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Before Overkill became the thrash legends of the '80s that we all know of, they put out two demos before dropping their first record, Feel The Fire. Power In Black was the first of those two demos, released in 1983. Here we are given five excellent tracks, some that would later make it onto their debut album, and some that didn't.
Starting off this record, we are greeted by multiple things that would become pretty standard for this band and distinctive characteristics that they would have in the future. It starts with a fade in guitar riff, that is very speedy and simple. Following that up are the vocals that are delivered by Blitz in a more monotone than normal output. That doesn't really last long, as he lets out a shriek, picking up energy along with all of the instruments, and speed takes its course as well. Here we are given a lot of speedy guitar work, in the riffs and the solos alike. The solo in "Death Rider" is definitely superior to the others, as it is fast and shreds a little more, plus it's a little more audible. That track is my favorite track on here, as it's one of the fastest ones and displays a sound closest to what Overkill will use in the future. The balance of instrumentation is the best on this track, because everything is heard well and nothing overlaps. Meaning the vocals aren't too loud, the guitar is always heard and not drowned out by other parts, etc. Plus the writing structure is also better on this track, and it flows very nicely. Another one of my favorites is "Overkill" because I think it's written well. I really like the rapid changes in tempo and mood here, from the slower beginning, to picking up speed, and the chorus sounding even different from that. It seems a little more harsh and angry than the verses do. There are some flaws with the production work on this one, but more on that later.
With a lot of these fast riffs, we are given an excellent delivery of vocals throughout this demo, as the vocals sound very clean, yet loud and heavy at the same time. Just because the vocals aren't growled or screamed doesn't make them any less fierce and heavy. Although he definitely does do a fair share of screaming at some parts. The layout of a lot of it is great, because not all of the vocals are sang nearly as fast as the riffs, which makes an interesting performance, from combining the two speeds. This is evident in some parts of "Raise The Dead", as it switches from slower vocals overtop of the fast guitar riffs, and then changing to faster ones. Either way, it sounds great, because he has a rather distinct, high pitched voice that not a lot of frontmen could imitate. The only problem here is that sometimes the vocals dominate all of the sound, and other instruments are not heard at times. This happens on the first track "Overkill", and I personally think that this song was a little better when they dropped it on their debut. The bass also overlaps the guitar at times, which is somewhat surprising, as that seems rare anymore. But it happens on here, and honestly, I think stuff like that is just part of the demo listening experience. Production is obviously gonna be lower than average, and I can't be too hard on that. I will say though, it is definitely better than some demo productions out there, and isn't too hard to listen to. Everything still sounds clear, and is very enjoyable.
Ultimately, this is something that any fan of thrash metal, and definitely any fan of Overkill needs to hear at least once, as it was one of the most popular demos of the '80s and I look at it as a piece of heavy metal history, along with Metallica's No Life Til Leather. This would give the audience a feel of what to expect when the band would start putting out studio albums, at least until they make some style changes in the '90s. Aside some producing flaws, which is understandable, everything on here makes for a great listening experience.
Man is this primitive or what? Power In Black results in something of a shock if you dive right into it after experiencing Overkill's modern output. While most of these songs would appear on the debut full-length two years later, the incendiary thrash architecture that the band would later be hailed as pioneering is already undoubtedly present here in spades. By this point the classic Overkill lineup had already been assembled, so the three tracks present on Power in Black that would be included on the debut are stylistically similar in function and form to their more modern counterparts. The only significant differentiation manifests itself as Ellsworth's vocal performance. His screeching highs are present here, but his voice matured a lot between this and Feel the Fire. His inflection is so high-pitched here that he almost sounds like a female during portions of "Overkill" and the obscure "Death Rider". The mere fact that he was able to bust out his operatic tone here in 1983 is impressive in its own right.
While "Raise the Dead" isn't my favorite song here, I prefer the shorter, concise intro used here to the longer, atmospheric prelude included on Feel the Fire. The band actually used the intro present here to open many of their shows during this period. Ellsworth's demonic cackle would come over the PA system and the band would come in immediately afterward. "Death Rider" exhibits the highest prevalence of speed metal, ripping by at an efficient pace and ends up segueing potently into "Raise the Dead". Regardless, my favorite track here has to be "The Beast Within". Overkill still busts this song out live from time to time, and for good reason. The thrash break after Ellsworth roars "Unleash the beast within!" is probably the most impressive isolated moment on the demo.
Being a demo cassette recording, it would be pointless for me to be critical of the production values. Regardless, the guitar tone is exceedingly thin, oftentimes getting washed out by Verni's pluggy bass. Verni isn't as upfront or vehement as usual here on Power in Black, so this has to be prior to the point where Overkill decided to rely on his roaring bass tones to bolster the rhythm section. Rat Skates sounds okay, again delivering a solid performance that is technically superior to his effort on the first full-length. I still have no idea what his problem was on Feel the Fire. as this proves he had the chops far earlier.
Retroactively, it is easy for me to say that I am not a fan of the three cuts here that later appeared on Feel the Fire. I suppose that at this point in the band's history, the more mid-paced, doomy numbers were the songs that best fit Overkill's stage presence and atmosphere. "Overkill" is without a doubt the strongest of the three, featuring some of the more enterprising moments and an unconventional song structure. These are qualities that remained a cornerstone in The Overkill Saga, all the way through "Overkill V...The Brand". Here's to another five chapters, Overkill seals your fate!
It's an unmistakably modern idea of ending a story at the beginning, conjuring up images of recent fits of asymmetrical storytelling in the mold of Christopher Nolan's "Memento", but it's where the author of this review found himself about 5 years ago, after hearing literally every LP staring with the debut "Feel The Fire" right up to the recently released "Immortalis". After getting an ear-full of the groovy, modern character of Overkill's material since "Horrorscope", it's a foregone conclusion that hearing the first official demo offering of this band in "Power In Black" will immediately conjure up comparisons to the obvious speed/thrash character that typified the first two LPs. But more intriguing than the contrast between it and later releases is the close proximity that it shares with two of thrash metal's most iconic formative offerings, namely Metallica's "No Life 'Til Leather" and the 1982 Exodus demo featuring guitarist Kirk Hammett, and also how closely it matches both in terms of sheer quality and intensity.
To dispense with the obvious, this is an independent demo from the early 80s that comes with a lot of the usual archaic production baggage that tends to follow any other. The vocals are heavily reverbed and occasionally fade off into the background as the guitars and drums will occasionally come dangerously close to clipping. Surprisingly enough, this approach serves Blitz's sleazy howl far better than it does Baloff or Hetfield, and gives his occasional primal shrieks the extra sustain needed to fulfill the intended role of a raving mad warlock. All the instruments are audible, and the bass maintains a rather commanding presence despite largely keeping to the root notes of each riff, though the ending of "Death Rider" gives D.D. a golden opportunity to channel Steve Harris that is obviously not passed up. The only thing on here that comes up as a bit weak and disorganized is the level of the cymbals in relation to the rest of the drums, giving the album a bit of a tinny character that is perhaps a slight step lower in quality to the production job that went into "Kill 'Em All".
It's interesting to note that while everything on here has an appropriately early 80s feel to it, some of the material actually proves to be a little ahead of its time, particularly insofar as "Raise The Dead" and "The Beast Within". Both of these songs date back to 1981 when the band had a brief run as a 5-piece, and "The Beast Within" has a particularly driving thrash character to it that rivals the heavy edged riffing of "Four Horsemen" (aka "The Mechanix") and "Metal Militia", both of which were arguably the earliest examples of full out thrashing in Metallica's early days. If nothing else, it points to a parallel evolution on different sides of America, drawing on the same Motorhead and NWOBHM influences while likely not having any direct contact with each other. Interestingly enough Bobby Gustafson's lead work has an uncanny similarity to the frenetic yet reasonably structured character of Dave Mustaine's contributions to Metallica's lead arsenal on "No Life 'Til Leather", with maybe an occasional reference to the sort of whammy bar crazy noise that typifies a Kerry King solo.
The rest of the contents on here are largely tied to early speed metal orthodoxy, lacking the sort of heavy ended punch of the two aforementioned songs, but more than compensating with an enticing blend of speed and haunting melodic contour. The version of the band's self-titled song "Overkill" that appears on here is musically identical to the eventual version that was on "Feel The Fire", but Blitz's vocal work is a tiny bit cleaner and the tempo is slightly faster. "There's No Tomorrow" starts off sounding kind of like a looser and simpler version of "Phantom Lord" with a more nimble vocal performance, almost as if a mid-80s German speed metal band had gotten a hold of the song and dialed the production quality job back a few years. But the one song on here that really grabs the listener and refuses to let go is the much lauded "Death Rider", which has all the infectious catchiness of an Iron Maiden song, but at a considerably faster tempo and a relentless double bass assault that rivals material heard out of Motorhead at their fastest. Picture a single guitar version of Maiden's "Purgatory" melded to an up tempo Judas Priest song and you won't be too far off.
It's perhaps a bit ironic that the imagery associated with Overkill at this point in their history has some parallels with the more exaggerated stage presence of bands like Venom and Slayer, given that they aren't cited as influencing either of the extreme metal styles that the latter two are often credited with inspiring, but black was pretty much a universal color in metal circles from its very inception. But whatever one's preferred sub-genre might be, this is the sort of historically relevant piece of metal history that any fan of the overall style should hear at least once, and it's an obviously essential purpose for any fan of Overkill, young or old. Time to dust off those old leather jackets and bang your head clean off your shoulders, because Overkill hasn't left the building yet.
“…answering only the master’s call, by the crack of dawn, he’ll have killed them all…”
Once again I have to throw confetti in honor of those wonderfully small and well-meaning semi-local independent metal radio programs that gladly shattered the calm of weekend witching hours by conjuring some of the best new metal hardly anyone had ever heard. To some of us these shows were more like events - waited all week for this…okay, radio station’s coming in clear n’ crap-free – check. Working tapedeck with volume up – check. Cassette’s rewound and has nuthin’ worth three cents on it – check. Awesome, now I can kick back and work on Dungeons & Dragons in peace ‘til show time. We didn’t only tape these shows to listen to the next day or later in the week. No sir, we taped them so no metal morsel escaped capture. It was the thrill of the hunt as well as the trophy afterward. Some of my fondest memories are these, ones that helped handcraft my adoration for this music, ones senility better not take someday.
Okay, the stuff that ended up on my tapes wasn’t always the best, but any unknown metal that snagged any kind of radio play back in the early/mid-‘80s was cause for at least mild celebration to those who really cared, and to further snag it from there for personal use and enjoyment (and for free, no less) delighted the shit outta this jobless mid-teenager in the middle of the night. More thrilling was when some of these songs turned out to be halfway decent keepers. Then when a really good one crawled out from under a rock…fuh’get about it. Chances are I’ll never forget “Death Rider”.
Yep, Overkill and “Death Rider” stole that particular show. Since then the song has been hardwired into the band’s top five and helps make Power in Black a demo I look upon with some of my kindest blue eyes. To these ears, Power in Black is one of those initial dirt-flying charges of the new breed. Maybe at fourteen I hadn’t even heard a quarter of what was really out there, but for some reason “Death Rider” even by itself was a horn-howl call to something, oh I dunno…more, and throbbed on a different level from what was already annoying my parents. It was just really cool, like Anvil with a better story and a more eccentric storyteller, and needless to say I was eager to hear more from these guys. But I digress.
In hindsight this five-tracker is the fairly normal, then-traditional fare smeared with the rowdier and often more menacing grease of hardcore-y punk. For some at the time it was close to that Irish Spring soap moment in the shower, an advancement of the only style of metal that was available to a din more bruiser-tempered and wild-eyed, made electric by this new order of shagheaded miscreant like the ones wholly visible in the front cover band shot.
To no real surprise, the festivities hoof it off the line with a more or less conventional stride. “Overkill” is a story arc of mid-paced lyrical enthusiasm punched home by hasty n’ tasty mid-passages, meanwhile traditionally-wired “The Beast Within”, while hefty in itself, holds up the proverbial fan the upcoming shit will hit.
The demo’s cage explodes with the flying debris of “There’s No Tomorrow”, the unusually large coke line laid out on the cassette case that carves its name in the drying concrete of the yet-identified thrash metal style. I don’t give a hoot about what is said denying it, but this early ‘83er alone gives Overkill credence as extra-early spreaders of the deadly style’s spore. Shit, call it speed metal as well if it makes ya happy, ‘cause the styles are like bruthas from different muthas, so I don’t see the point in splitting these hairs here.
Smartly following this is great galloper “Death Rider”, a completely stirring tune with a perfect story-to-riff ratio that’s propelled by this ‘Blitz’s’ elevated and confidently clean pipes which haunt with a kind of haphazard, almost wounded underbreath. It’s these mechanisms that personally color it not only the most exquisite steed on the five-tracker, but in perhaps the band’s vast discography. Slamming the final sonic stamp on the act’s soon-to-be-staple style is rambling “Raise the Dead”, the first fecal flora on ‘85’s Feel The Fire.
So with Power in Black we sit in the coziness of sonic metal traditions, the warmth of appealing narrative yarns, and the heat of speed metal surprise, and we would luckily hear these three seasons flower in the future shaping sounds of Overkill.
Overkill - the only logical fifth column in the Big Five of American Thrash, a construct that may only exist in some alternate paradise, I guess.
“…I am Overkill, the devil’s wrath!”
After many years of playing live without recording anything, the first thrash metal band finally went into the studio to record some of their songs. And although they still need some improvement the outcome is pretty good.
The sound is obviously of poor quality, with a very weak drum sound, equalizing and mixing mistakes, etc but that will affect nothing since it's a fucking demo, you know? The first track is not the Motörhead song they named themselves after, but a track of their own. Way better than the 1985 version found in the debut album mainly because of Bobby's vocals being more aggressive and the guitar tone much more rawer and vicious (and not only because of the production).
Actually the vocals sound quite good for a demo, since they are very clear and at the front of the mix, something quite surprising as most demos bury the vocals. The guitar work is pure primitive thrash, with a heavy NWOBHM influence but simplistic too - most riffs are easy to play but very effective. Just look at the main riff in There's No Tomorrow... anyone playing a guitar for couple of years will execute that riff, but tell me it doesn't kick ass. The slow Sabbath-esque part in the middle of that song doesn't work too much for me, but the solo makes up for it. Actually most lead work is a pile of wankery going nowhere, which I find is the main flaw in this demo (and in most thrash), but this particular solo is very good.
The drum work is furious and the guy really puts a lot of effort, using his double bass in a way that will get you going, and though he doesn't throw a lot of fills and whatnot, it's still nothing to bitch about. The energy level here is through the roof.
Overall, this one is a strong demo that should show to everyone how thrash was meant to sound like. You can already see here the problems of thrash that ultimately led to its fall about ten years later, namely the future popularity (ahh… the mainstream destroys everything… ) and the fact that every pothead can form a thrash band, but that shouldn't detract from the listening experience.
It's their first demo, can we give them a bit of a break? Three songs on here would make it onto the first album: There's No Tomorrow, Raise the Dead, and Overkill. All three sound similar to the album version, the main difference being Blitz's vocals being not nearly as strong. The other two songs are Death Rider and The Beast Within.
A bit of trivia: The Beast Within is quite possibly the first ever thrash song. They wrote it in 1981 or so, and that main break after the chorus is about as thrash as it gets. It's otherwise a pretty average song, something that would not be out of place among the first few Exodus compositions that didn't make it to Bonded by Blood, or even some Venom material.
The last song is Death Rider. This is the masterpiece of the album, and actually is oneof the best songs Overkill has ever done. It's formulaic as fuck 80s speed metal, but for 1983 it's actually pretty innovative. It sounds like Hell Bent for Leather intensified up to another notch - almost to Freewheel Burning level, with that main melodic solo in the middle. It's maybe Overkill's catchiest song, and is definitely the best on this demo, and thus the appropriate choice to represent Overkill on "Metal Massacre V".