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I promise I'll stop. I promise this is the last negative Overkill review. It's for my sake as much as yours, but their bad albums really got away with murder for the better part of a decade in terms of internet reviewing, and I simply aimed to right that wrong.
But BH! The Years of Decay is one of the good albums! You say so yourself that it's within the window of good music they made!
While yes, it's true that the rule of thumb that "every thrash band that was good in the 80s got shitty in the 90s" is just as applicable with Overkill, it's worth noting that they did have a stinker in the middle of their streak of classics. I know, I know, The Years of Decay is often considered one of their best, if not their unequivocal apex, but I just can't get behind it, and it's for reasons that didn't make full sense until the 00s rolled around. I've said it before, but thrash was never great because of Overkill, Overkill was great because of thrash, and it shows here. They were never blazing trails, they were never ahead of their time (because you and I know damn well they weren't playing "Rotten to the Core" back in 1979), the main reasons I ever felt like they stood out was because of DD's trebly bass tone, Blitz's wild haired shrieking, and the fact that they were (and still are) the most overtly punk influenced of all the classic thrash bands. Overkill's good albums are so good that it's easy to forget that they were always following trends.
Don't believe me? That's okay, you don't have to, but did you notice that their first two albums had heaps of influence from the NWOBHM scene? All the rough speed metal and overt melody was quite reminiscent of another classic thrash album from a few years prior (I'll give you a hint: it starts with "S" and ends with "how No Mercy"). Granted, that's sorta indicative of every early American thrash band excepting Exodus it seems, but did you notice that their groove phase started around the same time that Metallica had their famous sellout and Anthrax started focusing on hard groove instead of rollicking speed metal? Did you notice that coincidentally around the same time Megadeth stopped pandering to radio play so blatantly and started playing thrash-lite again, Overkill just so happened to do the exact same thing? Did you notice how they started playing full on thrash again only after Death Magnetic and Endgame came out and rethrash was in full swing and seemed to be at its apex?
The Years of Decay fits into this whole spiel because it's the exact same thing. They've been doing this for their entire career. Wherever American thrash was going, Overkill was following. Feel the Fire and Horrorscope are phenomenal albums so we tend to give them a pass, but I've always had something of a bone to pick with The Years of Decay. This? This is Metallica worship of the highest order, and it's hilarious because the venn diagram of "people who worship the ground Overkill walks on" and "people who do the same to Metallica" are damn near in separate countries, but it's true. Overkill's fourth album is loaded with Metallica-isms, from the structuring of the album, to the sudden inclusion of longer, slower, doomier songs with extended acoustic passages, to the production, to the actual riffs themselves, almost every note of this album carries the unmistakable scent of Metallica's trebuchet to fame.
Now I'm not gonna sit here and say that they're a bunch of unimaginative riff thieves, but I will say that it's probably not a coincidence that "Time to Kill" opens up almost exactly like "Battery" if it skipped the first two acoustic repeats and started right when the distortion started to follow the melody, and that "Evil Never Dies" starts with and extended intro of swelling strings nigh indistinguishable to those of "Damage Inc.", and that "Elimination" uses the exact same riff as "Master of Puppets", and et cetera et cetera ad infinitum. Overkill wasn't trying to "steal" anything, but they were clearly trying to replicate the success of Master of Puppets and And Justice for All with this one. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the similarities to Justice since it came out only a year prior to this one, but the parallels are there regardless. That's not to say this is a bad album because of these things, it's almost a bad album in spite of them, to be honest, but it's a bugaboo that's been driving me ape for years now.
I've always hated Overkill's attempts at gloominess, and the three 8+ minute songs are all stellar examples as to why. Either they just plod along for what feels like hours with nothing cool happening, or they hide a really god damned good riff or two in the middle of a weepingly agonizing snorefest. "Who Tends the Fire" rides on a simple groove that could work if it wasn't so repetitive and incessant, but near the four and half minute mark, the song just throws its gloves down and starting swinging for the fences. What the hell man? That part rules, that riff totally smokes, it's a great burst of thrash intensity burrowed in the middle of an otherwise mediocre and overlong groove song. "Playing With Spiders / Skullkrusher" drones on and on and on for ten torturous minutes, riding on a goddamn funeral thrash chug with absolutely no energy or power behind it, until over five minutes go by and it suddenly morphs into "Beyond the Black" by Metal Church. It's frustrating to sit through full song lengths of bland non-riffs before being treated to one incredible one in the bridge before the coda comes by to stink things up again, especially when there are song scattered around that prove the band's ability to keep things fresh and fun.
Yeah, the album isn't full of losers, there are plenty of things I like to be found here. "Evil Never Dies", despite being an east coast reimagining of "Damage Inc.", is one of the all time great Overkill songs. The main riffs are blisteringly fast and precise, with aggression pouring out of every riff with reckless abandon. The chorus just throws caution to the wind and blows everything away in a furious cyclone of vitriol, with Blitz bringing home one of his greatest performances with the stop start madness of "AS IT COMES! AWAKEN ME! IS IT DONE!". It sounds like his lungs are going to burst and his corneas are going to detach themselves, and I love every second of it. The bridge features one of the most crushing riffs the band would ever write, and the slow crescendo of malice with Blitz raining down a litany of abuse upon the subject of the song, climaxing with a near orgiastic release of venom, stands as my all time favorite moment in Overkill's entire discography (and that's keeping in mind that Feel the Fire is one of my all time favorite albums and every song on that one is a flawless classic). "I Hate" is a fantastic burst of punk energy, and "Elimination" is a thrash classic and live staple for a reason, with instantly memorable riffs and lyrics delivered with a malicious sneer. There are classic riffs and leads abound, and in a bubble there is a perfectly great six song EP hidden in here with three painfully overlong trainwrecks.
The problem is that, just as I said, it sorta needs to be viewed in a bubble, because the instant you apply the context of where thrash metal was in 1989, a lot of the genius starts to unravel. "Elimination", for as great of an anthem as it is, is just far too blatant with its influences. Yes, the main riff is the "Master of Puppets" riff. No, it's not different because it's slightly faster and two of the sixteen notes are different, that's the same fucking excuse Vanilla Ice used when he jacked the beat from "Under Pressure", don't give me that shit. Even the leads take liberal cues from the genre originators, with bits of the solos being lifted almost note for note from "Battery" and "Jump in the Fire". It's a nice touch to have a short burst of punk fueled aggression in the third track slot, but I mean, that's kinda what "Motorbreath" did. Sure, that could just be a coincidence, but when you consider that the first and last tracks are introduced and structured so similarly to their counterparts on Master of Puppets, AND the second track on each album starts with the same fucking riff, you start to look for the other similarities between the two records. "The Thing That Should Not Be" is replaced with "Skullkrusher", "Welcome Home" is replaced with "Who Tends the Fire", "Disposable Heroes" is shortened and replaced with "Birth of Tension", basically the only song that I never immediately drew a parallel back to the Bay Area stalwarts is "Nothing to Die For", and apart from a funky bass break that song stands as the clear filler track in terms of the six fast songs. Even little things like the precision in the sharp downstrokes that sound like Gustafson's right arm was replaced with a forty ton sewing machine just scream Hetfield to me. At this point maybe I'm just looking for things, but it's noticeable once you enter extreme nitpick mode and they're hard to ignore afterwards.
I know it probably seems like I'm calling this a copy of the legendary 1986 release, but I honestly don't think that's the case entirely. It's less like Overkill traced over a picture that Metallica drew, and more like them plugging in Overkill brand components into a template that Metallica originally drew up before switching some parts around and running with it. The riffs are like 90% Overkill, with only one glaring "homage" that stretches the definition to dangerous territory, the attitude is the inimitable Jersey swagger that Overkill always had, the vocals are worlds apart considering Blitz is probably the most instantly recognizable frontman in all of thrash, Sid Falck is obviously leagues ahead of Lars Ulrich in terms of percussion, it's a lot simpler and less ambitious, et cetera. There are plenty of differences, but the similarities are very strong, and it only reinforces my theory that wherever thrash was heading, Overkill was never the conductor. They were always a few cars back, usually being extremely good at whatever they're doing (the other four albums out of the first five illustrate this quite well), but always emulating what the bigger names in American thrash were up to. This in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, since there are plenty of bands who take more than a little bit of influence from the classics and end up being great themselves, and Overkill really always had their own identity despite them always leisurely floating down the current. But The Years of Decay is living in the shadow of a much larger classic record, and it shows in the songs that sound like Overkill trying to do what Metallica did, instead of Overkill doing what they do best, like they did on Feel the Fire, Taking Over, and Horrorscope.
Originally written for Lair of the Bastard
With Under The Influence, Overkill reached a higher level of complexity, conceiving more ambitious songs with stunning technique, making more professional intricate music than any previous attempt offered. The predilection for complication becomes also a vital element on The Years Of Decay, on which Blitz & co. go even further into that pretentious direction. The group finally found their distinctive sound, like most thrash bands by the late-80’s when the subgenre became instrumentally advanced and sophisticated, in general. It seemed certain technical trend started with records like Heathen’s Breaking The Silence, Mekong Delta’s The Music Of Erich Zann, Metallica’s …And Justice For All or Anacrusis’s Suffering Hour providing thrash of greater skills. So it was certainly a sensible choice from Overkill to increase the percentage of progression and difficulty notably, especially with such a terrific virtuoso like Gustafson taking guitar duties.
The opening “Time To Kill” and “Elimination” start showing evident signs of complexity, not spectacular or impossible, yet including varied riff modifications and constant tempo shifts that deny uniformity and simplicity of structures. Those advanced schemes work out remarkably well, defining a fluent solid sound. The explicit determination for technique becomes clearer on the following “Nothing To Die For” and “I Hate”, which incorporate more versatile guitar lines in continuous variation with skilled bridges, breaks and rigorous instrumental passages, though vocals are also occasionally taking control, catchy and persistent. Yes, lyrics get kinda exhausting at times but what should really be highlighted is the instrumental excellence and meticulousness of truly epic compositions like “E.vil N.ever D.ies” particularly with its song-structure variety, rich arrangements and overwhelming aggression, or the straighter frantic “Birth Of Tension”, designed with simpler formulas but still elaborated and plenty of fresh ideas. All that difficulty and ferocity is ignored surprisingly on the unusual title-track, featuring easy acoustic chords that accompany Blitz’s melancholy voice, with speed and rage reappearing on that competent instrumental mid-section, though clearly breaking the intense climax of the record. Another unexpected exception here is “Skullkrusher”, constructed by huge low-tuned riffs and a heavy tempo that reach total weight and presence with Blitz’s lower-range vocals so wicked, adding an alternative fast-paced section in the middle, but generally remaining slow and crushing for 10 minutes. The variety of the record is completed with the amazingly talented “Who Tends The Fire”, probably the most intricate, skilled and strictly arranged of all, including an even more astonishing diversity of structures and instrumental supremacy.
Complication and technique are admirable, omnipresent and defined with superior musicianship and abilities. Gustafson is specially at his best, absolutely inspired and motivated, his hooks and riffs totally destructive and sharp, progressing with sense and grace during the tunes, his solos becoming perfectionist and lyrical. The precision of the whole pack makes possible to develop their technical schemes, their patterns certainly demand an accurate performance, otherwise it would be a chaos. Overkill’s skills had been consolidated with each previous album, particularly getting very consistent on Under The Influence, here achieving their culmination and able to go into another level of difficulty. The brilliance and creativity are constant during the record, the song-writing process was proved efficient and truly inspired, just listen to the diversity of distinct structures, tempo changes and insistent arrangements on each number, the originality and innovation of these guys have reached peaks. Unlike other subgenre bands, they managed to maintain their innate aggression and speed untouched, no matter how progressive and refined their ways had become. There was an evident trend during those days to make technical thrash, always getting cheesy and exhaustingly melodic; one thing seemed to go with the other. Luckily, Overkill were the exception. Contrary to the dangerous power thrash fashion, ferocity and brutality ain’t denied in favor or melody and complexity. Among that omnipresent speed and intensity, they introduce alternative stuff like the slow sinister “Skullkrusher” or the touching title-track ballad, the first one became the precursor of the band’s future groovy 90’s sound of low-tuned riffing and weightier rhythms, while “The Years Of Decay” remains as one of the bizarre exceptions in their discography catalog (they wouldn’t get that cheesy until “The Mourning After” and the Black Sabbath cover “Changes”, but maybe these guys are more romantic than they seem…).
This is the finest hour from the Gustafson years material, technical, disciplined, powerful, all cuts are designed with creativity and executed with consistence, also immaculately produced by none other than Terry Date. The future looked bright musically for the NY thrashers, now that they were doing what they really wanted, now that their virtuosism and skills were superior, though the departure of the lead-guitarist made things uncertain. You know very well how that other part of the story continues in the next chapter Horrorscope, it’s clear though that by 1989 Blitz & co. recorded a timeless thrash masterpiece. Sad the changes in the metal scene, the tremendous popularity of grunge and the abysmal Metallica CD ruined the future of the subgenre.
Overkill, underrated feels like the wrong word, as they're well known within the thrash community, but outside they are virtually unknown, which when compared to bands like Metallica, seems quite silly. Few bands have stayed a true to the course as Overkill have. The best part is, they stayed thrash, but they constantly experimented within the sub-genre. Some, such as Necroshine have been successful, others like I Hear Black have not, but Overkill has never been scared to try new things. However, there was a time where Overkill was a standard thrash band, and while they were a good standard thrash band, they didn't stick out all that much. This album is the album where they were experimental enough, but still thrashed hard, and where they became something special.
The album contains plenty of experiments, all of which are successes. The song "I Hate" is almost a mixture of regular Overkill and The Offspring, having a very pop punk aesthetic to it. The song "Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher" is sludgy and very dynamic. However, with these experiments, there are regular thrash songs, but these rank among the best ever written. The song "Elimination" is an absolute classic, with a great riff, good chorus, and an awesome solo. Other songs such as "Time to Kill" are also great, and overall the album is consistent in quality. One odd moment, the title track is a ballad. It's a great song no doubt, but it kinda messes with the flow of the album, because right after it is another thrasher, "E.Vil N.Ever D.Ies". It's a minor complaint, but still worthy of mention, because the song is a whole 7 minutes, the length of two typical songs on the album.
It's hard to mention an Overkill album and not talk about Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. His vocals are what will either make you love or loath Overkill. His more recent vocal style is more accessible, so if you're here because you've heard their hugely successful comeback albums, you're in for a surprise. Like Dave Mustaine, he is a bit of an acquired taste, only Bobby's vocals can take even longer to get used to. Personally, I think his vocals add charm to Overkill. Something that sets them apart from the crowd. Listen to some of their older songs and get a feel of how you like the vocals before you go out and buy this album.
In my opinion, this is Overkill's third best album (although most think it's their second or first) behind Horrorscope and White Devil Armory (I know it's new, but to me it's just magic). Bobby's vocals are still odd, and depending on who you are, they are either a selling point, or something that will make you stay clear of this band altogether. The band delivers ferocious music that is supported by a great production job. If you want to get into Overkill, this is not the place to start, but once you've listened to a bit of them, this album will quickly grow on you.
While I still consider Horrorscope to be Overkill's best, I can find at least as many individuals who claim the group's 1989 opus The Years of Decay deserves the same accolade. While undeniably an ambitious undertaking following its very underwhelming predecessor Under The Influence, this album's experimental qualities tend to be the prime dividing line separating those who love the hell out of it, and those who feel it is a bit overrated.
I honestly can't apply myself to either camp entirely, as this is definitely an album I constantly find myself rolling my eyes to as much as banging my head. However, it goes without question that the album crashes out of the gates with three instant classics. "Time To Kill" may seem unusual with a running time of over six minutes, but you hardly notice, especially once the thrash break comes around about halfway in. "Elimination" and "I Hate" are both great outlets for Blitz's vocal onslaught, which just ooze attitude out of every proverbial pore. After this point, the album throws a number of curve-balls with a number of extremely long, progressive tracks. "Skullkrusher" is a slow, doomish affair, that honestly doesn't flip many of the right switches to my ears. The title track is another hit-or-miss number that really picks up during the final two minutes, but not enough to save it from mediocrity. My favorite track is "Birth of Tension", which has some great vocal lines and plenty of clinical thrashing to go around.
As stated above, Blitz really shines here. At this point in the timeline, his voice has achieved a perfect rasp that only seems present on The Years of Decay, as his inflection would take a darker turn on Horrorscope and continue in that vein thereafter. Not only is his voice great, the lyrics are a great listen as well, saving some of the more otherwise average cuts like "Nothing To Die For" from filler status. Constantly endearing and entertaining. DD Verni's presence is prominent, but some of his low-end bite is sacrificed to the unusually compressed production job; more on that later. Gustafson's swansong with Overkill really makes you wonder why the band decided to part ways with him a year later. In interviews he claims to have written the lion's share of the album, and while plenty of neck-jerking riffs abound, the solos are where he truly shines here. The long, melodic solo in "Elimination" essentially makes the song what it is, and the riff at the beginning of "Birth of Tension" seals the song's fate as a classic before it even begins. Sid Falck's drumming improved from his debut with the group, but the overly dry, snappy mix on the drums takes a lot away from his presence. Some impressive double-bass ebbs and flows throughout many of the tracks, so not a bad deal, but he would blow this performance away on Horrorscope
Terry Date's production job on this one reminds me of the overproduced nature of Under The Influence a year before. The guitars suffer the least out of the whole ordeal; but as stated before, everything sounds very pluggy and snappy, which doesn't necessarily hurt matters during some of the choppier riffing patterns. The atmosphere suffers as a whole during longer cuts like "Who Tends The Fire", which just audibly fizzle out prematurely, leaving this listener expecting more from such an ambitious and progressive performance (for the time). The Years of Decay is definitely one to check out, but be aware of the disparity between tracks, as the longer cuts definitely aren't for everyone. A classic? I would say no, not quite. Still a barnburner, however.
The year is 1989. Thrash is starting to die. Metallica's "...And Justice For All" is being heralded as a masterpiece despite actually being over an hour of ongoing, bass-free dreck. We need some true thrash. WE NEED OVERKILL! Riding in from Hell a year after the uneventful "Under The Influence", Overkill unleashes "The Years of Decay", oft considered the band's end-all album and a monolith in tech-thrash. I don't totally agree; while this album is quite consistent and has some absolutley classic, killer songs, it isn't all perfect. A few bolts need tightening on here, a few skirts need shortening, that sort of thing. Let's take a look 'n' see what rocks and what could some home improvement...
For all intents and purposes the bandmates are in full form here, establishing on this album the Overkill we know today. Fucking Bobby Blitz man; he goes across all vocal ranges on "The Years of Decay", from soft singing on the title track and mid-ranged howls on "Skullcrusher" to the man's trademark screams on "Elimination" or "I Hate". We all love ya Blitz. Then we have Bobby Gustafson, here on his last Overkill album. For some reason I don't see his solos on here as complex or interesting as those on "Under The Influence", but his overall basic riffing is easily a few strong notches up. DD Verni's bass remains strong and bombastic on here, much more so than the last album. He gets to show off with a few killer fills and his fusion with Gustafson's guitar makes for a great rush of sound. Then Sid Falck comes back on drums and HOLY SHIT what happened to THIS guy?! In my review for "Under The Influence", I ragged on his skills for being mundane and pentatonic. Well maybe it's just because his drumming isn't mixed too high this time (the production overall has a dry, clean yet still heavy aura), but this dude improved vastly. His fills are much more precise, he makes use of far more brutal and complex arrangements, and let's loose nicely with the double bass when needed. Sid Falck's work here is easily one of the strongest improvements from a drummer I've ever from one album straight to the next.
"The Years of Decay" represents something of a tone shift for the band. Here we see songs that stay pretty serious in nature, and are written with more complex and intense structure. This creates songs that can be pretty epic (the average song on here runs anywhere from five to ten minutes). The album's atmosphere evokes a feeling of vastness and dark mood, even in the punchier, more aggressive tracks.
As I previously stated, the album ain't perfect. A few of the songs could use some filing down or even some different work done to them altogether, mainly in the more epic tracks as you can imagine. "Who Tends The Fire" relies too heavily on mood changes, losing momentum when it gets to the song's sharper and surprisingly semi-melodic riff attacks. The title track is a essentially a ballad, and aside from a bit of punch out of Mr Blitz, it's a fairly boring one. "Birth of Tension" and "Nothing To Die For" are a pair of more attacking thrashers, particularly the catchy latter song, but both ultimately prove to not leave much of a mark despite being initially enjoyable.
The other tracks are pretty goddamn good otherwise. The punishing doom metal epic "Skullcrusher" often splits fans down the middle and I notice quite a number of people deriding it on here. Personally I like the song; sure it's repetitive and rides on a nauseatingly-simple riff, but that speedier middle part is just great and I really dig the song's pounding heaviness that gets the mood dead on. Opener "Time To Kill" is a decent opener; not great but definitely a good start. This leaves us with three classics. First off: ELIMINATE! ELIMINAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE!!! Oh yeah! "Elimination" is a ferocious but catchy and relentless thrasher that completely pummels this listener into dust in just over 4 1/2 minutes, not to mention it well-knowingly shanghais the "Master of Puppies" main riff and actually puts it to good use. Then we get the wonderful, punk-fueled little speeder "I Hate", in which we experience a grand melodic break, loads of shedding and Bobby Blitz relentlessly rattling away about anything and everything that pisses him off! Overkill may not be the fastest or heaviest band out there, but when it comes to individual songs, there is absolutely NOBODY more relentless when a song gets going! That leaves us with the grand, and I do mean grand, finale; the last part in the "Overkill" saga, "E.vil N.ever D.ies". It starts up with a tense and legitimately creepy intro that would easily make those guys who composed "Damage Inc." jealous. And after that intro, the song bursts into a runaway train of brutal double bass hammering and simplistic mosh riffage, then eventually some totally attacking shred solos and even a neat little reference to the song "Overkill" at the track's end. Congratulations, evil never dies!!!
Overall, some songs could use some work done, like some need for condensing and occasionally less focus on mood. But even if they're not great they're still mostly decent, while the rest of the pack are among some of Overkill's greatest songs and a real blast of a listen. Add it up with the band's stellar performances and you've got an album that, while not Overkill's greatest as many claim, is still really fucking awesome and easily one of the better thrash records to pop out of the ass-end of the 1980's.
Though I used to love the title of Overkill's fourth record when it was first released, and bought it day one at the mall, it's difficult not to look back at is as eerily prophetic of the material they'd excrete over the ensuing decades. Not that the New Yorkers ever stumbled as hard as the more popular Californian speed/thrash royalty like Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, but there was this span of decades where the band was just not capitalizing on the promise of the first few albums, and it became a tiresome process to behold, especially when one compares it to their generally electrifying live gigs that have always been a pleasure to experience. For studio records, usually you could rely on about 1-2 decent tracks at most, and the rest to creep in and out of your memory like the sewer water Chaly was vaporizing on Under the Influence.
The Years of Decay was still a decent album, though, arriving right around the climax of the thrash genre (though some would argue it was years earlier than 1989), but it was sadly outclassed by a large swath of the field. The production here threw up a few red flags for me immediately, sounding even more constipated, sterile and processed than even Under the Influence had. Sure, the album LOOKS good, a leering and classy interpretation of their mascot character (and far from the last), but audibly it's inconsistent. The punchy tone applied to the guitars might seem adequate for neck jerking and moshing, but its very quickly outshone by the screaming of the vocals or the dextrous and popping bass lines, so that when a truly standout riff comes along like the clinical and chilling pre-verse pattern of "Nothing to Die For", I would always wonder why so many of the other tunes fell short. Granted, Overkill was a major label band trying with no qualms about modernizing itself, but there were quite a number of dull riffs throughout The Years of Decay which left a lot of the weight of its success on the shoulders of Bobby Blitz.
At the same time, this was an album where they felt comfortable enough to 'experiment' a little further than they had in the past. Thus the incorporation of tunes like the titular power ballad, featuring entire acoustic guitar verses and Blitz showing us his woozy emotional range (which admittedly isn't bad); or the entirely too dull Sabbath-doom opening moments of "Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher", boasting one of the most boring and generic riffs you could have asked for in that particular niche, and a pretty lame and predictable bluesy/doom flow to the lyrics. Not the first time the band would play around in that particular sandbox, and they would again at least a dozen times on later efforts, but I must say that Overkill have never been very good at it. This group shines when they're rifling along at an energetic speed and Blitz is spitting vitriol at a thousand miles an hour, not when trudging along with effortless slow riffs that any awful bar band could conceive of in roughly 2 minutes. Fuck that noise. And while I admire that Blitz found a proving grounds here to flex his pipes towards a grand climax, "The Years of Decay" is littered with weak leads and wimpy metal riff patterns that don't really deserve the eventual chorus.
All this becomes dreadfully apparent at the presence of a song like "Elimination", which was precisely the Overkill I wanted! Thuggish testosterone riffing, freak ass lyrical patterns that fire off like psychotic ballistics and sound like they were amazingly fun to lay down in the studio, and a chorus that almost every other track on this record only wishes it could match. "I Hate" is another entertaining piece with lyrics a lot of thrashers could relate to, with a nice Maiden-esque intro riff, and then a heavy punk influence in the chorus riff and bridge, so it's no surprise to me that these are the most remembered here. Another song I quite enjoyed here was "E.vil N.ever D.ies", its charging and chugging guitars sounding like the bastard children of Master of Puppets, but also some great and ominous bass lines, spooky guitar melodies and a great chorus (recanting the once-clever title) overcome some of the weaker riffs. Otherwise, songs like "Birth of Tension" and "Time to Kill" have some nice ideas but just aren't consistently well written, and "Who Tends the Fire" could join "Skullkrusher" and the title track on the pyre for all I care (a fairly sizable, almost 30 minute chunk of the album).
A friend once summed this record up as 'The Black Album' of Overkill, but I think that honor is better bestowed on one of the later 90s works. This is more or less 50% pure thrashing abandon in the vein of its predecessor, with a few stabs at some dynamic variation. Some people truly love it, and it makes sense that the group would wanna send out some feelers into other terrain and broaden the baseline songwriting, I only wish they had done a better job of it, and the aural aesthetics of the CD have never sounded good to me in headphones, car speakers, stereo. That aside, it's not without some strong points. For one, I think Falck's drumming here was a step above Under the Influence, and I would be lying to deny that a few of their best songs exist in "I Hate" and "Elimination", anthems that stand alongside "Rotten to the Core", "Wrecking Crew" and "Hello from the Gutter" as iconic. Was definitely the last 'good' Overkill for some time, but it's never been a personal favorite of mine and I struggle to listen through the whole of it almost 20+ years later.
Recently I found this CD hiding in the used section of the local Hastings and snatched it up. Being a big Overkill fan, any deal on their music is a good one. This was their 1989 release, which came right before Horrorscope, an album that I would classify as my favorite one by the band. So, I figured I knew what I was getting into. I was actually very surprised by this album.
Typically with Overkill albums, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. You are going to get songs that are going to kick your ass. They are going to be fast and energetic and aggressive as all hell with a punk attitude and killer riffs. However, on this album we hear some departures from the typical Overkill sound. Obviously the elements that have made Overkill Overkill are still present and in great numbers, but this was a more experimental release by the band.
Let's start with the epic length songs. Overkill until this point played mostly fast and shorter songs. But this album features the ten minute "Playing with Spiders/Skullcrusher" and two additional eight minute tracks. This makes this a longer than usual Overkill album at nearly an hour long.
The first half of the album thunders along in typical Overkill style, but the second half features a lot more melodic moments. The title track is a surprisingly good ballad track. Many thrash bands were attempting these in the late 1980's and Overkill succeeded in putting together a decent one. "Who Tends the Fire?" features a number of impressive tempo changes.
In the late 1980's many thrash metal bands were trying a number of things to stay relevant. They were experimenting with progressive song structures, softening their sound, and trying to be more diverse. Overkill attempted all of these things on this release and largely succeeded. This is a tremendous album by the band and one of their highlights.
"The Years Of Decay" is a record I've had a peculiar relationship with since its unleashing upon the world. The year was 1989 and by this time, the thrash genre was just beginning its downward descent from what I consider its second peak in 1988 (into VERY early '89). Many of the more establish bands were beginning to dabble in experimentation with slower tempos and different sonic textures and Overkill were no different here. Some bands were able to pull it off rather well, like Slayer on the previous years "South Of Heaven" while others, such as Metallica's "...And Justice For All", turned into unmitigated snooze fests.
Coming off the absolute rager that was "Under The Influence", one of my personal favorite albums from the entire genre, Overkill offers a sort of "both worlds" approach on "The Years Of Decay". On the one hand, you have a sound that is as raw as any the genre ever produced. Blitz's vocals took on a less melodic and more of a raspy, screechy tone that he has continued to use to this day and Terry Date's production here is absolutely masterful as he finds the perfect balance between giving each of the instruments their own space and identity while also mixing everything into a coherent whole.
Having said this...the highlights of this record are those songs where Overkill does what Overkill has done the very best for 25+ years now...thrash, stomp and rage.
Opener "Time To Kill" gets the record off to a solid, if unspectacular beginning but does a fine job setting the stage for everything to come...including a tasty, crunchy down tempo middle section. From here we get what I feel are the two best tracks on the record and two of Overkill's best tracks in their long career, the very well known "Elimination" and the very underrated "I Hate", a tune where Blitz's new found raspy, pissed-off hiss finds a perfect outlet.
From here, this record becomes MUCH less the Overkill I'd come to know and love and more the "experimental" Overkill. The approach yields a few "good", not great tracks in "Nothing To Die For" and "Birth Of Tension" that have much going for them but seem to be lacking that edge that made Overkill an all-time great thrash band. It also results in the forgettable "Who Tends The Fire", the overlong "Playing With Spiders/Skullcrusher", a tune saved by an up tempo middle section and the unusual, yet spectacular title track.
About the title track...this was at a time when many established thrash acts were writing ballads and pseudo ballads, and not with a great deal of success. This is one song by one band who got it right...building it up brilliantly from Bobby Gustafson's acoustic texturing to a nice, crunchy mid-tempo stomp without either losing momentum or turning it into another song entirely. Blitz gives one of his finest performances ever on this track, recalling his previous vocal style while working in his new approach when the moment called for. What starts as acoustic rock builds up to an epic ending, succeeding where "Who Tends The Fire", a plodding, going nowhere 8-minute excursion failed.
Overkill then end with "E.vil N.ever D.ies", a most appropriate swan song to the Bobby Gustafson era of Overkill and a tune that sums up this album perfectly. A balls-to-the-wall slab of uptempo thrash that is a final return to what Overkill do the very best.
I've seen many people, both here and elsewhere, hail "The Years Of Decay" as a masterpiece and Overkill's finest hour...and indeed, the best songs on this record are among the best the band ever penned and for certain, highlights of the Bobby Gustafson era of Overkill, an era that brought young thrashers such as myself several year of shredtastic ear candy. To me, it is still an enjoyable and overall solid release
However, when I bought this album upon its release, I felt it was a step back for one of my favorite, if not my #1 favorite band...possibly the sign of a band either in transition or simply beginning to lose its spark, its edge, its fire. In spite of its awesome production and, in my opinion, some of the best performances of the respective careers of each of the musicians (especially Blitz and D.D.), this album still has a few too many dull moments, a few too many glaring flaws and not nearly enough musical cohesion or aggression to be considered a "thrashterpiece"...or even terribly representative of the band as a whole.
It is Overkill, it is good and I do still recommend this record if you don't own it already, not only as a solid Overkill release but as something of an historical document of the crossroads the thrash genre and many of its established acts found themselves at coming into the 1990's...but if you're looking for an introduction to this legendary outfit, I recommend finding "Under The Influence", "Feel The Fire" or "Horrorscope" before diving into this record.
You know, it’s just been one of those days – everything in the conceivable universe has managed to piss you off, and you’re sick of shovelling shit or shitting shovels (whichever the case may be). You feel your pulse racing, anger rising and the inevitable thought comes: It’s time to kill whoever happens to cross your path next. This album is just perfect for those moods. Everything about it is tense and angry; it’s an album wrought with angst – that’s right, The Years of Decay is an album that’s kicking against absolutely everything in its path.
‘Let me out of prison I’m just killing cats’ Yes, that’ll do nicely.
It’s certainly a departure from the punky, NWOBHM-tinged thrash that Overkill did before; it’s groovy, brimming with hostility, and it is surely a great deal more varied than the band’s previous works. But unlike several other well-known thrash ‘departures’ (for lack of a better term) The Years of Decay – despite its variation – is pure, thoroughbred thrash. It’s hard to explain, really, but, thrash isn’t just a certain style of riffing with a certain underlying drum pattern; it’s a manner of playing – an attitude, even. Certainly, it’s always been the case with Overkill; they’ve always possessed the said thrash attitude, and here it shines through. In many ways they’re the archetypal thrash band; it’s often said that thrash is “Judas Priest played by a punk band” who else but Overkill actually sounded like this? Think of the Overkill debut, Feel the Fire, that’s what it sounds like to me. But this is certainly a progression: starting out as a straight-forward, if exemplary, thrash album and then unleashing all kinds hell as it turns into a bludgeoning monster, moving at a slower pace but simply allowing for more aggression to focused with each hit. ‘Time to Kill’, ‘I Hate’, ‘Skullcrusher’? Do I need to spell it out that these guys mean business? Given that they took their name from a certain Motörhead number, I should fucking hope not!
But don’t be fooled, though, Overkill haven’t forgotten their influences – there still is an NWOBHM influence here, it’s just more concealed that you’d find on previous releases. Am I alone in thinking that the parallels between ‘Who Tends the Fire’ and Diamond Head’s ‘Am I Evil?’ are just as prevalent as those between the oft-stressed ‘Elimination’ and Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’? It’s still there, and make no qualms about it. The Years of Decay is the sound of a band both moving forward, hitting its stride in frightening form, and leaving nothing of what made its own formula so successful in the first place. In short: The Years of Decay is what every thrash band would have wanted to achieve with their own ‘step forward’ out of a tried-and-true thrash formula… yet at the same time it’s still a pure thrash album in terms of feeling, leaving no question as to why it’s so popular with fans! From straight thrash, to punky numbers, to expansive, epic numbers Overkill manage everything you’d ever need on this record. You want lessons on how to remain on the artistic role-call whilst still broadening your sound? Listen to fucking Overkill!
You know what, I was angry earlier (ready to recreate the cover of Black Flag’s Damaged in my own bathroom, even) and now I can barely remember why. That’s an exorcism! That’s a release! Angst has been so frivolously misused by a lot of recent movements (i.e. some of the more suspect ones that came after thrash) that you’d be forgiven if you forget it was a vital proponent in a lot of the finest metal. They say metal is made by angry young men for angry young men, and I can think of few better examples of this than Overkill’s legendary fourth album The Years of Decay. Rrraaahhh, thrash!
Along with 1991’s "Horrorscope," this 1989 effort is often considered to be one of Overkill’s strongest albums to date. It features the band further expanding their songwriting repertoire and was the first to feature Soundgarden/Pantera producer Terry Date. Unfortunately, it was also the final album to feature founding guitarist Bobby Gustafson.
Musically, this could best be described as sort of a hybrid album for it combines the more epic nature of "Taking Over" with the more raw nature of "Feel the Fire" and "Under the Influence." As expected, the album seems to focus more on the thrash side of the band with these songs featuring fast paced riffs and venomous vocal lines. "Elimination" is worth noting for its strong chorus and Metallicaesque riffs, "I Hate" is made memorable by lyrics that sound incredibly whiny if someone else other than vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth was singing them (“I hate people that make you feel small/I hate having my back against the wall/You know, I hate being talked down to”), and "Birth of Tension" is made distinct by even stranger lyrics during the bridge (“did you kill your father, sleep with your mother/idolize your sister, jealous your brother/did ya kick the dog, were you beat a strap/were you really be abused, were you fakin' all that too”).
Despite associating themselves with the thrash metal movement for most of their career, Overkill can definitely write a great epic track when they feel like it. "Playing with Spiders/Skullkrusher" could very well be the greatest song the band has ever written and features pure Sabbath worship in the form of doom metal guitar riffs, impressively melodic croons throughout, an excellent chorus, and an appropriately faster bridge. "Who Tends the Fire" isn’t quite as impressive but still features some cool tempo changes and the title track is a pretty strong ballad track. Also worth noting is the inclusion of "E.Vil N.Ever D.Ies." The final installment of the Overkill saga until 2007’s "Immortalis," the song starts off in a doom style before going into more intense territory for the verses and choruses.
Aside from Blitz being his usual self, I have found that this album’s one true flaw is an occasional feeling of unoriginality. Several songs have parts or structures that are eerily similar to other songs performed by their peers with Metallica being the most recurring band. The introduction to "Elimination" has a few riffs that are identical to Metallica’s "Master of Puppets," the introduction in "Who Tends the Fire" has a building rhythm similar to that of Diamond Head’s "Am I Evil?," and "E.Vil N.Ever D.Ies" has an overall structure similar to that of Metallica’s "Damage Inc." On the other hand, I feel as though the main riff of Exodus’s "AWOL" may have been inspired by the upbeat grooves on "Nothing to Die For."
Overall, this is pretty much required listening for any thrash metal fan and worth checking out for the doom metal tracks as well.
1) Great guitar riffs, backing bass, and charismatic vocals
2) Not a trace of filler to be found
1) A few traces of unoriginal songwriting can be found on occasion
2) Like any Overkill album, the vocals are of an acquired taste
My Current Favorites:
"Elimination," "I Hate," "Playing with Spiders/Skullkrusher," "Who Tends the Fire," and "E.Vil N.Ever D.Ies"
An average person pouncing upon and listening to Overkill would most likely be turned off by Bobby’s raunchy screechy voice. It tends to have that effect. And you may hear it louder than everything else, and it could be annoying. But if you start to listen closer you will realize not only are the instrumentals tight and well written, but the vocals match up with them perfectly. This album is just overall very well written and a classic for its time period. It may seem that what’s being done on it has been done a thousand times before, but you must consider that this album is from the early 90’s.
This album is just strictly thrash metal, nothing else. It consists of fast and uplifting beats, crushing and speedy riffs, godly and all around the place bass playing, and angry yet clever vocals. The solos go by so fast you have to listen closely to pick out single notes. I don’t know if it was the way it was recorded, but it sounds as though these are some of the fastest solos ever, living up to the Work of Alex Skolnick and Jeff Hanneman.
One thing that strikes me as odd is that you can actually hear the bass on this album. And not only can you hear it, but it is actually very loud, and also all over the place. Sometimes it will be playing nothing like what the guitars are playing, but it fits in tight and perfectly. The tone is very clear and has a cool crunch to it that fits the thrash style rather well.
I will tend to use the word “tight” a lot in this review because overall that’s the best word to describe how it sounds, as the instruments all exist in perfect harmony. Anyhoo, the drums are just fast and tight, but tend not to stand out. He just keeps the beat and adjusts to the changes when needing to. I can help but notice however how good the double bass is, especially for the time. The backbeats really make you want to bob your head.
There are some really cool thrashy sounding riffs here. The guitar tone is very thick and heavy, and the chromatic guitar playing creates a very cool mood. There are some very clever riffs in such songs as I Hate and Birth of Tension. I especially enjoy the solos, as they are really freaking fast. They don’t really slow down at all but that’s how the music is supposed to be.
The two best songs I believe are Time to Kill and Skullcrusher. Time to Kill is just a well written and powerful intro, and Skullcrusher is a very smart attempt at doom metal. Some other really cook tracks are Nothing to Die For, I Hate, and Who Tends to the fire. Never the less, all tracks are good.
This album receives a high score for its originality, tight playing, clever lyrics, and never ending energy. It does not receive a perfect score because it may get boring if you listen to it for a week non-stop, though you can always listen to it and never get bored of it, it can’t be overdone.
Every self-respecting thrash metal fan has at least heard of the name “Overkill”. Not only is this the name of an album by Motörhead (an album that had major influence on the development on thrash), but also the name of a band. Not just “a” band, but the band that would become known as the creators of the first ever thrash song (“the Beast Within”). They didn’t necessarily invent the genre, but they were pioneers and among the first to master a style that is loved and cherished by millions of people, even 20 years after its peak.
This album is their fourth studio album, and by many believed to be their magnum opus. It is indeed an essential thrash record, and not headbanging while listening to it is simply impossible. The name of this classic piece is “The Years of Decay”. It’s an excellent demonstration of how thrash metal should be played, but also a lesson on how to redefine yourself without selling out and staying within the boundaries of the respective genre. On a couple of songs we can hear how Blitz and company tried out some new elements and concepts. Some call this being ‘progressive’, but since I’m not fond of putting things in boxes (so to speak), I’ll leave that to you. These attempts to be less traditional are not that appealing to me, simply because I enjoy the other tracks a lot more.
“Playing with Spiders/Skullcrusher”, for example, is a 10 minute song that should have been split up in two different songs. The song starts with a slow paced, simple (but nice) riff and Ellsworth talking about difficulties in life. After a while though, it starts getting really repetitive and even a bit boring. That being said I did enjoy listening to it for the first time, it’s just not the sort of track you’d put on repeat and listen to for hours. Anyhow, Gustafson speeds his guitar work up halfway through the song. An instrumental part follows, and after a while the riff from the beginning comes in again. A solo follows, then a slow part again, and finally, the track fades out with the chorus. As you can see, this song has a much more complicated structure than we are used to hear from them. I am glad Overkill tried out something new, and I don’t mind this track that much, but after listening to the album for a couple of times I simply skip it.
“Who Tends the Fire”, is another track that is unlike all the other ones. The first part of the song is pretty dramatic, with Billy providing vocals in such a way and with an obvious attempt to have an epic, acoustic riff. This part is a perfect example of the more ‘epic’ nature of the album. Suddenly though, a great thrash riff kicks in. Unfortunately, this doesn’t save this song. After eight minutes it ends, and save for a couple of really cool riffs, this is perhaps the worst (as in: least enjoyable, because it’s certainly enjoyable) song on the album. This song forms a duo with the title track, which is pretty similar. I find “The Years of Decay” a lot more listenable though, mainly here, Blitz demonstrates his talent. For all of you people who thought he was only good for high-pitched singing, this song proves that he is capable of a lot more. With also a cool acoustic part, an awesome ‘whiplash causing’ part, a great solo and a great ending, this is a very good song. The ending alone is worth mentioning, since it just wants to make you jump out of your chair, raise the horns and sing along as loud as you can.
Even though I certainly enjoy the ‘less traditional’ songs, I like the other ones a lot more. Enough about the ‘weird’ songs, lets talk about the pure thrash classics. The album opener, “Time to Kill”, has an epic intro (what would you expect from the first song on an Overkill album?!). This song has many awesome thrash riffs, a sweet chorus (which will have you singing ‘time to kill!’ long after the album has ended), an amazing solo and an epic outro. What more would you wish for? The more I listen to this song, the more it grows on me.
All the nay-sayers are immediately silenced by “Elimination”. If you haven’t heard that song yet; you have failed. Period. The only way to make up for your failure at life is to run to the record store, get this cd, and listen to “Elimination” at least 89 times in a row. I don’t even know where to start praising it. I mean, this is quite possible one of the best thrash songs ever made. Everything about it kicks so much ass it’s a wet dream come true for all metal fanatics. The opening riff is so awesome, mere words cannot describe it. The bass line in the chorus is so amazing, that when I tried playing it, the gods punished me for touching something sacred. Blitz’ vocals are so amazing that you will be haunted by his presence for the rest of your life if you don’t learn the lyrics by heart. The drums are so great, that I simply don’t have anything more to add about them. There is also a dual solo, which you’ll have to check out for yourself because I don’t have words to describe that much ‘epic win’. Yes. Fuck. Yes.
Next are two other mind-blowing classics, “I Hate” and “Nothing to Die For”. The latter demonstrates (again) that Blitz is also good at singing clean vocals. The intro is really cool, and the rest of the song will cause your head to bang. Same thing for “I Hate”, which has a very catchy chorus. Once again … you’ll be singing this track long after the cd has ended. Thrash doesn’t get any better than this, so be sure to check out this cd if you even remotely like the genre.
“Birth of Tension” and “E.vil N.ever D.ies” are two other great songs. “Birth of Tension” has a cool opening and a really sweet bridge. Sid Falck demonstrates he’s good at double bass pounding in the chorus, and Gustafson demonstrates his guitar talents is another great solo. This solo is different from other ones he has done, and is actually pretty weird. The wah-wah pedal does its job, but perhaps Gustafson should have chosen to use it a bit less. Nonetheless, this solo demonstrates that lead guitarists can also try out new things in stead of sticking to the old-fashioned ‘play scales as fast as you can’ approach.
The last song on the record, “E.vil N.ever D.ies” starts with a really weird intro. I don’t really understand the purpose of it, and neither do I understand why they didn’t just edit it out. Luckily the intro quickly ends and we are treated with an awesome headbang moment. The song is overall very ‘Overkill’, the kind of thing you expect, but still blows you away while listening to it. The bridge has a sweet bass lick, and after it the song starts speeding up. This is an amazing song, to say the least. Once again a great solo follows, but unfortunately the song abruptly comes to an end. Too bad, because in my opinion they should have made this track longer and shortened longer songs. You wont hear me complain though, it’s still a good song.
As you may have noticed by now, this album is a thrash classic. Negative points are some of the lyrics, which are a bit predictable and contain the average ‘me angry’ approach, such as in “I Hate” and “Time to Kill”. I don’t mind these type of lyrics, but it’s just nothing new after hearing dozens of other records who contain the exact same message. There are also good lyrics though, most notably in “Elimination” (which deals about a person who has been diagnosed with a fatal disease) and in “The Years of Decay”. Blitz does a great job as a vocalist, and to me he is perhaps one of the best metal vocalists ever. He’s definitely a metal icon, who still goes by his original ideals (unlike others …). Most of his vocals contain high pitched singing, something a lot of people can’t stand. Therefore, the phrase ‘hate him or love him’ applies to Blitz. Even if you dislike his regular vocals, you still have to give him credit for being able to sing ‘normal’ as well. Something that is proven in “Nothing to die For” and “The Years of Decay”.
The instrumental part is really good too, especially DD Verni’s work as a bassist. Unlike most metal bassists, this guy does his job (as opposed to simply playing root notes of rhythm patterns). There’s even a ‘pop and slap’ thing featured in “Nothing to Die For”. I didn’t expect that, because I always thought that Claypool was the first to bring slapping into metal. Bobby Gustafson does a great job on guitar too, with great solos and some very memorable, amazing riffs. Falck’s job on the drums is good as well, nothing to criticize there. I think that many people give too less credit for drummers like him, because most of us hardcore metalheads are used to insane drumming. He may not be the best metal drummer ever, but he perfectly accompanied Blitz and co. on this album.
Oh and before I forget, the production is great too. It’s perfectly mixed, the bass is audible when it needs to be audible, the drums and vocals seem to be set at the right level … if I would be given a chance to re-master this album, I wouldn’t change a single thing!
Overall, this is a great album. If you like thrash, you should try it out, since it is an essential classic. Overkill are an important part in the history of the genre. Where other bands sold out and changed their sound to be more radio-friendly, Overkill have always stayed the good old Overkill. In 2008 they are one of the few pioneers who are still doing what they did 25 years ago, and only because of this fact they deserve respect. While ignored by the mainstream public, they still release amazing thrash albums (check out “Immortalis”, released in 2007). I love this band, and they deserve more respect than all the idiots who betrayed their roots …
By the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s (more or less from 1988 and 1992) several thrash metal bands changed their style of doing this genre. Those bands, once more violent and raw, in those years conceived true technical thrash albums. For example, let’s think to Metallica's “…And Justice For All”; Megadeth’s “Rust In Peace”; Forbidden’s “Twisted Into Form”; Artillery’s “By Inheritance”; Heathen’s “Victims Of Deception” and many, many others…and surely Overkill belong to this list. Maybe it’s considered the dying period for thrash because the very first death metal bands started to born, but all those albums are, in my opinion, true masterpieces.
Overkill’s album “The Years of Decay” is quite different from their past ones. As I said, it’s far more technical but it is also far more gloomy. In those years seems that “the light of the day”, the insane violence that characterized the very first thrash albums has a bit gone away for a more mature lyrics and music. Sadness, wars and social problems are now the main themes for those bands; like in several others, less technical but anyway more mature (Slayer). In this album Overkill are able to recreate in the music scenarios of desolation, criminality, depression and obscurity typical of a big city (New York for them), giving something new.
The violence shown in several years is more “focused” and filtrated through technique, without loosing anything in impact and even growing in interest and attraction. The guitars riffs are still fast, but with lots of tempo changes, followed by a better drum work; more mature but always crushing, always THRASH. The production is what I consider “The best one for thrash metal”: clean, powerful and gloom. Already from the opener we can hear a quite new style of thrash: so obscure with the mid tempo. Bobby's screams are fantastic and after few seconds a true fucking heavy riff takes dominion with a bit faster mid tempo. The technical level is high and the form of the song is always catchy, especially in the refrain.
The songs are always long and quite complicated in their riffs. The work done by the drums-bass-guitars is always perfect and quite difficult. The ghosts of the more direct thrashy sound can be found in “Elimination” song with that awesome guitars solos and some speed metal riffs. The refrain is always catchy as fuck. Some breaks, so gloomy and slow are the new way taken by the band, like the beginning of “I Hate” (that then becomes a true old style song) or the supreme mid tempo from hell of “Playing With Spiders/Skullcrusher”. Bobby’s vocals are always schizophrenic and truly a trademark.
The strange and progressive guitars work on “Nothing To Die For” fits perfectly with faster drums while “Birth Of Tension” is total impact of technical thrash. Fast bass drum during the refrain alternated to heavy mid paced riffs. The guitar arpeggios on “Who Tends The Fire” are mixed with the gloomy sound of a distorted guitar, suffocated by a true march done by instruments. The refrain is fucking gloom and slow while the whole song is mid paced, except for the solos part. The arpeggios on the semi ballad title track are awesome in his extreme sad melody and “E.vil N.ever D.ies” after an acoustic intro of a dark melody is a fast thrash song. Here the technical level is even higher because it is mixed with speed. During the refrain we can hear an acoustic arpeggio too, done so fast in few seconds, between the electric guitars parts.
Well, I have to stop my review. I can only say: “Buy this fucking album!!” and you are gonna love it for sure. I think this is the true Overkill peak in songwriting, technique and inspiration. A must for every die hard thrash metal fan.
Overkill has always been around in the thrash metal scene since the early days releasing albums regularly throughout the years and keeping the flame burning. With some albums emerging from the masses and with others unfortunately being generic and dull. Overkill has not become a household name because all their albums were great (only a few are actually) but because of their resilience and persistence in continuing all these years.
The thrash metal highlights of their career we’re their first 5 albums (1985-1991). During the nineties the band went experimenting and grooving as a lot of eighties thrash metal would do. “The Years Of Decay” is one of those Overkill albums that exceeded expectations and can be considered a classic eighties album in their discography as well as the genre in its entirety. The album combined their familiar up tempo thrash from their earlier albums with a lot of slower, melodic and lengthy moments but WITHOUT losing power and still being thrash metal. Overkill have never achieved this again since.
‘Time To Kill’ had some old school Metallica breaks and moments (Bobby Gustafson has always been a Hetfield acolyte, remember their video for ‘Hello From The Gutter’), but the great drums and typical vocals of Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth make it a recognisable and tight Overkill composition. ‘Elimination’ is a mid tempo pounder with extremely dynamic screeching vocals and a very strong chorus. The video of this song was the reason I bought this album in the first place. A classic Overkill tune.
‘I Hate’ and ‘Nothing To Die For’ are two typical quality Overkill thrashers but with more variation that we were used to, filled with riffs, breaks and remaining catchy still. Same goes for the quality thrashers ‘Birth of Tension’ and ‘E.vil N.ever D.ies’. On ‘Playing With Spiders / Skullkrusher’ the band achieved writing an inspiring 10 minute doom-thrash epic that might take some time getting used to but looking back can be considered a daring anthem. I like the song but I wouldn’t want to see them perform it live to be honest.
‘Who Tends the Fire’ and ‘The Years of Decay’ are two lengthy but very varied songs that have some powerballad moments without getting cheesy but having an eerie atmosphere as well as real thrash metal riffing and breaks. Ellsworth shows his true potential on these songs which show he can also ‘sing’ instead of just screaming around (which he also does with flair on this album by the way).
The production was clear and heavy. I especially like hearing the bass guitar in this amount. When first hearing this album when you’re normally used to their up tempo thrash metal assault, the album opens a whole dimension to the world of Overkill but will keep your head banging. Unfortunately it turned out to be the last one with Bobby Gustafson who remains in my eighties hall of fame.
Tracing its roots back to the NWOBHM and the underground punk scene, thrash combines the right amount of aggression and technical flair to both frighten the self-righteous into hiding and inspire a punk rocker hack to learn his instrument and grow his hair down to his ass. Naturally one is then to ask what the standard is for measuring the success of an effort at compiling an LP in this very unique and poorly imitated art form. Although some might site a release by Kreator, MegaDeth, or Metallica as the pinnacle of the genre, they probably never heard Overkill’s fourth invocation of the high speed, bone crushing, virtuoso worshipping demon that is thrash metal.
“The Years of Decay” accomplishes what many believe that Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” did, introduce a long-winded epic style with a more progressive sound without sacrificing the raw energy that an album of the thrash style demands. Several of the songs make use of brief introductions, as did Metallica’s heralded 3rd release, but here we see a consistent use of darkness and gloom that doesn’t clash with the faster sections that follow after. “Evil Never Dies” has an intro that may well be compared with “Damage Inc.”, except it listens like an ominous version of Medieval Organum rather than a comical pre-classical overture that doesn’t fit with what follows. The title track might be compared to “Sanitarium”, except it is structured completely different and highlights a dynamic vocal performance (Blitz has twice the range that Hetfield had when he could still sing) as well an artful avoidance of redundancy.
The first half of this album is where most of the thrashers lie, all of them clocking in at under 5 minutes except for “Time to Kill”, which has an extended riff intro that takes a minute or so before stomping the listener’s neck into the ground with a high speed riff frenzy. “I Hate” is the shortest and most aggressive of the lot; not to mention being lyrically the most punk inspired. If you are having a bad day and wish you could kick the shit out of whoever made it so, this song is quite therapeutic and a good alternative to facing assault charges. “Elimination” is the most listener-friendly and the most hook-laden, the lyrics are easy to follow, and the music video was a good alternative to the glam stuff that dominated MTV at the time. “Nothing to Die for” is another anthem of angst superimposed against a series of great thrash riffs, some of which sound like an even more speed driven version of Metallica’s “Blackened”, not to mention one where we can actually hear the bass.
The second half of this album is a mix of more insanely thrashing good fun and some experimental songs that rival longer works by other metal outfits. “Playing with Spiders/Skullcrusher” is the muddiest and slowest song I’ve ever heard out of the band, sometimes reminding of Black Sabbath, although Blitz’s vocals are literally all over the place yet never missing a note. It transitions into a somewhat faster tempo after the first few minutes, but it mostly reeks of doom influences. “The Years of Decay” is the closest thing to a ballad on here, starting off with a long acoustic section with Blitz actually singing cleanly, but getting plenty aggressive after the first few minutes. “Who Tends the Fire” is also quite long and starts off quiet, but is far too menacing throughout to be profaned with the title ballad. Metallica wishes they could write songs this horrific yet moderated in tempo and avoid getting boring. “Birth of Tension” and “Evil Never Dies” are more classic Overkill style thrash, rapidly shifting beats and riffs, and literally bashing the hell out of the listener until his ears bleed.
In many ways, “The Years of Decay” is the end of a grand chapter in the history of metal. It came out in a year when thrash was still very much alive, as were the 80s, but also when its impending demise was beginning to rear its ugly head. The closing track “Evil Never Dies” is accented with 3 periods to spell out “END”, obviously to signify that the 4 part Overkill saga started on the 9th track of the debut was over (although not credited as part 4 in the title, the signature riff found in the other 3 parts can be heard briefly towards the end). Ironically this would also come to signify the end of the era for the band with Bobby Gustafson as the sole axe man, but also signified in the title is the assertion that Evil is forever, and as one can readily observe on “Horrorscope” and the bulk of Overkill’s releases afterwards, this band is unmoved and unbroken by the tides of time and public opinion.
Although I argue this to be the greatest accomplishment of Overkill and the best thrash album I’ve ever heard thus far (I’m still proliferating stuff from the 80s), I am still partial to the debut due to a greater level of accessibility as well as my own history with it. The only flaw in this album is that it is so fast, so furious, and so complex that many will have a hard time grasping its true nature. If you like thrash and you don’t have this album, lie and say you do have it until you can get it, don’t be like me and be caught praising Overkill yet not actually have your own copy. If you only own one album by them, get this one, if you can get 2 albums, pick up “Feel the Fire” after you get this one.
I do NOT hate this album, however... only today did I realise how much I really truly fucking love the Hell out of it. I've had it since approximately the summer or fall of 1996, when I got it on tape - it was my absolute favourite album in the world for a while, then kinda settled back a notch, but then I realised it has never, ever left the "constant listening" rotation. At least once a month I spin this one, if not at least once a week. It's perfect for the ride to work - coming in in the morning, blasting "I HATE" on 11, seeing what the director of marketing has to say to that.
This is one of Overkill's more varied albums - all of their works have had straight-up three minute thrashers combined with longer, more epic numbers ("Feel the Fire", "Overkill II", "End of the Line" come to mind from the first three... also "The Answer" from the EP and "Nice Day for a Funeral/Soulitude" from the next one.) On here, we really have two long epic numbers: the "gay" title track (but they play it live anyway) and the doomy, extremely appropriately titled Skullkrusher.
Skullkrusher is an experience - it takes what The Answer began, and puts it to a new standard of pain - I'm really not sure which song I like *better*, because both do the slow-fast-slow thing so fucking well, as Black Sabbath have taught us how, but nonetheless, a complete winner. The Years of Decay is not quite as long, and starts off quite balladic, not crushing any skulls at all, before busting out in a very simple but insanely effective midpaced riff. It somehow goes on for eight minutes without becoming boring.
Then of course, there are the face-ripping fucktracks, because this is Overkill, and if they did not fuck you and rip your face, they would not be. I HATE!! ELIMINATION!! EVIL NEVER DIES!!! NOTHING TO DIE FOR!! Fuck yes, these are just monsters of the highest order - each clocking in around three and a half minutes (okay, E.N.D. is really about five, but that includes the bass intro). I Hate is just the perfect blast of Jersey lowlife punk fury - "tryin' to get out, trapped like a dog! No, I don't like pumping gas!" combined with monstrous thrash riffs, and even a schweet somewhat melodic solo.
There are three slightly longer balls-out thrashers as well: the opener, Time to Kill, is pretty textbook, with the New York style middle break... The Birth of Tension is another fucking ripper - "did ya kick the dog, were you beat with a strap... were you really abused, were ya faking all that... TOO TENSE!!!" - seriously, this is not a song to which you can drive slower than 75 miles an hour to.
The only slight lowlight of this album is the beginning of Who Tends the Fire, which just doesn't compare to EVIL!!! NEVER DIES!! or ELIMINATE THE WEAK!! ELIMINATE THE STRONG!! It's the tiniest bit plodding, but then gets pretty fucking good though, when it kicks into maximum overdrive - YOU DON'T KNOW THAT YOU'RE GONNA DIE!!!
The way the album's set up works surprisingly well too - the Darkness-Descends-like noise intro turning into blasting thrash riffs, that scream at full fucking speed through E! Limination, SICK AND TIRED OF NUMBER TWO, and the slightly off-kilter (damn, I can never sing along to this one) OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER, TOO DEAD TO CHANGE...
then, almost a second intro, here comes Skullkrusher, blaring in with noise, pounds you upside the head approximately 85 billion times with a brick approximately as large and ugly as Detroit, then two more blasts of slightly longer thrash... akin to Feel the Fire (the title track)... finally, Years of Decay riffs on for eight minutes, then the little intro (which totally rips off Damage Inc, haha) and finally OVERKILL PART FOUR... (Don't believe me? Listen to the third chorus. "EVIL!" [riff] "NEVER DIES!" That riff is the intro riff to Overkill part I. Full circle, the story ends.) MONEY HUNGRY POWER THIRSTY PENNY PINCHING DOUBLE CROSSING BACK STABBING......
IS IT DONE? WILL IT EVER DIE!?
Eight years later... EVIL NEVER DIES!