!’ He wrote that in 1979, he’d been in the business for well over ten years by then – I guess he’s in some sort of a phase… he’ll surely grow out of it.
Then, of course, you get the title track. This song makes me really happy. Honestly, I don’t think I could be any happier than this. The only person in the world happier than me when this song’s playing would be – hypothetically, at least – your standard “INGURLAND” football hooligan if he were given a lifetime supply of the Daily Star and shite lager. But in addition to this the said hooligan would be given a solution to the ‘immigration problem’, all his feral children would be taken into care by the RSPCA, and Jade Goody would be his own personal guardian angel. I’m that happy when this song is playing. Not just happy, but full-on dribble on myself happy. You could put it in layman’s terms and explain how false endings are fantastic and continuous double bass was certainly very exciting back in 1979, but you wouldn’t really be doing it any justice. Honestly, if there’s a song that sums up what rock music’s all about it’s been hiding itself pretty well.
What more could you possibly ask for? Another apologetic score-settling fanboy review, perchance? Well, to round up all the odds and sods: this is the first truly classic Motörhead record – it’s still a very bluesy animal, but you know there are only some many notes, and this album features a lot of blue ones. You could learn to love this or work around it, do so or you’re probably listening to the wrong style of music. Again.
* I’m not talking about the cover of ‘Louie Louie’ here, although I do love that song. I guess I’d have to with the amount of gigs I’ve played that end in a 15 minute ‘Louie Louie’/ ‘Wild Thing’ medley. Again, it’s all about subtle variation.
Motörhead probably are the metal equivalent of AC/DC: years pass, and they insist to release albums that follow the same structure. While AC/DC deliver bluesy hard rock albums after bluesy hard rock albums, Motörhead deliver straight forward heavy metal albums after straight forward heavy metal albums. That's what you can expect from “Overkill”: a nice straight forward metal album, but nothing more.
The first really distinctive characteristic of Motörhead's sound is the voice of the band's leader, the legendary Lemmy Kilmister. On this album he reaches his peak, vocals-wise, his raw voice fitting the atmosphere of the record very well. His bass playing is also very present here, he even plays a soft but delicious bass solo on the amazing “Stay Clean”. The guitar playing is very aggressive too, expect great catchy riffs and such. The drumming is pretty decent too, but nothing more.
As for the songs, all of them are pretty damn catchy (I can remember the choruses of EVERY tune of this album, and I haven't to it for months!), and that's a good but, at the same time, bad thing. Good because memorability and catchiness are essential for a record. Bad because since all the songs follow the same structure and are focused on the choruses, the record turns out not to be that varied. This lack of variety really is the biggest flaw of “Overkill”, unfortunately.
Highlights? The title track is a classic, an amazing opener, with some nice double bass parts and raw riffage. “Stay Clean” probably is my personal favourite though, got to love that chorus and the little and tasteful bass solo. “Capricorn” is not as fast as the other songs of the album but still is another highlight. “No Class” is good too and so is “Damage Case”, probably the heaviest song of the bunch. Finally “Limb from Limb” closes the album and it is another fine tune. All the other songs are just average, my least favourite of all the tunes is “I'll be your Sister”, I just hate that stupid chorus and lyrics.
Anyways, if you like your metal memorable, straight forward and relatively fast, get this record. The durability and variety of it are big problems though, and those are the reasons why I don't give it a better rating. A competent catchy metal album, after all.
Best Moments of the CD:
-the beginning of “Overkill”.
-the bass solo on “Stay Clean”.
Motorhead’s celebrated Overkill album is not only one of the best records they’ve put out, but one of the most influential records to the early thrash scene. Sure, bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Diamond Head, Angel Witch, Scorpions, and Accept all had roles in elevating early heavy metal to new heights of speed and intensity, but it was Overkill that really showed the first shades of thrash. Listen to early Metallica and try to deny the influence. This is 70’s rock kicked up a few dozen notches and a heavy metal favorite.
But influence means nothing if the product doesn’t stand up after all these years (early Kiss was influential, but still sucks). This is where Motorhead truly shines, as this album is just as rad as it was back in the day, despite the fact that Lemmy and Co. have been doing pretty much the same thing ever since. Expect lots of quick, sleazy rock ‘n’ roll, outfitted with lots of lead guitar, double bass, distorted bass guitar solos, a nasty swagger and a pocket full of attitude. Lemmy’s voice is in peak form: gruff and rough as one would suspect. The production is also uniquely raw and features a very bass-heavy mix, so that even the slower, laid-back bluesy numbers are still pretty damn heavy.
Song selection on this album is a bit varied, despite being in the same vein as just about everything the band has ever done. The classic title track kicks things off in an unstoppable hail of heavy metal noise and the unrelenting double pedal assault of Phil Taylor. Eddie Clark solos all over this song, to good measure of course. “Stay Clean,” while not matching the pace of the former, reeks of classic Motorhead with a slightly hypocritical twist and a bass solo from Lemmy. The up-tempo blues rock continues up until “Capricorn,” which adds a subdued psychedelic flavor to the sound. Think Hendrix. Then it’s back to band staples like “No Class” and “Damage Case” for the duration of the album, with another psychedelic diversion in “Metropolis.” Most of these tracks are among the band’s finest tunes and are likely to be heard live even today.
The original album is classic, but considering that most of the band’s early discography has been re-released with a second disc of bonus material, chances are that the version you find in stores will be packed to the brim with B-sides, live tracks, and a half-dozen versions of “Louie, Louie,” the Kingsmen classic that upped their punk cred (punks love “Louie, Louie.” Ask one next time you see one). Either way, Overkill is a rock and roll classic and an essential Motorhead record.
I've never really understood why Motörhead's Ace of Spades record is so well-regarded. I mean it's good, but... you know, sloppy and inconsistent. That album has been called one of the most influential in all of metal, but honestly by Overkill Lemmy and Co. had their shit together, and their shit was much tighter and hard-hitting than anything else they'd release until Another Perfect Day or Orgasmatron. This album includes a bevy of 'Head classics, truly unparelleled in the catalogue for longevity and early metal punch.
In fact, there are no less than six songs on here that are stilled played today, and all of these tracks wind up on the majority of 'Head compilation records. I mean man, you can't argue with gems like the piercing near-epic sprawl of "Metropolis", a concert fav that forecasts the even better "Dead Men Tell No Tales" one record forward. On the other side of the metal table you have a raucous re-shred of ZZ Top's "Tush" recast in molton metal and spewed out as the lead-guitar overkill (no pun intended) of "No Class". This was a Motörhead functioning on a whole 'nother level, manic punkified speed clashing with crushing electric blues metal and tasty southern rock.
"Damage Case" pounds like nothing else, a true blues riff shocked into modern times by one seriously powerful power trio, the feel and heart of that near-dead form given a way to persist and proliferate in a new era. All of that basically means that "Damage Case" is an instant classic, full of Lemmy's comic come-ons and hammering bass, that stuttering intro (you know, 'dun-dan, dun-dan, dun-dan, dun-dan na na') taking hold of the spine and shaking it 'til you're head is banging and your metal hunger's fed.
It's strange that with such dark, glaring metal there can also be happy-go-punky fun like "Tear Ya Down", infectiously catchy, lyrically genius (much like spiritual brethren "Motörhead"), really one of my favourite 'Head songs, and including one of my fav Lemmy bass performances. Simple, clean fun.
The title track of course is the most enduring song on an album that endures on so many levels, in my opinion better than "Ace of Spades", the band telling us 'just don't sweat it/we'll give it back to you', listener caught up and feeding kinetic energy back to the band as it rumbles along. Really, the false endings on this thing almost tag it as the original "Painkiller", the long version moving on and on through cool, slow solo to whining high-register one-note barrage while Lemmy croaks and smokes on the stick.
This is amazing, high-intensity metal, an energy and violence that punk had and metal was looking to acquire, a bridge that Motörhead became between the two worlds. Motörhead, everything louder than everyone else, and Overkill, their first true behemoth milestone.
Stand-Outs: "Overkill", "Tear Ya Down", "Damage Case"
Overkill...several things come to mind when you hear this word. A band? More than likely. Stupid $40 pants at Hot Topic? Perhaps. But, when I hear this word, this album is the first thing that pops into mind. This album is a landmark, a beginning, and a revolution all in a nice little package! Out of all the "Eddie albums," this one is my favorite. The album is so great, Lemmy could've only put out the title-track and it probably would've sold just as well. IT'S THAT DAMN GOOD!
"Overkill" -Like I said...(side note: the "third solo-ending" is my favorite out of the three.)
"Stay Clean" -I really like the Hammersmith version more, mainly because this one seems slower.
"Pay Your Price" -Personal favorite for some reason. I just really like the grooviness of it, not to mention the lyrics are enjoyable :)
"I'll Be Your Sister" -I laughed just at the title! The whole song sounds like Lemmy trying anything to get some (and if you listen closely, it also sounds like a rough version of "Shoot You in the Back").
"Capricorn" -Kinda bluesy, and one of the many songs that tell the story of Lemmy's life.
"No Class" -Unlike "Stay Clean," I like this studio version more than the Hammersmith one. This version sounds heavier and the guitar isn't half as sloppy as it is live.
"Damage Case" -Like "Pay Your Price," I like this one mainly for the groovish-feel it has throughout the whole song. At least one of them is still a live staple.
"Tear Ya Down" -For some reason, this is one of those songs you want to listen to while on the road at night. It's very energetic and has that "crash into your front door" feeling to it.
"Metropolis" -This song just doesn't give me the same sense of enjoyment as the others. At least they sped it up on Hammersmith.
"Limb from Limb" -For the first part of the song it sounds like just another bleuser you hear while drinking in some dusty ol' bar. But by the 2:12 mark, BAM! we're getting somewhere! This is raw energy and fun for everyone! I love this song, but it's one of those where you have to be patient and wait for the good stuff.