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Every band has one album where they try to do something they simply can't do. Metallica had St. Anger, Judas Priest had Turbo, AC/DC had every album that tried to recreate Back In Black (and oh god there are a lot of those), and Overkill had I Hear Black. While it's basically ignored by fans, that doesn't mean it doesn't have it's good qualities, and this album has plenty.
The first thing you'll notice is how not Overkill this album is. They ditched thrash almost 100% for this album and replaced it with a more dense sludgy sound, and who can blame them? In 1991 they had been doing thrash for years and as much of a cult band they were at the time they simply didn't have a fan base big enough to make money playing thrash. While some bands gracefully change styles such as Pantera (Heavy Metal Magic anyone?) Overkill do it much more oddly. The style changes, but the writing doesn't and this leads the songs here to be different, but not really that good. They all feel like thrash songs that were being played at 75% tempo. Sometimes it works, but for the most part it's just odd.
Stand out songs are World of Hurt and Spiritual Void. While I wouldn't say they are great, they both are entertaining and good. With another vocalist they might have been great, but unfortunately they are held back by Bobby "Blitz" vocal work. He is a VERY good thrash singer, but here he trys to be gruff and serious and it just doesn't work. It's not like it's horrible, but he clearly doesn't have the voice for this kind of metal. As for the rest of the songs, there isn't anything here BAD but a lot feels uninspired.
On the production side of things, this is a really good album. Early Overkill has had some odd production, often making songs that should sound awesome feel strange. Fortunately, that is no issue, as the production compliments the music in every way, shape, and form. It's just good, end of story.
So at the end of the day what are we left with? I Hear Black is an odd album, interesting only because Overkill made it. It's pretty ok, but nothing that really stands out. Check out "World of Hurt" on YouTube and pick it up if there is a sale, but that's about it.
Most people neglect this record, mainly because it's just so not Overkill-oriented, but that doesn't really hurt this album, because it doesn't lack musicianship, riffs, production, decent songwriting or great solos and grooves. Yes, it's so not Overkill, but it's also so not a throwaway. Overkill is one of the few bands that diversify their music the right way (like Bathory). Not like 90's Anthrax or 90's Megadeth.
The riffs here are a blast. Primarily on Spiritual Void. Incredibly catchy riff and amazing grooves, all mixed with great, heavy production. Mr. Cannavino and Mr. Gant are great shredders (not as great as Dave or Gustafson, though they sure are qualified to be Overkill's axemen). Blitz is still badass as always. His low-pitched vocals are very well done and quite balanced. The way he changes from low-pitched to high-pitched vocals is really amazing, and so metal-oriented. This brings us to the production. The bass is really low-tuned, mixed with an 80's-like guitar tone and audible drums. The drum fills are pretty versatile as far as the groove, thrash and blues approaches are concerned. The highlights of this release are Spiritual Void, Just Like You, Undying and Ignorance & Innocence. All of these tracks feature very interesting guitar lines and riffs, flowing well enough to please any open-minded metalhead.
The reason I gave 95% was because two of the 11 songs here fell flat. I'm sorry, but the title-track and Weight of the World sound nothing but stupid. They just went too far on this experimental period. Sure, it's nice to slow it down a bit from Birth of Tension to Spiritual Void, and you know why? Because both have the main element as far as metal is concerned: well constructed riffing. That's the essence of metal (also mid/fast tempos, but ultimately the riffage). I Hear Black's title-track is the opposite. Bad riffing, plodding tempos and Blitz reached high-pitched in a way that it sounded dumb. At any rate, don't avoid this record, as only 2 out of 11 songs are bad. It's definitely worth it if you're a huge Overkill fan.
...And different is a fine line to straddle when creating such an album. You can stay similar and drag yourself into a deep rut of rehashing ideas over and over again, and risk backlash. Or you can change the game up a bit and still risk backlash. Which is more severe? Well look at the circumstances surrounding Overkill's 1993 platter "I Hear Black": the 'kill had just come off of a massive wave of success following 1989's masterwork "The Years Of Decay" and 1991's magnum opus "Horrorscope". The changing of the guard in music was in full swing by 1993 as well, with the grunge wave in full effect by this time. Should Overkill create another album like "Horrorscope", complaints of the music becoming stagnant may arise. The band had hinted at slower paces on the previous album, but what was unleashed on "I Hear Black" is a total game-changer in the Overkill camp.
With this effort, we have what some pass off as Overkill's "Black Album" attempt. The songs are a little sowed down, but to this reviewer, it does not mean a lack of sheer venom and aggression when it comes to delivery. "Dreaming In Columbian" kicks off the record with something totally different for Overkill. Grinding guitar riffs, sledgehammer drumming and a vicious lashing vocal delivery. Mind you, this is not just some third-rate Pantera rip-off, this is a totally fresh slate for Overkill. The production is a tad dry and clanky, but half as bad as what would come almost one year afterward with 1994's "W.F.O".
The title track eases off of the gas pedal to allow, but really doesn't follow up the first track all that well. It just seems a tad tedious, although it has an awesome chorus that will get in your head and not let up. Where things take off is on track three, one of my personal favorite Overkill songs, "World of Hurt". I could have done without the dorky intro where there is no bass, just treble, but when that snare hits and triggers the main riff, do things really take off for this album. The little guitar melody before the first verse had me singing it back for days after hearing it at first. Overall this tracks soars over the heads of Overkill's output from 1996 until 2000.
He next track of note is the Ballad (Overkill+ballad=no-no?) "Shades Of Grey" which is a very odd track, in that it is in fact a half-ballad of sorts. It combines quiet interludes that slowly build and swell. Blitz sings about what I assume is the topic of insanity in this track, and delivers to us a brilliant vocal performance full of grit and madness. Overkill can pull off the softer tracks with ease as well, who knew?
Next up we have another personal favorite, "Spiritual Void". The song misfires a bit with the dumb jam intro that does not really do anything to contribute to the song by any means. Then once that is done, we are treated to five minutes of Sabbath-inspired goodness. This song just rolls along so perfectly and does not fall victim to dumbed down aesthetics that "The Black Album" helped to popularize.
From here on out, the rest is just a mixed bag, all good, but fails to be as memorable as the previous. The final track is the last gasp of air for the album, "Just Like You" is a romp that makes the listener want to kick some teeth in. It comes across with such grit and anger that the album tends to stand for.
My only real complaint about the album is the dry and metallic production. The freaking snare drum on some songs stands out like a sore thumb as it clicks and clangs along. And the bass, don't even get me started. It takes a back seat the whole album. D.D! Where are you in this muddled mix? The muddied mix is the only reason I saw fit to dock points. Songwriting and musicianship is at top notch with this album. Overall, highly recommended to an open-minded fellow music fan, but otherwise I would say to go with "Horrorscope first and foremost.
While Overkill has retroactively been hailed as one of the most consistent representations of thrash's old guard, their experimentation with groove has been cumulatively anointed with the tag of "best forgotten." Looking back on the whole experience, we can see concerted precursors to this approach going all of the way back to The Years of Decay with "Skullkrusher." The Sabbath influence had always been of marginal worth to these guys, and for '93 they could have done a whole lot worse than what eventually became I Hear Black. While I can visualize many a fan's hope crashing headfirst into the barren soil when comparing this directly to Horrorscope, this record has aged markedly better than the comparative output of Anthrax and Exodus from the waning period.
Given these abstractions along with a wider perspective, one can clearly see a logical continuance here from classics like "New Machine," "Horrorscope," and "Nice Day...For a Funeral." Horrorscope had plenty of knuckle-cracking, bulldozer-like tracks that dropped the hammer down on the way to becoming some of the band's best material ever. The template is modified here slightly, what with a more rockin' disposition coupled with dreary atmosphere. Given its place in the timeline, here we have Blitz at one of his lowest points due to alcoholism, and he channels these hardships coherently into one of his best lyrical performances ever. It truly comes together potently on tracks like "Dreaming In Columbian" "World of Hurt," and the title track, which feature some of Ellsworth's best oeuvres to date. Experimentation takes an even larger role during "Weight of the World," which boasts an unusually upbeat chorus and vocal pairings.
Not all of these risks necessarily pay off, as "Shades of Grey" is a rather middling pseudo-ballad that is a track best skipped. "Undying" is quite a hot mess as well, as these two tracks can go take a hike for all I care. Conversely, "Ignorance & Innocence" is a despondent, bluesy rocker that really lays Blitz's soul out to bare. "Just Like You" is a good song, and "Feed My Head" is my favorite track here; the groove is just beyond fucking killer. Overall, I Hear Black is at the very least a consistent listen, giving Gant and Cannavino a chance to think outside of the box. The soloing has definitely continued in brilliance from Horrorscope, with extensive use of the whammy bar especially evident on the title track. I can definitely find a use for most of these songs, a fact I am not ashamed to admit. Interestingly, the bonus track "Killogy", a leftover from the Horrorscope sessions, naturally thrashes more than anything else on here. Shame it is relegated to bonus track fodder.
The remaining performances are somewhat hit-and-miss, regrettably. Mallare injects new blood into the group effectively enough, but he just cannot stack up to Sid or Rat (and frankly he never managed to during his entire tenure) so something was definitely lost in the percussion department. It doesn't help that Perialas totally flubbed it on the production front. I mean, what the fuck is going on with the rhythm guitar tone? It is so paper-thin you can breathe through it, and the drums sound plastic, pacified, and forceless. Verni's bass bumps and grinds as aggressively as we remember it, so he gets a decent stab at the spotlight here. Sadly, he doesn't truly take hold of the reins save for the bass-driven instrumental "Ghost Dance." A wasted opportunity for sure.
For a band that delivered four out of five all-time classics before it, I Hear Black will forever be a disappointment when judged against these criterion. Looking back on it over twenty years later however, it has aged quite well and is far and away superior to Bloodletting and Immortalis. As such, this easily avoids a "worst of" tag and is perhaps the first album to seek out if you are curious regarding Overkill's moodier side. Verni isn't quite so fond of this record, so we don't get any of these tracks live anymore save for "Spiritual Void." I can dig this just fine all the same. Keep an open mind, and you may just like what you hear.
There seems to be a fairly overt consensus among thrashers on I Hear Black as the official shark jumping of New Yorkers Overkill, but I have to admit I had a slightly differing perspective, already feeling diminishing returns from their music since about 1988. True, there were a few tracks here or there that kept my blood boiled in anticipation for whatever they'd issue next, but Horrorscope ground me to a dead stop, and naturally, with so much of my beloved sub-genre disintegrating through the 90s, I had little expectations for Overkill's future. I Hear Black, the sixth full-length, was one I acquired as part of one of those mail order music club deals, a dozen CDs for a penny or something like that, so I hardly felt burned by its lack of much redeeming, but this is one case where I must defer to the majority: Overkill really dropped the ball this time, and even if I found its next eldest sibling a disappointment, this was worse by several orders of magnitude.
The production is partly to blame. Though they were reuniting with Alex Perialas, who handled some of the band's best albums, I Hear Black comes off dry, dull and lifeless, similar to some of Flotsam & Jetsam's output in the 90s; as if there were some earnest attempt to deliver the band in some sort of stable cubicle/studio sterility to ramp up their chances with the masses that had already fled thrash metal to grunge, alternative and gangsta rap. The guitars, while clean and surgical in their execution, have little staying power, and while Verni's bass flutters along with its ritual, ear rupturing celerity, it seems to follow along with the guitar lines too closely. The band's next drummer, Tim Mallare had joined the fold here, and while he does a respectable job with some decent crashing and thumping, he does not have all that much to work with as far as the songwriting. As for the vocals, Blitz is still quite himself, though they experiment more with multi-tracking, panning effects and other techniques to layer complexity into the music (as in "Just Like You" or "Dreaming in Columbian"), where they should have been working more on making the riffs and choruses stick.
This catches a lot of flak for its 'groove' elements, but let's be clear: there is nothing wrong with a band going down this route if the music is well-written. A lot of great metal albums of any decade include 'grooves' to them, so the fact that this trait has in retrospect become such a pariah of the scene is perplexing to me. In I Hear Black, most of these aspects take on the form of post-Hendrix/Zeppelin rock and roll redolent of what you'd heard from Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity or Black Label Society in this decade. With songs like "Undying", this sort of pacing provides a skeletal structure to which they attempt to add atmosphere by screaming the chorus, and it just doesn't work because the riffing sequences are banal and uninspired. Where a band like Sabbath or Trouble crushed you with its colossal curvature, Overkill has always come across as wimpy when exploring this territory, from the dull earlier "Skullkrusher" to the misfires here like "Spiritual Void" or "Ignorance and Innocence". This album needed speed and excitement, but what manifests is sluggish or mid-paced disinterest...
There are a few points where they attempt to concoct a more clinical, creative and progressive brand of thrash as in "World of Hurt" or "Dreaming in Columbian", but even these are infested with weak arsed riffs that one must struggle to retain in the brain 5-10 minutes after one experiences them. "Shades of Grey" is a trivial power ballad which mutates from cleaner guitars to vapid grooves, and no amount of layered vocal harmonizing is going to save it. The flanged, bass-driven instrumental "Ghost Dance" with its sparse chords and backing drum thump is completely ineffective, and ultimately there is not a single song on the whole of the record that can stand toe to toe with anything on the band's list of staple/classics. I don't think Verni and Blitz were completely compromising the band here, since it was a pretty direct line from its predecessors, but any notion of the album's 'expansiveness' is fully counteracted by its flaws, and while this is not so colossal a misstep as something like Diabolus in Musica or Load, both of which came later, I have no problem identifying I Hear Black as the nadir in Overkill's career. The 'orange and black' attack just wasn't working out for anyone.
“Horrorscope”, the great predecessor of reviewed album “I Hear Black” is a real quintessence of thrash metal. It is a crowning achievement of the first period of the band, where Overkill matured in the mighty and golden 80s. This is well known truth, so why the hell I write such statement? Simply, I can’t write about new album and can’t say something about “Horrorscope”, musicians changed (consciously or not) the music style and their compositions. That’s true that thrash metal was weakening at those days, some bands broke up, some changed the music significantly. These New Yorkers didn’t give up of course, but the final result is terrible and I consider this effort not only as a weak album and the weakest one in Overkill’s discography, but as complete musical defeat.
It’s hard to write, but the only positive element of “I Hear Black” is front cover with two hues (black and orange), they create really good and memorable picture. But… can you believe it? The only positive thing is front cover? On Overkill album??? Yes, the remainder is simply bad and I know that it sounds unbelievably. When I bought a tape and played the stuff, the sound seemed to be broken, really. Still having in mind excellent “Horrorscope”, I couldn’t believe my ears. Production: flat, dry, powerless, emotionless and soulless. Unfortunately these five adjectives refer to the music also. Listening to the songs, maybe there is one track which is above this horrible mediocrity, it is called “Weight Of The World”. Why? Because it is the fastest one here! Of course this song isn’t special or unique in Overkill career yet it is impossible to put it in “Horrorscope” melting pot. The rest is maintained in mid tempo and it makes “I Hear Black” some kind of horrible cradle-song for disobedient child. I die of boredom! For sure the thrashing fire is gone yet I found some influences coming from Black Sabbath (“Spiritual Void”, “Ignorance & Innocence”, “Undying”) when I can hear slow, hard, very simple riffs. In turn “Shades Of Grey” (good title, by the way!) is a mix of Candlemass (but made very poorly) and grunge (Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam…) where I can distinguish three solo leads which of course don’t pluck out this song from musical death. The opening track is based on average riffs and destroyed by lame chants, just like the title track with very poor chorus, but this situation refers to each song: very poor melodic lines, in addition Blitz’s vocals are just mirror images of music and production. Simply: there is no song I can worship, there is no song to be remembered. No power means no thrash, no thrash means no power. And I wonder why they recorded an instrumental “Ghost Dance”, totally useless piece? Questions with no answers attack my mind…
All these aspects make “I Hear Black” the worst album in Overkill career. Really I can’t understand the musical entirety, fast glance at the line-up and I read: Ellsworth, DD Verni, Gant, Cannavino, Mallare. No imitations, no parody, no aliens, I can see creators of “Horrorscope” (except the drummer) so what the hell happened? This is a real secret for me. After five classic unforgettable metal shots Overkill tried to go a new way. Unfortunately this road leads to musical agony and spiritual void. Listening to this album is a real torture for me and I do it very, very seldom. Till nowadays I can’t understand this creative decline. But what is great thing in this kingdom of calamity, the next album called “W.F.O.” brought the music I was waiting for: thrash metal. And in a moment I forgot about this mistake. So let’s play “Where It Hurts” immediately!!!
Overkill have consistently been one of my favorite bands over the years. I found out about them right from the time I started getting into metal, actually because I have a friend who happens a cousin of DD Verni. I've seen the band several times both in the United States and Europe over the years, and I've really come to enjoy their balls out, no nonsense, punky yet thought out brand of thrash that has been both brain crushingly heavy, catchy, and just fun to listen to over the years. Strangely enough though, I never owned an Overkill album until last year. That changed when I was snooping around in a local record store used album bargain bin, and found I Hear Black. It was three dollars, it was Overkill, and I figured I wasn't going to get a better deal, so I bought the album on the spot.
I probably should have looked harder. I've tried, tried, and tried again (just as much as one can try) to find greatness in I Hear Black. Instead, I find mediocrity and a band headed into a steep and long period of decline. Hence why this is what I consider Overkill's "Black Album", an okay sounding turning point for the worst for one of my favorite bands in the thrash metal genre.
The first thing that really struck me out here, right from the first time I listened to it, was the tempo of the music. It's just too slow for Overkill. Yet it's a little too fast for more post-thrash material like Pantera or Machine Head. So what am I supposed to call this? Well, I don't know. What I can tell you is that many of these songs seem to scream to me in Bobby Ellsworth's voice "We want to be played faster!", especially in the intro Dreaming In Columbian, the title track, and World of Hurt. These songs would have sounded so much better played faster, I know it. Had they been played a little bit faster, the riffs would've sounded much heavier and they would've been much more catchy. Instead the band gets dragged down into more down tempo, almost bluesier sounding material and the songs suffer from such. The only song that seems to be right on tempo wise is Weight of the World, which sounds like something that would fit on any Overkill album from the 1980s and probably onward.
Not to mention the fact that the individual performances of the band are just mediocre for the most part. DD Verni's no virtuoso with the bass, but lets be honest here it's just plain too rudimentary. I mean seriously all he plays are root notes and sometimes they do not even sound completely in time with the drums. Sometimes it sounds just so mindless, such as on the wasted filler track Ghost Dance. It's barely adequate. Rob Cannavino and Merritt Gant's guitar parts are way too inconsistent for their own good. The riffs are rudimentary and don't sound heavy enough at the tempo they're played at, especially in the title track, Feed My Head, and Ignorance and Innocence. These riffs just don't sound heavy at all. Merritt's lead guitar work varies from sounding great (Dreaming in Columbian, World of Hurt, Feed My Head, Weight of the World) to just garbage (the title track, Shades of Grey, Ignorance and Innocence). Most of the solos sound like mindlessly improvised blues guitar solos. A few though, especially in the above listed songs, rip just like they did on Horrorscope. Tim Mallare's drumming is rudimentary and not in the least bit exciting.
The only member of Overkill who puts on a good performance throughout the album is Bobby, and this is not even his best vocal performance. He sings in his typical style and doesn't sound any different, which is fine. I like Bobby's maniacal sounding shrieking and wailing and it's a signature part of Overkill's sound. He even has a little emotional crooning here in there (Feed My Head, Shades of Gray). His lyrics are great. These are some of Overkill's more darker sounding songs lyrically. Dreaming in Columbian is a brutal song about overdosing on cocaine, World of Hurt renders an absolutely gory picture of an abuse victim turned abuser, and the album's only "ballad" Shades of Gray shows an amazing picture of a washed up person who wasted his life away. Bobby's performance on this album saves it from being completely flat of an album, but even he is brought down by the tempo and instrumentals. Many of the vocal patterns sound awkward and forced for Bobby, and I know he'd rather be seeing many of these songs faster then they are.
Oh and did I mention the production on the album hurts it to? I know DD likes to have a bass heavy sound so everyone knows he's there, but this is too much. The bass gets in the way of the guitar and the drums and it really hurts. The bass completely overpowers the guitars most of the time, except on only the most guitar centric of songs such as Spiritual Void and Weight of the World. Had the guitars been mixed better and the bass had been pushed back a bit this album would've sounded so much better then it does. The guitars just sound weak and paper thin most of the time and barely can push through the mix. The drums make it through but sound thin, barely above plasticity. Bobby's vocals stand out well surprisingly. Considering how bass heavy this album is, I can't believe how well his vocals sound in the mix.
Few songs really stand out to me on I Hear Black, but the ones that do are certainly memorable. Dreaming In Columbian is probably the best song on the album, sounding perhaps the heaviest and most advanced. It probably could've fit decently on Horrorscope. Spiritual Void, the one song that I could truly describe as "Groove", at least sounds complete the production actually helps this song along to an extent. Weight of the World sounds like classic Overkill and is a pleasant surprise on an album that seems mostly lost in a gray area in the heavy metal spectrum. The rest vary from being filler material (I Hear Black, World of Hurt, Feed My Head) to just garbage (Ignorance and Innocence). Ghost Dance is completely pointless.
I Hear Black is fittingly Overkill's "Black Album", an album that shows the band clearly in transition to a a more groove laden sound and it mostly doesn't work. Bad production, mediocre performances, and a down tempo that isn't down tempoed enough but not fast enough just make this album sound weak. It's clear from this album that at the time Overkill was taking a turn for the worst, a turn that would go on almost until this very day.
This is the point where things started going south for Overkill, After their Epic and arguably their best release "Horrorscope", Overkill took a step down in many departments, Most importantly in the song-writing department. The groove elements started being incorporated into their classic sound, with mixed results. The drums here sound very underwhelming. The "Click" sound just doesn't feel right, The album overall feels like a dull hack-job.
The starting track "Dreaming in columbian" is a decent opener, The guitar riffs here are more reminiscent of their earlier works, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth's vocals sound very good, but his voice overall, Isn't the same anymore. The lyrics are hit and miss, For every good line he spits out, There's a very immature and straight-forward pre-chorus just around the corner. The drumming isn't very technical, Straight forward fast drumming, For the most part are good, except for the sound they produce, They just "click" and go by without making much impact. The solos to be found on this album feel very disconnected with the rest of the song.
There are some blues influences to be found here, Which are good but the best parts are too short. Blitz lets out a soul-ful scream now and then but it just doesn't save the album. He developed the tendency of "talking" over the riffs, Which quite honestly, Doesn't suit him, He's better off singing like the way he did in his "Feel the fire" and "Taking over" days.
This is arguably one of Overkill's most underwhelming releases, It all starts with the album artwork, Which is pretty terrible to be honest, Not that it has anything to do with the music to be honest. There are some failed attempts at social commentary like the track "Ignorance and Innocence", In which the lyrics are downright funny. The riffs are pretty decent. Overkill have lost their song-writing skills by this point, Where the started writing filler lyrics around the riffs. This release is totally ignorable, You're better off getting their later releases
Overkill is a band whose music I've always had a fascination with. Considering they have released an impressive set of albums over the last 20+ years its a hard wonder they have never been included in the "Big 4" of American thrash. Yet in 1993, Overkill did the unthinkable, they jumped ships from tried and true thrash to that of post-thrash, which had picked up considerable steam over the last few years.
Being the band that they are, Overkill's first run with groove metal came out considerably better than most others. It beats out its closest competitor in Testament's The Ritual due to better songwriting and overall better quality. It kicks the hell out of Sepultura's Chaos A.D., also released this same year.
First of all, Overkill didn't completely abandon its thrash metal roots here. Songs like "Dreaming In Columbian," "Just Like You," and "Weight of the World" run in the vein of speed metal, and are interchangable with songs of this caliber off Horrorscope. Some, like "Dreaming In Columbian," are actually better than some of the material found said album. These three tracks are obviously the better of the bunch, as they harken back to Overkill's expertise in the thrash genre.
Aside from the up-tempo tracks, we have some groove metal songs that are designed well enough to keep from becoming tedious. This comes from superior songwriting and developing fun riffs that the listener can get into. Examples of these would be the title track, "Spiritual Void," "World of Hurt," and "Undying." I particularly like "Spiritual Void," as it bears testament to how well Overkill could write mid-tempo groove without it devolving into an all out borefest.
Unfortunately for potential listeners, there is a share of material that is forgettable at best and a horrid concept of the grunge scene at best. "Ignorance and Innocence" falls into the former, its nothing horrible but it isn't very satisfying to someone who needs their metal fix. "Shades of Grey" would be the latter, whose gloomy atmosphere would like nice for a short introduction to a song, or if the track itself was better idealized and shorter. In addition, the guitar tone is muddy, something that the scene was jumping onto pretty quickly in 1993 but not something I really want out of a band like Overkill. In addition, the interlude "Ghost Dance" seems kind of pointless.
In the end, I Hear Black is not nearly as bad as alot of the thrash-gone-groove releases were in the 90's, but I wouldn't call it "essential." I still enjoy this particular album from time to time, as I do all of my Overkill releases. I got my own used copy some years ago for $6, and I don't feel cheated with what I got.
Tops: "Dreaming In Columbian," "Weight of the World," "Just Like You," "Spiritual Void"
I decided to check out this album at the suggestion of friend who already had this in his collection of other Overkill albums as I started to discover their music. Now don’t get me wrong, I love this band for everything they put out. Everything in particular up to and including ‘Horrorscope’ is absolutely classic. The music on this album is different, not bad but DIFFERENT, and I am one that definitely does not judge an album because it strays away from the what is ‘expected’ from a band based on popular opinion of what it ‘should’ sound like (e.g. ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Reign in Blood’, ‘Among The Living’ etc.). This album is absolutely brilliant for what it is, (I tip my hat to user ‘mastodon_t’ for his appreciation and similar outlook). Perhaps it’s not a ‘thrash’ album in the strict sense or what others think Overkill SHOULD be, but it has it own personality and uniqueness nonetheless.
The cover artwork itself gives a good indication of what sonic artwork lies behind it, the songs have a bluesy and slightly morbid fluidity behind them, a kind of sad but powerful and sometime menacing feel. From a musical and production point of view, The drums are beautifully produced, I get the sense of a classic drum ‘kit’, including sharp cymbals and solid snare sound. (as opposed to the ‘metal can’ or ‘box’ snare sounds, and ‘ticky’ bass drums that seem so prevalent on later Overkill albums as well as many other metal recordings). This is a very polished and serious ‘hard rock’ album that I somehow feel sounds like it perhaps may have been recorded in the mid-late 70’s or early 80’s (I absolutely love much of the hard rock and metal recordings released during those eras). The guitars are distorted, sharp and menacing, Mr. Verni’s bass is solid, and Mr. Ellsworth indeed gives a stunning performance on this. It is hard for me to pick out individual tracks, but I would give special mention to the title track, Shades of Grey, Spiritual Void and, but they are really good and flow together well as a whole.
It certainly doesn’t not sound like any other Overkill release both instrumentally and production wise, but if this can be considered an ‘experiment’, I deem it to be one of the most sonically and musically pleasing ones out of any ‘experiment’ that other metal bands have attempted.
Indeed I listen to this baby just as much, if not more than gems like ‘Feel the Fire’, ‘Taking Over’, ‘Years of Decay, and ‘Horrorscope’, and strongly recommend this to anyone with an open minded appreciation for good heavy music from the perspective of an album as a whole and individual work of art. Enjoy!
Even though Horrorscope still was a good Overkill album, with the departure of Bobby Gustafson the band was already suffering immensely compositionally and still to this day hasn’t come close to releasing anything even remotely similar in terms of quality. Gustafson was one of the main songwriters in the band and never since has the band managed to write such classics as can be found on their first 4 albums even when the band tried to go back to their roots on their 21st century releases.
Over the years Overkill also has received a sort of cult-status which honestly isn’t well deserved if one takes in account their entire discography. Yes, I admit the band should have been bigger (more successful) during the eighties, yes, they are still around and playing ‘metal’, but those two elements are not enough to give them a cult status. I never understood those pubescent rules of seniority.
After Horrorscope (which already showed some vague signs of decline in the speed and thrash department) they fell on their faces in 1993 with ‘I Hear Black’. Similar to all those others like Megadeth, Sacred Reich, Anthrax and Flotsam & Jetsam the band went groove and post-thrash with mere incidental convulsions referring to their once glorious past. “Dreaming in Columbian”? a great tune actually on which the band actually pulls it off. It’s groove thrash, but good. The catchiness, riffs and drums really stand out and the song should be on any greatest hits album. Same goes for “Weight of the World” but this song is up tempo and more crossover than actual thrash, speed or groove metal. “Just Like You” also passes the test.
It’s just with all the other songs, ‘Spiritual Void’ being the best example, that the band tries too hard to sound nineties-proof and in the process actually forgot who the were. A darker atmosphere and slow pace, bereft of all energy and enthusiasm which made them so enjoyable in the first place. Serious meandering music for people taking themselves way too seriously in an age when speed and thrash metal were dead, truly dead. Comparing this ‘I Hear Black’ album to everything which made Overkill an enjoyable band during the eighties is like comparing Flotsam&Jetsam’s Quatro to Doomsday For The Deceiver. Useless! Could as well be an entirely different band.
It was 1993 and all once glorious thrash metal bands cocooned or vanished. 3 good songs out of 11 is bad, very bad.
Overkill has sort of a legendary cult status as the one thrash band that stuck it out and didn’t start writing trite in order to remain prominent in the age of “The Black Album” and “Vulgar Display Of Power”. While I consider this outfit to basically be among the best in the business and a cut above the members of the Big 4, they don’t have a flawless record, and this album is a testament to that. Much like Dio’s “Angry Machines”, this album showcases a great band performing badly by venturing too far out of their element and occasionally falling flat on their faces in the process. It’s still a cut above what just about every other thrash band was doing around this time, with maybe the exception of Slayer, but compared to the amazing material heard on “The Years Of Decay” and their previous endeavor “Horrorscope”, this leaves a lot to be desired.
In many ways this album inspires a lot of anger in me because things start off really well, but starts to deteriorate into a 1 band contest of who can groove the listener to death the fastest. “Dreaming In Columbian” is all but the perfect manifestation of what makes this band so great, kicking things off at full speed with a bludgeoning though fairly simple riff set. The intro and slow sections aren’t quite as dramatic as “Time To Kill” or “Deny The Cross”, but that same sense of buildup and release is perfectly maintained. “Weight Of The World” takes more of a straight lined speed approach, and carries the most memorable riff set on the album; very reminiscent of the better work done in the 1990-1991 by bands like Testament and Vio-Lence. “Just Like You” has a more rudimentary approach in line with the more Punk-like Thrash bands, and is carried very much by Blitz’s wicked vocal delivery.
Now if this album had focused more on material like the 3 aforementioned songs, this album might have been better than “Horrorscope”, but unfortunately the groove disease decided to screw it up for everybody, damn Bob Rock and Dimebag Darrel and their metallic flavored bubble gum drivel. But to cease in digressing, it is important to note that in spite of writing 2/3rd of an album loaded with down tempo, repetitive half-thrash, things mostly avoid becoming overtly terrible. As evident in their recent releases, Overkill carries this style of metal better than most because they write riffs that fun enough to bear endless repetition and have a vocalist that can maintain a listener’s interest after the music has gone stale. Good examples of the band maintaining a fairly respectable groove going include “I Hear Black”, “World Of Hurt” and “Spiritual Void”.
The places where things truly fall apart are relatively few, but when they do, analogies like a train wreck in a world built out of glass just don’t truly do justice to the horror that ensues. “Shades Of Gray” just lands like a ton of bricks on one of the most vapid guitar riffs ever put to music, not to mention to exhibiting the warning signs of guitar mud-butt from getting way to ambitious with the down tuning. Blitz’s vocals aren’t as grating as Anselmo’s, the latter of whose vocals would seem more in place here, but they can’t salvage this at all. “Ignorance And Innocence” is also really boring and drags enough to get lapped by a one legged turtle, not to mention that the principle riff is so ridiculously similar to “I’m Broken” that I laugh my ass off at the thought of Dimebag looking at this song and going “Oh man, I smell a hit here, all I’ve got to do is alter this a little and put some crazier solos on top of it and I’ll be able to buy that gold plated beard braider that I’ve always wanted.”
I can’t fully throw this album under the bus, despite the fact that it would be fun to see a couple of these songs get crushed like an ant under a steel anvil, there are just too many redeeming qualities to it. It’s an easy album to hate because it makes you care about it enough to be interested, but then doesn’t live up to what it promises. Overkill fans and old school thrash fans are encouraged to look for this in the discount bin, preferably at $7 or below. It’s about equal to Death Angel’s “Act III”, and a huge step above most of what was called thrash in 1993, but as that tired cliché says, that isn’t saying much.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 31, 2009.
One hot, steamy summer day, back in southern Italy around ten years ago. School wasn't even an option, so the whole bunch of little bastards that me and my band-mates were decided to go for the proverbial joy-ride. So, beers at hand, weed in our pockets and a brand new Pioneer in our car we headed for the sun-hammered coastal roads. One stop-off first, though: our true-blue Cd shop. At the time we had just discovered Overkill with Necroshine and were all into that album, so we looked for more 'kill stuff. I picked "W.F.O.", our singer got "I Hear Black".
During the whole morning we listened to both Cd's once and without paying too much attention; but, when we got back home, each listened to his Cd with more attention. I loved mine (W.F.O.) so much that I had to call the other guy and tell him. His response to "I Hear Black", instead, was completely on the flip-side: he thought it was too slow, soft and polished for an Overkill album. He just didn't dig it.So I proposed a temporary trade, so that he could enjoy "W.F.O." and I could find out what the problem with "I Hear Black" supposedly was.
Well, after two listens at most, I ended up liking "I Hear Black" just as much as "W.F.O.", if not more. It blew me away. Not because of its power (this album is rather soft and slow, much weaker than most Overkill releases, that's true... but that doesn't have to be necessarily a bad thing), not because of the sound or anything like that; no, the songs are simply GREAT! I remember myself sitting in an armchair, facing the blue sky standing out of my window and thinking: "How can that fucking bloke not like this???"
First thing that grabbed my attention were the solos: I think that the solos to songs like "World Of Hurt", "Dreaming In Columbian" and "Feed My head" are just perfect. So were most of the riffs in this album. Strangely enough, the most effective and powerful riffs in here are the most simple and straightforward ones, like the killer grooves that carry most of "Feed My Head", the main riffs in Dreaming In Columbian" and "Just Like You", the intermezzos of "World Of Hurt" and "Spiritual Void, etc.
Tim Mallare's drumming just perfectly fits every measure of these songs; this is probably not his best performance as a metal drummer, but most certainly his most unique. You can pick up any other Overkill album and you will find Mallare's typical drumming, but nowhere you will find anything quite like what he does on "I Hear Black". There's a lot of feeling here, something that probably simply wasn't required on the following albums, which were much more groovethrash oriented (with the exception of a couple of tracks on "The Killing Kind", which is the record that most of all gets close to this one in terms of mood).
D.D.'s bass is always audible, always well produced and it sounds like it's jumping out of the speakers and going for the nearest throat. Very good work from him in the bluesy-southern rock-ish ballad "Shades Of Grey", where our dear DD hits home with a beautiful pattern of chords that, mixed with those roughly distorted guitars, created some beautiful and effective harmonies that fit the lyrics to the point of perfection. If you listen to it while actually smoking a joint, you could even start seeing those cockroaches crawling under your feet.
As for the vocals... well, I always loved Blitz' voice. Some could say that it's too raspy, some others that he sounds like a screeching tyre... I don't care, never did, never will. To me, he's an amazing metal singer and his voice is most certainly one of the most distinctive in metal. On the other hand, he showed on previous releases such as "The Years Of Decay" and "Horrorscope" that his taste for melody wasn't any less evident (listen to the title-ballad of the former and to "Soulitude" on the latter); he made that so much clearer to everybody with his performance on "I Hear Black".
His performance here is actually one of the main reasons why this record is so special: Blitz is taking his singing skills to the next level with each song passing, he creates great melodies and gives deep, personal interpretations of his bleak, murky lyrics. He sings about hopelessness, mistrust, self-affliction and isolation and, while he does that, his voice gives you that exact vibe (and sometimes the actual picture) that I bet was his state of mind back then. Really an amazing stretch for a metal vocalist, I think.
About the sounds on this album: I heard all kind of crap from its detractors on how bad this record supposedly sounds… Well, I really don’t know what the problem with these people is but I can tell you: the first time I heard this album I thought that the guitars sounded simply AMAZING and now, ten years later, I am still standing by my opinion. They’re crushing enough to be called thrash and low-tuned, menacing and oppressive enough to state a difference and leave their mark as a successful experiment in this band’s discography. The drums sound just PERFECT! I wish my tom-tom’s sounded like Mallare’s. Hear the album intro to believe me! Fucking frightening.
In addition to this, there’s the fact that, unlike on “W.F.O.”, “Horrorscope” and “The Years Of Decay”, on here the instruments all blend together without disturbing each other and actually lending each other strength and substance. In other words, I think that Alex Perialas, contrary to what’s almost universally believed, did a great job on this record, and part of the merit of its uniqueness goes to him.
So, going back to my personal story with this album... after a couple of listens I said to my singer: "Don't worry mate: you don't have to like this album. You can give it to me, if it's not your cup of tea!", and so he did, eh eh. His loss is my gain, I guess!
Who should go and check this record out, then? I recommend this album to all of those metal-heads who aren't stuck into genre restrictions and are happy to see their favourite bands experiment and develop in their sound and song-writing style, those like myself who don’t think that Metallica should never have recorded Load, for example. In other words, if you're a square you won't like it, but it won’t matter because "I Hear Black" will still kick ass!
This album is often to looked upon as a "sellout" album for Overkill. Similar to Metallica's Black Album, or Anthrax's Sound of White Noise. That opinion does have some substance to it considering that this album was made in 1993, and by 93, thrash and heavy metal in genreal lost most of it's popularity due to the rise of grunge and the creation of groove metal. Bands like Sepultura and Anthrax were sheding their thrash metal style, and going for a more groovy approach in order to maintain their popularity. However, Overkill did not infact "sellout" as there's still a good amount of thrash on here mixed with some groove. This album is also unfairly judged as Overkill's worst album. There's alot of great songs on this album that keep it strong as a whole, and it's better than what they would do later in the 90s (besides W.F.O.)
My favorite songs on here are Dreaming In Columbian, World Of Hurt, Weight Of The World, and Just Like You. The formal two are catchy, and have some nice riffs and drumming, and the latter two are nice thrashers that wouldn't sound out of place on Horrorscope or W.F.O. Spiritual Void is also a good song. It's groove metal done right, it has almost a bluesy Back Sabbath vibe to it. Shades of Grey is a ballad that sounds almost grunge like, but it's done right, and is quite enjoyable.
However, it's songs like Undying, Ignorance & Innocence, and Ghost Dance that really bring this album down. The formal two are just typical groove metal songs that tend to get very boring, pretty similar to what Pantera would do on Vulgar Display of Power. Ghots dance is just an interlude that serves no purpose on the album.
If you're looking for a pure thrash assult of an album, or someone who is looking for their first Overkill alubm, look for their first five albums instead. However, if you have some tolerance for groove and/or have an open mind, that get this. It may not be the most consistent album, and it sure as fuck isn't the thrashiest either, but it's still quiet enjoyable, and underrated, and pisses on alot of stuff that came out during this time.
There is a great injustice being done this album by the percentage listed here, and it is my intent to convince you that I Hear Black is DEFINITELY worth your money. I mean, obviously you should buy it, because it's Overkill and they fucking rule, but those of you who do not subscribe to the "Anything that says Overkill on it deserves my purchasing power" philosophy should know that there are more reasons to buy this one than the name on the cover.
Okay, I'll get it out of the way - the production sucks shit. Rob Cannavino (at least, I think it's Rob, not Merrit Gant) is almost completely buried, Tim Mallare sounds like he's playing in his garage, and DD Verni is not so much playing bass as he is supplying a constant thudding noise. It's the worst metal production this side of ...And Justice For All; but just like Justice, however, there is a brilliant (although not quite as awesome as the aforementioned Metallica opus) album buried within the gigantic ass-vaccuum that is Alex Perialas's mixing board.
The title and gothic cover art are a good indication of what lies within - music that is weighty, dark, morbid, and gloomier than the online diary of every emo kid in my poetry class put together (but not a tenth of a percent as bitchy, thank God). Opening ode to cocaine "Dreaming In Colombian" is one of the faster tracks on the album, and begins the tradition of letting Blitz carry the melody. It should be noted that Bobby was not mentioned in the tirade against the production above for good reason - Perialas's one saving grace here is that he mixed the vocals far in the front, so that Blitz's best total performance to that point rose above the cluttered, tinny instruments.
The album's top five tracks follow "Colombian" in quick succession - the grooving, demonic title track, steadly pounding single "World of Hurt" (featuring one of the best lines on the whole album, "I know stones don't bleed"), gloomy crusher "Feed My Head," one of their better ballads in the lament to apathy "Shades of Gray," and the blues metal-ish, instantly catchy "Spiritual Void," the album's top "hit." Things continue in a similar vein after that, a bit of a letdown after the stellar first half but picking up with "Undying" near the end.
Overall, this is the most underrated album of an extremely underrated band, and with a thorough remastering job - or even better, re-recording (Dave Linsk doing those solos? DAMN.) - could provide Horrorscope and The Years of Decay with some competition for the top of the Overkill heap. Definitely worth your money.
Some of this album is really quite good, for two reasons. A few songs sound like typical Overkill. A few others have more groove, and in general are quite nicely done. Other songs, though, just blow ass, and one is inclined to wonder what Overkill are thinking.
The typical numbers include Dreaming in Columbian, Weight of the World, and Just Like You. These would not be out of place on any other Overkill album.
Other songs which sound good are Spiritual Void, which has a monster main riff, and I Hear Black, which progresses nicely at medium speed, and then speeds up a the end. Some of the other songs in this vein are decent but forgettable, including Undying and Feed my Head.
There are a few really lame songs on here: Shades of Grey is totally unspeakably hideous, and just because you are the first thrash band doesn't mean that you can write swill like this. I will find you and kill you, Bobby Blitz. That is, if I can find my glasses first....
Also, Ghost Dance is a throw-away little interlude, and Ignorance and Innocence does little for me. Overall a pretty spotty album, the low point of Overkill's career - but hey, it's 1993, metal is practically dead, even this manages to shit on a lot of stuff released around this time.