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Really, I did want to just leave well enough alone when it came to Overkill's preplexingly forgiven/overlooked mid era. I wanted to just let it be and focus on when they were good. I wanted to review the surprisingly fantastic Ironbound or the near flawless Feel the Fire, but sheer morbid curiosity led me to reaffirming my belief that everybody except me is fucking crazy. Originally, this review was going to be for From the Underground and Below, as it seems to me to be the somewhat "forgotten" Overkill album. Fans who defend their 90s/00s era stuff even manage to look over that release entirely, and for good reason because I can't imagine a Borisite backing up that "Machine Head/Pantera performing Godsmack covers before Godsmack ever released an album" trainwreck. But in doing my research for that review, I floored myself by discovering that, as of the time of this writing, both Necroshine and Bloodletting have average review scores in the eightieth percentile on Encyclopaedia Metallum. I had a small Mugatu breakdown upon seeing that. What in the goddamn hell are you people hearing that I'm not? I'll be the first to admit that this is a step in the right direction, but it still sucks golfballs through gardenhoses.
The main problem I have with Bloodletting is the same problem I have with the entire middle streak of Overkill, and that's that it's just fucking boring and unmemorable. Overkill really felt the impact of bands like Pantera and Machine Head in the 90s, and it's extraordinarily clear on their albums of the era. The early 00s were still a high time for nu metal and groove metal, and Overkill remains, as they always have been (despite what revisionists claim), a product of the times. I don't know if Bloodletting here was a small fluke or what, but it is actually one of the first albums from a stalwart thrash legend to step back in the direction of the high tempo thrash aggression that got them popular in the first place. The Germans seemed to be ahead of the game here, with Sodom releasing Code Red the year prior, and Schmier's return to Destruction with All Hell Breaks Loose a few months before the release of this album (the trifecta of Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator would all solidify their comebacks to their thrash roots with two classics (and an "eh" album) with M-16, The Antichrist, and Violent Revolution respectively, all within a month of each other the following year). The problem was that the style still wasn't the big draw in Overkill's home market, which was still nuts deep in all that is groovy, which kept Overkill firmly in the groove camp, despite the raising of overall tempo with this 2000 release.
Most defenders of this album point to the first two tracks, "Thunderhead" and "Bleed Me" as proof as to why Bloodletting is just as worthy of the band's legacy as something like Taking Over. While I do admit that these two tracks wouldn't sound too horribly out of place on a record from a decade later when they got good again like Ironbound, it's still plagued with problems that dragged the band down consistently throughout this time, plus a special new one that was never a problem until this one. That problem is Blitz's vocals. Yeah, I never thought I'd say that either, but for some reason they're just fucking grating here. "Thunderhead" is my prime example of this problem, which in itself is a pretty big problem considering it's the opening track and one that people usually point to when I tell them they're wrong for liking this album. He's more nasally than ever before, and also even more prominent in the mix. The chorus of the aforementioned song is almost unbearable with his atrocious "I'M COMIN' HAAAWWWOOOOMMME" that just drills itself into your temples. I realize I'm probably just being harsh on one aspect considering the rest of these two opening songs are pretty decent groove/thrash, but this is really a huge flaw because it's the first time where the band could actually benefit from not having Blitz behind the mic. I've always said that while he's technically a pretty awful vocalist, he's a lot like Dave Mustaine or Lemmy in the sense that I really can't imagine him fronting a different band or another person fronting the band he rose to prominence with, but good lord even Sean Killian would be an improvement here. I have to stress that this is the only album where this is a problem, so it's another reason why I'm so utterly dumbfounded at this album's positive standing within the fanbase.
Digression aside, I do note that the opening few tracks are worlds better than anything the band had released in nearly ten years, but after then the album just falls apart. They fell right off the wagon and went back to the Machine Head style of slow grooving that they've always sucked at. "Let it Burn", "I, Hurricane", and "Blown Away" are somehow simultaneously boring as hell and also completely unmemorable. They drag on for ages with nothing approaching an interesting riff or solo or vocal line or anything of the sort, and yet when they're over I can't recall what they sound like at all. "Blown Away" stands out a small bit for the long, gloomy intro that the band is so fond of shoehorning in to every fucking album since 1989. But otherwise the middle six or so tracks all blend into this nebulous grey mass of uninteresting plods and directionless grooves. "Death Comes Out to Play" and "Let it Burn" are probably the worst offenders in the realm of uninteresting structure and riffs and ideas, but I have to give an honorable mention to the one-two punch of "Left Hand Man" and "Blown Away" being A) next to each other in the track listing, B) similarly structured with the drawn out intros and outros, and C) being over six minutes long. Normally, this isn't all that bad, but for mid tempo plodders like them, it's nothing less than a test of endurance. There's a half hour stretch in the middle of the album that leaves listeners cold and wondering where the hell the band we all fell in love with wandered off to.
The strangest thing? Bloodletting is structured overall like a Skyclad album, with the good songs at the beginning and end with all the mindless filler taking up the middle of the album. "My Name is Pain" is probably the best track on the album, with it's high tempo and chest beating bravado presented in the way that only Overkill can, and I almost didn't fucking hear it because it's such a chore to listen past "Blown Away". The closer ("Can't Kill a Dead Man") is underwhelming in comparison to the total barnburner that precedes it, but it follows the same late 80s thrash ideals and pummels the listener with one of the rare examples of how the groove elements can work in conjunction with the high octane thrash numbers. And therein lies the big problem with the albums starting from this point and continuing through the following three albums, they try to retain the Pantera style grooves whilst still hearkening back to the thrash scene of the 80s, and only succeeding in blending the two about half the time. Within the context of this album, "Death Comes Out to Play" has a really fun, fast paced thrash part, but most of the track is the damn low plodding that bores me to tears, whereas "My Name is Pain" is exactly the opposite. The title track for the previous album, "Necroshine" is pretty much the only very solid example I can give of Overkill doing the pure groove metal style correctly, and one song out of over 90 is pathetic.
The easiest way to tell whether a song will be good on this album is to see how long it runs. The four tracks under five minutes are all very good, while anything over that is bad. Yes, that includes "Thunderhead", I really don't like that one at all and am blown away by how many people cite it as one of the best mid-era tracks. That's how simple and shallow the whole thing really is. Overkill are just not good at groove metal. They never were and they never will be. Now, I know in my review for The Killing Kind I had claimed it was my favorite of the band's bum era (it was originally written back in July, I just forgot to transfer it over here to MA from my blog until yesterday), but after realizing there are a whole four songs on Bloodletting that I like, I'm somewhat forced to reassess that claim. I can confidently say that that will not happen again, as even though they did pick up the pace starting from this album, the quality stays pretty consistently low until 2010.
For the quadrillionth time, Overkill are not legends, they just released legendary albums.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
Leading up to this coverage of the Overkill discography, I might have told you that Bloodletting blurred into Necroshine for me, that I've always found the albums inseparable in terms of songwriting and their aesthetic choices of hybridized groove and thrash metal, but in truth Bloodletting feels better put together than its studio predecessor, and is able to hold the listener's attention span for a larger chunk of its playtime. At the turn of the new millennium, so many fresh sounds were pouring out of extreme metal's constituent genres that an album like this was hard for me to pay much attention to. I bought it because I buy most of their records out of some strange sense of loyalty I maintain with most of the long-time veterans in the thrash genre, but I'll admit I have not gotten much value out of it...and in returning once more to see what I might have been missing...well, I'm not.
Part of the reason I do rank this above the mediocre Necroshine is that I simply seem to appreciate how Dave Linsk puts his guitars together, even through the weakest, banal grooves that infest the largely he's got a particular structure to his performance that just locks better with my rhythmic imagination. There are some admittedly lame riff patterns through the album, with songs like "Let It Burn", "I, Hurricane" or "Thunderhead" where the guitars feel incredible predictable and almost effortless to anyone who chug along and mix up a few bottom frets into chords, but in general I found that this was a more thrashing effort in total, where we were starting to see the 'Kill emerge from its sodden 90s slumber. A good example of this is "What I'm Missing", a faster speed/thrash tune with hints of 80s Megadeth threaded beneath Blitz' raucous delivery, and "Left Hand Man" which opens with these clean guitars and melodies and opens out into machine gun fire hooks that are positively saturated with energy, even despite the breakdowns. There are additional passages of cleaner guitars throughout which feel appreciably atmospheric and haunting.
Bloodletting also manifests as a more vicious and appealing experience where I almost constantly feel that same level of threat from Taking Over or Under the Influence, it just doesn't stick as much when it comes to the choruses or the quality of individual vocal lines and note progressions. The rhythm section sounds great on this one, with Verni losing a bit of his dextrous sore thumb presence and blending in a little better into the arching and crashing of the rhythm guitars, and Tim Mallare delivering a balanced attack through the slower and faster pieces. The leads here in tunes like "What I'm Missin'" are pretty good, Linsk doesn't bite off more than he can chew, carving out your ear canals with just enough finesse and unhinged spontaneity that you'll begin to remember them even when the surrounding riffs are lackluster. Blitz also manages quite a heavy load of aggression in his inflection here, nearly growling as he batters through the verse of "Death Comes Out to Play" into his street harpy heights and back again.
I would almost dub this a good album, save for that half of the songs dwell on borderline retarded grooves that seem like the band just can't shake the specters of failed stylistic growth that they had been flirting with for years. The lyrics are a crap shoot, and generic riffing and breakdowns abound, but I got the impression that at least for a few seconds in each tune there was a genuine, volatile surge of what I loved about the band so much in the mid-80s. In a way, I almost felt as if this were an early 'comeback', though the band had gone nowhere. It's not as strong as Ironbound or their most recent album The Electric Age, but despite a few stumbles it was better than anything else they'd released since Horrorscope.
As sure as the sun will rise, Overkill will deliver the goods with well-ordered, ass kicking precision, making sure that the number of dislocated necks in the audience is maximized. Dave Mustaine may have told the masses to “Rattle their fucking heads” in 1985, but the almighty wrecking crew has been making it happen non-stop since 1979, albeit through a different musical medium. That’s basically the magic that has kept the band at its core while the various members of the fictitious media phenomenon known as the big 4 all went through varying periods of abject sucking, keeping the heads banging and keeping the focus where all members of the metal cult demand it stay, at the altar of the almighty riff.
Their twelfth studio offering “Bloodletting” is no exception, as it oozes heaviness like a river of blood streaming from an army of dead posers on the battlefields of metal. It carries a small amount of remnants from the band’s previous few albums and is a bit slower and heavier than their 80s classics, but unlike “Necroshine” or “From The Underground And Below”, there’s also a very healthy dose of “The Years Of Decay” thrown in to up the thrash ante considerably. This change may have been due to a recent resurgence in interest in old school thrash metal at the time, or just the odd coincidence that this was the first studio album Overkill had done with one guitarist since 1989, but regardless the results are an interesting blend of two solid eras of the band, tilting more towards the early days.
Whether the band decides to kick things into overdrive or hang out in down tempo land, each chord thuds the ears like a ton of tempered steel. “Thunderhead” just lays down the law, banging the gavel like a bolt of lightning with its colossal sounding muted riffs, yet never really needing to sail into the stratosphere tempo wise. In some respects it reminds me of “Time To Kill”, but a little slower and with a chorus that marries audience fanfare with aggression rather than simply acting as an extension to the verses. It’s no surprise that this song has remained a live staple for this band since, as I’m sure its being played could inspire the sky to conjure up a storm in the name of all things metal. “Bleed Me” delivers a similar punch but in more of an “Elimination” kind of feel, going at a faster tempo and pumping out some really wicked riff breaks in between the verse and chorus sections.
The way that entire album just cooks regardless of tempo is enough to carry it along, but newcomer guitarist Dave Linsk takes it a step further. Naturally he takes care of all the essentials as far as bone crushing riffs are concerned, but his approach to playing the various guitar tracks off of each other is sheer brilliance, creating an atmosphere that is heavily comparable to what Gustafson pulled off on “The Years Of Decay”. A few pick scratch noises here, a broken chord line going on in the center of a break section, and a few harmonic fills as detailing between riff transitions and you have an arrangement big enough to make “And Justice For All” sound tame. Add to that an impressive collection of crazy fast guitar solos like the one heard on the catchy thrash anthem “What I’m Missing” with a smooth as hell tone and you’ve got a worthy successor to the Overkill brand name that upstages most of his predecessors. I still prefer Gustafson when all is said and done, but Linsk runs a very close second, largely because of his work on here and on “Killbox 13”.
But regardless of the heightened sense of technical flair and aesthetic differentiation at work here, the main draw is the textbook yet amazing thrash going on here. “Death Comes Out To Play” is classic fast paced goodness straight from the formula established by “Nothing To Die For” and “Birth Of Tension”. There’s also a gut stomping breakdown section screams “Darkness Descends” with perhaps a hint of “Persistence Of Time”. In classic Overkill fashion, at least for their high Thrash era of the late 80s, there are a couple of haunting ballads presented in the usual gloomy and dissonant fashion, of which “Blown Away” is the most intense, bringing back memories of those creepy harmonized volume swelled guitar choirs that kicked off “Evil Never Dies“. Blitz’s vocal delivery is as sick as they come, rendering the most vile of warlocks to ever shout incantations at the blackened night sky sound gimp-like in comparison.
For any fan of Overkill’s pre-1993 material, this is the album of their later catalog to pick up. It’s not a perfect carbon copy of their late 80s style, but it is close enough to inspire the same desire to wreck the neck of everyone around you. I’d personally put this up on equal footing with both “Under The Influence” and “Horrorscope” and just a tad bit behind “Taking Over”. The only thing this album is missing is a 5th installment of the “Overkill” saga to put it into official classic status along with the Gustafson era albums. This is the sound of a thrash band that is casting aside the gloomy days of worshipping darkness at slower speeds and is once more on the hunt like a hungry wolf chasing it’s prey.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 27, 2009.
Released in 2000, Bloodletting was already Overkill’s eleventh full-length studio album (not counting Coverkill, which is entirely comprised of remakes of well-known rock/punk/metal tunes), and the long-serving N.Y.C. thrash veterans certainly didn’t disappoint on the successor to their lackluster outputs of the late nineties. Where The Killing Kind, From the Underground and Below and Necroshine, apart from the occasional worthwhile song, were deeply mired in groove-oriented mediocrity, Bloodletting finally hearkened back to the trademark style of songwriting Overkill had invented on early classics Feel the Fire and Taking Over and perfected on seminal late eighties/early nineties releases The Years of Decay and Horrorscope. Fortunately, this means that on Bloodletting, Blitz and the boys traded stomping grooves for more classic thrash beats, insipid mid-tempo for more speed, inane gang shouts for more of Blitz’ trademark vitriolic snarl, and overall mallcorish mediocrity (ok, that judgement may be a little harsh since Overkill’s outputs from the late nineties weren’t really that bad) for more plain ole thrash goodness.
Speaking of gang shouts, this particular device, which was increasingly incorporated into Overkill’s music over the course of the nineties, is still used way too frequently on Bloodletting, at least for my taste. It doesn’t get out of hand quite so much as on, for instance, The Killing Kind, but there are still plenty of moments on Bloodletting where gang shouts are used for no obvious reason other than trying to sound as “bad ass” as possible, but in the end, they drag the album down a little, sounding, for lack of a better expression, dumb, forced and generally out of place. I mean, Blitz has one of the most aggressive and instantly recognizable voices in all of metal, so why not let him do the singing? This appears to be yet another instance where the excessive use of an otherwise interesting feature hurts the end result instead of benefiting it; for gang shouts, when used sparingly and appropriately, can be an effective way of enhancing the accessibility of the music and adding a certain “kick-ass factor.” However, when they are mindlessly inserted at the most inopportune times, regardless of whether they really fit in or not, they end up watering the songs down and endowing them with an annoying punk/hardcore vibe that’s painfully out of place on a metal record. Again, this is not that big a deal on Bloodletting, but a little more moderation with regard to the employment of this device could have made this album even better.
As for the songs on Bloodletting, they seem to fall into three distinct categories: (1) classic Overkill thrashers, (2) slower mid-tempo songs with some groove-heavy sections and (3) longer, more epic songs with some traditional metal elements. The first four songs on Bloodletting all fall into the first category, with particular mention going to the formidable opener “Thunderhead,” the extremely catchy “Bleed Me” and the relentlessly aggressive “Death Comes Out to Play.” Another track qualifying for this group would be the second-to-last cut “My Name Is Pain,” a veritable riff monster with heaviness to boot and another very memorable chorus you just can’t help but shout along with. “Let It Burn,” “I, Hurricane” and “Can’t Kill a Dead Man” represent the slower, more rhythmic side of Overkill, containing plenty of mid-tempo and some groovier sections. Luckily, none of these tracks are anywhere near as bad as some of the filler material which crowded Overkill’s previous three albums; particularly the former two actually happen to be quite good overall. The longer, more varied songs in category three, namely “Left Hand Man” and “Blown Away,” both clock in at over six minutes and contain some rather epic passages borrowing heavily from classic eighties-style heavy metal bands. Particularly the latter is surprisingly melodic and sounds more like heavy/power metal than thrash, assembling various distinct parts to form a nonetheless perfectly cohesive, atmospheric entity. If any further evidence was needed that Verni and Ellsworth constitute an amazing songwriting tandem, then this is it.
The production quality on Bloodletting is, for the most part, flawless. While some thrash purists may accuse it of sounding “way too modern” and lacking the raw underground charm that Overkill’s early records had, the production fits this more contemporary version of Overkill perfectly and also packs a pretty good punch, especially as far as the guitars, which sound absolutely ferocious, and the drums are concerned. D.D. Verni’s bass, on the other hand, while still featured quite prominently in the mix, is not nearly as audible as on albums like W.F.O. or The Years of Decay, which, depending on the listener’s preference, needn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
All things considered, Bloodletting is a pretty big step up from its rather disappointing predecessors and manages to recapture a lot of the unique Overkill magic of old. Qualifying as a highly consistent effort without any particularly weak songs (though “Can’t Kill a Dead Man” won’t be mistaken for a classic, either), what it does lack are some real standout songs, as none of the tracks found here can quite match the level of greatness achieved by some of the old fan favorites such as “Elimination” or “In Union We Stand.” In other words, while Bloodletting falls short of greatness, it’s definitely one of the better entries in Overkill’s voluminous discography and doesn’t fail to deliver the goods. Newcomers to the band are advised to check out their older, pre-I Hear Black stuff first, but after that, Bloodletting is certainly worth a look.
Choicest cuts: Thunderhead, Bleed Me, Death Comes Out to Play, My Name Is Pain
Ok. So this might be one of Overkill's heaviest albums. I don't buy for one second though that it holds a candle to albums like Horrorscope or The Years Of Decay. This isn't even Necroshine. I also don't buy that it continues their so-called "consistency". In fact, I find this album to be one of the most inconsistent albums from a band that could normally be relied on for delivering the goods and not manage to even remotely suck.
As evidenced by the rating, don't let my rant above fool you into thinking this is a bad album that should be totally avoided, like St. Anger for example. When I bought this album around 2001 or so, which also made it my first Overkill album added to my heavy metal collection, this was one of the heaviest thrash albums I had heard at the time and even descibed it to some of my friends as a "wall of sound". I stand by that comment, but this album lacks in some areas, such as being somewhat repetitive in places, and I don't even think Dave Linsk or their other guitarist was even using standard guitar tuning on this album. Therefore, also aided by inconsistent production, it gives the album a dirty feel.
The highlights: The bass line in the beginning of "Bleed Me" shows why DD Verni is one of the best bass players in heavy metal today. Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth also gives a good vocal perfomance in "Let It Burn", and the places where it sounds like he's screaming in the song sound kind of cool. "My Name Is Pain" was an early favorite of mine from this album when I first bought it, and the "wall of sound" mentioned above definitely applies on this song. The drumming is one of the strong points of the whole album, as this is the heaviest drum sound I've heard from any band, thrash or otherwise. The drum sound is both heavy and very fast, and it doesn't sound tinny like it does on Horrorscope or Years Of Decay. Beginner and intermediate heavy metal drummers take note. This is how thrash drumming should sound. "Can't Kill A Dead Man" ends the album strong and thrashy.
The lowlights: About half this album are the lowlights here, as my reactions range from, "They could do better if they corrected these minute mistakes" to "This is just pure filler!" Examples - songs like Thunderhead, Left Hand Man, and I, Hurricane. The drumming could be better on Thunderhead, and the guitars could sound a little better. Plus, the production hurts some of these songs by making the better songs sound much more aggressive than said filler. This happened on Necroshine as well, and that album also featured a B grade producer, but this album is not up to that quality, in terms of overall songwriting and musicianship. Also, some of the riffs on the songs are repetitive, making many songs unmemorable.
Who this album's for: The die-hard Overkill or East Coast thrash fan only. This is not an album for a newbie to thrash to pick up, or even a newbie to Overkill, for that matter. You are better suited with starting with Horrorscope or Years Of Decay if you are just getting into this band.
The bottom line: A very heavy thrash album that suffers from inconsistent songwriting and production, and inconsistent songs.
Most people think 'The Years Of Decay' or 'Horrorscope' as the best OverKill album (so far!). I agree that those records kick some serious ass, but do you know what those records don't have that 'Bloodletting' has? Dave Linsk! And the kick-ass song material this one has!
The album blasts off right away with the ass kicking Thrasher 'Thunderhead', this is OverKill at it's best; fast, heavy, grooves of DD Verni and Tim Mallare, great guitar riffs and solos by Dave Linsk and an aggressive vocal effort and vague lyrics by Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth ("life was but a simple dream of doing what was right"). But there's a lot of variation on this album too. Facing the fast and heavy Thrash of 'Death Comes Out To Play' and 'My Name Is Pain', there is also more melodic stuff like 'Bleed Me' and even ballad-like stuff like 'Blown Away' (which is actually too heavy to be a ballad but the structure and the emotion are the same). And then there is 'What I'm Missin''...simply one of the best OverKill tracks ever made. Fast, heavy, but also melodic and with a catchy chorus and lots of solos. In 'I, Hurricane', the band also gives a more modern twist to their new found Thrash sound. Refreshing and a great song in deed!
To be short, any fan of modern Thrash should get this record and the old school fans might even like it too. Twenty years of OverKill and still records of this quality...that is either a miracle or something the band deserved!
This album just flat out blew me away the first time I heard it. It picks up on the dark style of Necroshine, and throws in the riffs similar to WFO, and also sometimes harking back to classics like Years of Decay and Taking Over. This album is totally solid from beginning to end, and is definitely one of Overkill's best.
The first two songs definitely set the tone of the album: Thunderhead has some killer riffs, a nice chorus, and even some very well done lead guitar. Dave Lynsk is the lead guitarist on this album (Derek Tailer would join for subsequent touring) and he does a great job. Bleed Me is probably the best song on here, and is a live staple.
The other candidate for best song is Death Comes out to Play, (also a live staple - good choices, guys) which has some very well-done verses and chorus, and also a really nice middle section. The rest of the album continues on with great intensity, with songs like "I, Hurricane" and "Blown Away". Blitz turns in his best vocal performance in a while, and the backup vocals by D.D. Verni definitely add to it (all the deep growling is D.D. Verni, and everything that sounds like Blitz is Blitz, for those wondering.) The album closes with the very strong "Can't Kill a Dead Man".
Overall, this is the best Overkill's done since Years of Decay. It's good to see that the first thrash band ever are still going strong after all those years.... to the rest: "you're not the first, and you won't be the last!" Overkill rides again!!