without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
After two very impressive full-length releases, the pressure was on Overkill to deliver in a massive way with their third opus: Under The Influence. While the album was undoubtedly very popular and spawned the group's biggest hit "Hello From The Gutter", I have never been able to muster more than an indifferent reaction to it's neck-jerking rhythms and mayhem.
The deck was already stacked against The Wrecking Crew from the start, as band mastermind Rat Skates departed earlier in '87. They regrouped, recruiting Sid Falck from Di'Anno's Battlezone; who while an apt replacement, wouldn't show his true colors until The Years of Decay. Before I get into the songwriting, I have to address the production. The mix falls most in line with The Years of Decay's pluggy and compressed sound. The bass drum boasts more of a natural, flat sound, but it fails audibly on almost all levels. You can barely hear the bass drum, its just a dry, dull thump. The rest of the kit is mixed too low, save for maybe the snare. Verni's bass gets perhaps the biggest spotlight other than W.F.O., with some interesting popping and clanging going on during some of the album's more enterprising moments. The massive guitar sound present on Taking Over has been scaled back quite a bit, and the guitars have little staying power, which is somewhat disappointing.
What really atom-bombs Under The Influence are the vocals! Blitz's inflection at this point was no longer the operatic style often used on the first two albums, and not quite the raspy cackle present on most releases thereafter. In and of itself this isn't a major gripe, but so many of his vocal lines sound very rushed and atonal. The lyrics are generally pretty fun, but many of the songs devolve into just shouting the chorus ad-nauseam. The infamous Overkill "nebulous mass of filler" is present yet again, accounting for about half of the tracks. There are moments of near brilliance, but it is almost always counterpointed by poor decisions. For example, "Brainfade" has an awesome breakdown about halfway in, but the sound clip laid over it ruins the mood. I will admit that I always have a soft spot for "Never Say Never" and the big hit "Hello From The Gutter". These two tracks work, discounting the negative attributes of the production.
So in the end, thrashier is definitely not better; at least not in Under The Influence's case. The band would promptly get their shit together, and this remains Overkill's only lowlight until the mid-'90s.
Overkill's iconic 3rd album is quite a curious beast, being both the one that introduced the metal world to one of the most recognizable mascots of the 80s after Iron Maiden's own Eddie, and also one that is generally treated as the weakest of their 80s offerings. While there is a general accuracy to the notion that the 2 albums that preceded this one and the one immediately following it were superior, the gap is not quite as wide as generally believed, and is more of a matter of being overloaded with differing material than a lack of actual memorable songwriting. Likewise, this album contains some elements of what would later become Overkill's standardized sound post-1993, but for the most part it reaches back about as much as it does forward, and thus it doesn't share the same level of stylistic similarity that "Horrorscope" does with the modern thrash character that tended to dominate Overkill's post-80s sound.
But for all the historical relevance and evolution of sound, the actual character of "Under The Influence" is quite befitting of the sewer of horrors ruled by the great winged skull. As the first overtly thrash dominated album, there's no beating around the bush about where this album stands, as even at the onset of the opener "Shred" hits the nail on the head like an industrial strength pile-driver. The frenetic intro riff and beat is right out of the mid-80s Slayer formula, and mixes in nicely with a set of groovy, upper-mid tempo work that reminds a bit of "Bonded By Blood". This mixture of Bay Area and New York thrash influences pretty well dominates much of what is on here, stepping aside only occasionally for some older influences out of the band's previous efforts, all of which were at least partially conceived during the time when thrash and speed metal were joined at the hip.
However, even the most groovy elements found on here remind more of an Exodus approach rather than the so-called proto-90s character that some suggest first started to appear on here. This is particularly underscored by the elaborate character of the riff work, as even the heavily simplistic "Never Say Never" and "Brainfade" carry a heavy dose of 80s thrash cliches, not the least of which being the "Among The Living" sound of the intro of the latter. This is further bolstered by the extremely bombastic drum sound, which is along similar lines to what was heard out of Lars on "Master Of Puppets", though the newly acquired kit-man Sid Falck proves to be a bit less stiff and keeps a bit with a semblance of flow. Blitz's vocal sound is still a bit cleaner and archaic in character as well, having a bit more to do with Bruce Dickinson than later efforts, but the beginnings of his maniacal Bon Scott meets The Wicked Witch of the West snarl comes a bit more into view here than before. But perhaps most auspicious of all is Bobby Gustafson's lead guitar work, which has taken on a heavy amount of Jeff Hanneman influences and wails all over the place in a manner not heard before, arguably outclassing anything ever put out by either Kirk Hammett or Dan Spitz in terms of sheer technique.
It is important to note that while much closer to a consistent thrash metal album, "Under The Influence" still finds itself wandering into earlier 80s sounds, cutting a bit against the grain as being set by Metallica and Slayer at this juncture. The first and most obvious deviation is the live favorite and first music video "Hello From The Gutter", which sounds like a melodic leftover from "Taking Over" combined with a sped up rendition of Van Halen's "Panama" or "Unchained". It definitely hits the ears with more of a power metal feel, Blitz's vocal assault is a bit more restrained and consonant, and Gustafson's solo has a strict, methodical character that further reminds of an earlier 80s speed metal character. Along for the ride is "Drunken Wisdom", the band's first venture into doom territory, which comes mixed with a lot of melancholic acoustic guitar work that almost sounds like it could have influenced parts of Bathory's "Twilight Of The Gods". It blasts off into thrash territory about halfway through, but the general body of the song has a definite Black Sabbath feel to it, particularly reminding of the down-tuned heavy riff from the latter half of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath". But the end all, be all of this album is the 3rd chapter of the ongoing Overkill self-titled saga that closes the album off, which takes the same thematic character of the previous two installments and translates them into a driving thrash anthem of terror that is close to Dark Angel in terms of intensity, yet slightly slower.
Ultimately, the reception of this album hinges upon its near schizophrenic mixture of older and newer practices, culminating in an album that could almost be construed as progressive given the deep contrast from one song to the next. This character of sound could be likened to a fish with lungs, or a lizard with fins, being just on the cusp of a massive evolutionary change in sound yet ending up in a near perfect 50/50 middle ground. Perhaps it could be argued that Overkill shied away from fully embracing the changeover that occurred in 1987-88, which cuts against the frequent criticism of some that Overkill are a mere product of their day than the other way around. But however people choose to remember the musical landscape of the late 80s, this album will hound all who listen to it like the forbidding mascot firing its retinal lasers at the adolescent dork in the sewer, commanding full obedience and repetitive neck-wrenching motions of the head.
"Under The Influence" is the 3rd studio album from New Jersey badboys Overkill, one of my favorite bands. Well after the speed metal-infused thrash attacks of their wicked first two efforts, the boys decided to drop the speed metal influences and go for an all-out thrash assault. You'd think that Overkill going straight for the throat with pure thrash would produce a masterpiece, right? Well "Under The Influence" has some pretty great highlights but suffers a great deal from some totally useless songs and moments that just go nowhere, leaving an opening for that greatest sin of a metal album: unmemorable songs! AAAAAAUUUGGHH!
In addition to becoming thrashier Overkill also headed in a more technical route, something a number of thrash bands were pulling at the time to keep the songs more interesting. This helps the group and also doesn't give'em many favors either. Easily the high point here, and of any Overkill record, is that cancer-raping madman himself, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth. His nasally, bombastic shrieking and clean singing isn't as unhinged as on "Feel The Fire" or especially "Taking Over", but the man still more than kills his fair share of poseurs despite scaling back his aggression on here. Bobby Gustafon's guitar-shredding is probably better on here than he last two albums; he's comfortably come into his own, composing some much more complex solos and a wider array of riffage. Poor DD Verni's bombastic bass gets toned down a little in this mix, but not so much where he still isn't inaudible like the average thrash album; beware his killer intro to "Head First"! The lowlight here is new drummer Sid Falck, replacing the awesome Rat Skates. He's not awful but man is he average; he usually just plods along during most songs no matter what the speed and tone are, not to mention for some reason it's mixed too loudly. The worst is in "Hello From The Gutter", where I'm trying to listen to some catchy riffs and Blitz singing about sewer children while all I hear in the background is CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK! Again he's not bad, like Lar$ or Dave Holland bad, but man oh man is he mundane.
As previously mentioned, this album has it's fair share of highlights, but it tends to be outweighed a little by the fact that a number of the songs, while not bad, leave little to no imprint. Take for example part III in the "Overkill" saga. It relies way to much on atmosphere and gets to the meat and potatoes of the song way to late in in. "Never Say Never" is a solid cooker with fair aggression to it but the song ultimately proves to be forgettable. "End of the Line", oft cited as the weakest track on here, again noodles around too much but it is at times packed with cool Iron Maiden-like semi-melodic riffs.
There is good fun to be had on here too though. The opener "Shred"...well actually it sucks, sounding more like something Dokken or even Poison might have coughed up! Nah, I'm kidding of course. No this song does exactly that, and it does it well, probably being heavier than anything on the first two albums (save maybe for "Hammerhead") and remains one of the most aggressive numbers in the group's 80's output. Live/fan favorite "Hello From The Gutter" is quite fun, despite the aforementioned loud-ass drumming; hooky singing and quite a bit of catchy riffs thrown around. "Brainfade" is another cooker along the lines of "Never Say Never", but with stronger lyrics, more solid riffage and a better chorus. Then there's a personal favorite in "Head First", a quirky fastish affair with more catchy riffage, a fun solo and sarcastic shouting from Bobby that never fails to tickle me. "But I got a nickel that says you will!"
Overall, a decent album but not without some aggravating flaws; the loud, mundane drumming is often irritating and many songs are unfortunately pretty forgettable. Still the better songs shine nicely and the performances of the original bandmates are a treat anyway. I don't find myself revisiting this album often, and I don't recommend it for anyone interested in starting on Overkill; go with "Feel The Fire", "Taking Over", "Years of Decay" or something recent like "Ironbound" first, then maybe give this one a shot if you have nothing better to do.
Barring the arguable importance of any of their stylistic 'comebacks' later in history, Under the Influence was perhaps the most important album in Overkill's career, the 'make or break' moment where they had ridden in on two fairly spectacular recordings, already had a deal with one of the larger US majors, and needed to start churning out the hits that might place them in league with any of the 'big four' thrash bands who were selling hotcakes (though many would say the East Coasters deserve a quarter of that accolade themselves) and inspiring generations of heshers. So it's sad to say that, while strong, this was somewhat of a disappointment for me. After Taking Over, I expected only the world, but what I got was the sewer. A charming sewer, granted, and one that would introduce us formally to the group's long-term horned, batwinged skull mascot, but like Chaly, who we all wanted very badly to incinerate that douchebag on the cover, it comes up slightly short of its mark.
I don't know if it's the result of the band rushing this out the door, or the transition to the new drummer Sid Falck, but something about the production here just never sat quite right with me. It's not 'bad', mind you, but I felt like the bass was often a little too pluggy and the vocals didn't seem quite so forceful or confident as they had on the first two albums, occasionally too distant from the other instruments the mix. The band was once again working with Alex Perialas, who helmed Taking Over and also did some of the engineering on the debut, but this album doesn't seem as balanced and level as its predecessor. That aside, the guitars, drums and vocals are all clear and distinct enough for you to enjoy them individually, and the riffs are meaty and hammering enough to stir up a mosh pit and get the band their first major video airplay with "Hello to the Gutter", which feels like melodic Van Halen hard rock riffing diffused into punk restlessness and grating but unforgettable vocals. The drums feel like standard muscular rocking, which suits this tune in particular, but the salient chorus provides the song's salvation, and it's no wonder this became a fixture for gigs and another fan anthem in line with "Wrecking Crew".
There's not quite so much depth here as there was with Taking Over, but apart from "Hello..." you're treated to a handful of staples like the petulent "Shred", which opens the record with some of the band's fastest and most aggressive riffing to its day, only to transition into a bouncy fist-baller redolent of the material Anthrax or M.O.D. were writing at this same time. Or "Mad God World", with its treacherous grooves and lunatic chorus, and "Brainfade", with some sticky and interesting guitar progressions. It's the latter half of Under the Influence that fires off a few blanks. There is plenty of variation to be had, between some of the clean and tinny guitar intros, surgical riffs, and chunky mid-paced crowd pleasing, but songs like "End of the Line" seemed inconsistent, each measuring off some solid mosh rhythms with zipping leads and vocal patterns that never completely hooked me on the line. It's still an album I can listen to in completion, thanks to the pacing, charismatic lyrics and nostalgic appeal, but my enjoyment is not distributed evenly throughout.
Of course, sized up against a lot of the average American thrash choking up the record shelves of the late 80s, Under the Influence was still good enough to keep the band hovering in the average metalian's radar. I remember coming away from this with a similar impression that I got from State of Euphoria or ...And Justice For All: that the album felt mildly overproduced, and that it's modern compunctions lent too much of a sterile, plastic wrapping to what otherwise might have proven poignant songwriting. Compared with the more ripping, raw force of records like Razor's Violent Restitution or Tankard's The Morning After, or the dry, disturbing emanations off Slayer's South of Heaven, Under the Influence seemed somewhat 'assembly line', a series of mosh anthems akin to late 80s Anthrax or Zetro era Exodus which were hammy and fun rather than soul searing, belligerent excess. Not necessarily a negative in this case, since a number of the songs are strong and memorable enough to have earned a stable spot in the band's set lists; but while Under the Influence is still worth owning for any Overkill fan, and admittedly superior to anything the band has produced since, I could sense even in my teens that some thrashing summit had been reached, and this was the band coming down the far side of the hill, back to the city and their day jobs.
Under The Influence, Overkill's 3rd effort, seems often to be overshadowed by the two great albums that come before and the two after. The best known song here, Hello from the Gutter, seems to live (appropriately in a way) in the shadow of Elimination from the next album. There's that weird production. But within that extremely 80's album cover is a great, gritty work of thrash, and a bridge between modern and early Overkill.
Feel the Fire and Taking Over were both have some very distinct speed and NWOBHM influences, but Under the Influence develops the somewhat groovy sound more known as Overkill, slowing things down and spending some quality time on the sixth string. Bobby Blitz also shifts from the (relatively) clean vocals of the first two albums to the smoker's rasp gravel and growl he's know more for.
The groovy nature of the sound is further emphasized by the production. DD Verni is relatively high in the mix in most Overkill work but his clanking pick bass is even higher here, and the guitar tone I can only decsribe as "squishy". The combination adds some extra thud to the groovier tracks like the opener "Shred" (which true to its name, rips out some nasty solos), the crushing-like-a-hangover "Drunken Wisdom" and "End of the Line", and also adds an odd tone to the higher pitched songs like "Hello from the Gutter".
The highlights here are, well pretty much the whole damn album, the only remotely weak songs are "Headfirst" and "End of the Line" which have parts that can come off monotonous, though are still decent (End of the Line has an excellent creepy interlude in the middle). "Shred" and "Never Say Never" kick things off with speed and snarling determination from Blitz, "Hello from the Gutter" raises a 40 to all your broken dreams and breaks from the rest the album with a higher pitched classic main riff. "Mad Gone World", "Brainfade", and "Drunken Wisdom" join in the angry WTF-fest and feature some distinct touches -"Here it comes (PAUSE) Brainfade!", the pause in Drunken Wisdom before the solo where the song pauses for Bobby to chew out the subject of his wrath, and said wicked solo suddenly cuts out at the end into radio static.
The album closes with the title track, the third part of the Overkill song series, and features one of the most evil main riffs you'll ever hear. It ties this album in with the two before it, while the album also establishes Overkill's sound for years to come, and does a damn good job of it.
Arguably the first ever full-out thrash band, Overkill have had a surprisingly underground fan base and never really broke out into the big scene. What is even more frustrating to me is that they really have yet to release something that qualifies as "bad" compared to the rest of the aforementioned big scene thrash bands, yet some people still nit-pick their material for whatever reason. "Under the Influence", the third and penultimate album with core songwriter Bobby Gustafson, is the album that usually gets the most flack out of their "classic" material, despite being one of their most consistent and thrashiest releases ever.
I really can't stand this album getting so much negativity because I have yet to see a real stand-out argument against this album except for the fact that it's NOT one of the other first five Overkill albums (the ones usually regarded as their best). Personally, I think I understand what the denouncers are trying to get at, and simply just don't agree with them. Take the supposed "lack of variation" this album has, a reason I had to loosely pull from the vague arguments of others. They see it as a detractor, but I feel it's actually them noticing how consistent this is over, say "Taking Over". That one, while definitely being another stellar album as to be expected from Overkill, focused a lot on individual song strength/variety. This is obviously not a bad thing, but when bands do this, there are usually some tracks that REALLY stick out as being either excellent or lackluster. With "Under the Influence", all the songs are pretty much at the same level: none sticking out negatively, while still having almost all being of excellent quality.
The other major point brought up is the songwriting, and how the band took a "safer" or "less risky" approach, and therefore proclaims a decrease in quality. I called bullshit on this right away. This is thrash metal, damn it. The riffs are always plentiful in each song, the performance is energetic and life-like, and there is the usual aura of "poser-killing" present throughout the entire LP. And, as I mentioned, a "riskier" songwriting method usually leads to an unbalanced product of really good and really forgettable songs, killing the flow of the whole thing. A lot of the variation lies in the different tones of each song, actually, as there's a good balance of "upbeat" and darker compositions.
Of course, the song structures are not the only positives of this album. As I said before, this feels a lot thrashier compared to the other classics, maybe even the most thrash-sounding, and it owes a good deal of that to the production. Pretty much every instrument has been brought up volume-wise, including D.D.'s bass, which was already extremely audible to begin with. All of this combines to create an even greater wall of sound that still retains actual melody and discernable notes while thrashing about maniacally(something I've always loved about this band, since they do it consistently), despite being quite possibly their least melodic album. One of my few gripes with the succeeding (and, admittedly, better) album was that it was a little too quiet, which is actually the opposite here. Obviously as well, the instrumentation is near flawless, as every member is a near master of their respective instrument. There are intricate bass lines, blistering guitar solos, rapid drum beats, and shrieking banshee wails that all culminate into a gargantuan aural assault of skill and precision.
Song wise, there are a ton of neck-breaking moments to be found. Speedier tracks such as the opener "Shred", the third part of the Overkill saga "Under the Influence", and the semi-hit "Hello from the Gutter" all provide great headbanging, while mid-paced crushers like "Brainfade", "Never Say Never", and "Head First" steamroll over the listeners without an iota of boredom in sight.
But the track that deserves the most individual mentioning is the partially doom metal track "Drunken Wisdom", because Overkill, while being an undoubtedly outstanding thrash band, can actually write some damn good doom metal (and some awesome ballads as well, but that's a different story).
This song annihilates any claim that the album was too similar and didn't have enough advanced songwriting, all at once. Opening with a classical sounding acoustic intro, it transitions to a heavy-as-fuck riff, then goes into a fast section with that really nice chorus. The following guitar solo is horrifically underrated, and is probably one of Bobby's best ever. Needless to say, the main riff afterwards is incredibly thrash metal, and most likely the highlight of the entire album.
I'm actually not that surprised that the last review of this was 4 years ago. This is usually the release that garners the least attention, most likely due to being wedged between to highly regarded "masterworks" (this actually happens quite a few times with many other bands). Still, I cannot stress enough how great this album is, and it definitely shouldn't be ignored simply because that is the general consensual agreement.
Overkill's 3rd full length albums, is more of the same that we came to expect from the guys. One noticeable change is Blitz' vocals, he must have started hitting the cigarettes pretty hard after Taking Over, because from here on out his voice become really gruff and raspy. One thing you can say about Blitz' vocals on the later albums, is he is instantly recognizable, sounding a bit like Udo mixed with Bon Scott. The music is still classic Overkill, fast and aggressive, but still retaining that traditional metal melody and over all feel. The production on this album is pretty bad, the first 2 albums sounded much better, this one souds really lifelss. It's a shame too, some of the songs are hurt pretty bad by this.
The album kicks off with "Shred" which is a fan favorite, it has a nive driving rythym to it, and some really over the top vocals. There's a really fast break-down about half way through the song, it sounds a bit of out place on the album, but would kick ass live. "Never Say Never" is a mid paced number, with a really cool pre-chorus and chorus. Some interesting bass work, and riffs.
"Hello From the Gutter" is probably the most well known Overkill song. And for good reason, it's INSTANELY catchy, and just a really fun song. Great song from beginning to end, nice solo, and great vocal delivery. "Mad Gone World" has some really nice verses, but where they speed up for the chorus, it sounds really dis-jointed, you'll think your cd must have skipped. "Brainfade" is a kick ass thrasher, a little faster and more aggressive than the others. This is one of my favorite songs on the album, it's definetly a pre-cursor to their next album, The Years of Decay.
"Drunken Wisdom" is a slow paced, doom type song. I'm not really a fan of it, it's not a bad song, but it's not what I wanna hear from Overkill. It does speed up at the end and sounds pretty awesome for the last minute or 2. "End of the Line" starts off with a riff that reminds me of the riff in Slayer's "Jesus Saves" I'm not sure why. It has a really catchy chorus, but it's just a little too long for it's own good. "Head First" has a really punk feel too it, it's a really good song though. Probably sounds awesome live.
The album ends with Overkill III, and this is probably my favorite song on the album. One of Blitz' best vocal performances, I just love the way he sounds on this song, especially during the chorus "Before my dreamssss come to liiife!" sends chills down my neck. The music is more traditional than thrash, like the original Overkill song. I would love to hear this song live, but I doubt that will ever happen.
Overkill released this album just as their career really started to move upwards and onwards. Being on Atlantic Records, the band managed to recieve excellent distribution, hence the fact that I was able to aquire this on cassette when it was released(way back when) in my small little Northern Canada hometown of Sault Ste. Marie ON. 1988 seemed to be a pretty good year for many thrash bands, all of whom managed to release lengendary albums that have all managed to maintain a great deal of longevity. Some of those bands are Anthrax(state of euphoria), Slayer(south of heaven), Megadeth(so far, so good...so what), and of course who could forget Metallica's(...in justice for all). It would seem that for the most part "the big four" were leaving the rest of the competition behind. But for the underground metalheads, that did not look to MTV or Much Music for their music of greatest appeal, on top of it all was Overkill. By most Thrash metal fanatics standards that are true to the genre, Overkill always have been and always will be the kings of the underground thrash scene. As previously mentioned the only way the band benefitted at all in an attempt to showcase their maniacal sound was based solely on the fact that their record label offered internationl distribution.
As far as this album is concerned, It kicks ass! With the addition of new drummer Sid Falck, the band was able to increase the technical aspect of the music, as well as the fluctation of time changes in the double bass department. DD and Sid were probably the most underated rythm section in the genre.
Blitz's vocals were still piercing and the rasp that he would later incorporate in to his vocal approach was pretty much null and void. Very clean and clear sounding vocals. Not quite as controlled as on the previous two albums, but just the same possibly a little more over the top.
As for the guitar playing on this album, Bobby Gustafson does a fine job of both riffs and solos. One of his more flavorful solos is definately the one in Hello From The Gutter, which is extremely catchy and appealing to the listener. The acoustic intro to Drunken Wisdom is awesome and should have been embelished into something a little more than a measly intro, but it still works.
The only real place that this album fails to deliver is in the production, no thanx to Alex Parials. It wasn't until the next album that the band crossed paths with Terry Date, at which point a legend was born.
Under The Influence is a legendary thrash album. This album and others like it really helped the thrash scene peak in the late 80s. It’s probably my favorite Overkill album. It’s certainly better than their later work. The songs are much more melodic and first-rate than their following albums, such as Horrorscope. Apparently, some people on archives don’t feel the same. But that has no influence on my 96% grade.
This is everything a thrash album should be. The album starts fast and heavy with Shred. Track one has a powerful riff and impressive chorus. It is a premonition of things to come, for the rest of the album is just as quality. Hello From The Gutter has to be one of the top ten thrash songs ever. An amazing riff and immaculate chorus leaves you dumbfounded. The lyrics are great too, “The Big Apple’s rotten, rotting in the heat!” Bobby Gustafson is quite apt with the guitar, as D.D. Verni is with his bass. Put them together and you have deafening metal with intense solos. This song is sacred to many thrash fans. Blitzes vocals are a little screechy, but it adds character, and he’s still a very accomplished thrash lead singer. In fact, I like his vocals. Mad Gone World is almost as notable, with an especially fast chorus and energetic riffs. The song is fast and angry with lyrics hinting that a delusional man composed it. Brainfade keeps up the pace, as does Drunken Wisdom half way through the album. Brainfade has a funny clip of some whiny guy talking, pretty much the topic of the song. It’s most likely personal. The great tracks keep coming until they conclude with Overkill III. Bobby Gustafson perfects every chorus with his flawless guitar playing, and Blitzes striking vocals add the final touches. Give Sid credit on the percussion too, especially for keeping up with those fast riffs.
Therefore this is a classic Overkill album. Hello From The Gutter is an elite thrash release that helped thrash peak in 88’. Unfortunately the scene went downhill from there. If you’re a thrash/speed fan chances are you own it, but if not, what are you waiting for? New bands need to recreate a sound like this. If an album similar to Hello From The Gutter debuted today, I’m confident thrash would make a full return. Anyway this album is in a class of it’s own, fully deserving of its 96%.
While Overkill were late starters on the thrash scene, they more than made up for it by being one of the most prolific bands of the late '80s. Under The Influence was their third album in two years when it was released in 1988, and the rapidity at which the albums had been released had no effect on the quality of the material whatsoever.
So what were Overkill serving up for the Wrecking Crew? Well, it was a good dose of solid riffing, bass with attitude, some of the most imaginative drumming to be heard in the entire scene, and perhaps the second best thrash vocalist in Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, bettered only by Joey Belladonna.
Bobby Gustafson proved himself one of the most versatile guitar players of the time, multitracking crushing rhythm and searing lead guitars on the same songs. To make up for the lack of a second guitar, DD Verni's bass is high in the mix, sacrificing a bit of bottom end to fill the mid range gaps. The two blended together incredibly well to produce a distinct sound which set Overkill apart from the crowd.
The shout–along of "Hello From The Gutter", while a little cheesy now, was a typical Overkill thrasher– a catchy main riff, backed by the rock solid rhythm section, topped with Ellsworth's distinctive voice and some tasty leads.
No one ever did this band any favours as they fought their way up from the gutters (Hello!), which is reflected in some of the dark lyrical themes running through their songs. Broken dreams, the depths of drunken despair, the end of the line, all may have seemed lost, but there was definitely hope there for Overkill. "Shred", "Never Say Never" and "Headfirst" had more positive themes coming through, like new beginnings and pride in being yourself.
But at the end of the day, no one really gives a fuck what a band sings about as long as they have the songs to get the mosh pit going. Overkill more than deliver in that department on this album, or in fact on any album. And they have one of the coolest mascots ever in Chaly the skull bat thing!
Under The Influence marked quite a turning point for Overkill. Thus far, they had been violently tearing their way ahead with two relentless thrash albums, but their third release became quite a disappointment to me. Here, you can tell that they're evolving and progressing their songwriting skills, as the arrangements on here are a bit more unpredictable and varied, and the lyrics don't only deal with moshing and destruction. But some of these arrangements feel a bit sloppily put together- they just hadn't gotten the songwriting technique down yet, and while all songs have their memorable moments they just don't flow very nicely, as opposed to the godly material that would follow on The Years of Decay.
Also, the production is just rather boring. The raw and aggressive guitar tone feels quite monotonous, and the bass is very loud in the mix but mostly just plays along with Bobby's guitar riffs, so that feels quite unnecessary.
The musical changes on here are instantly noticeable- first of all, the songs are pretty dark and down-tuned, so to speak. There's not much upbeat stuff on here, except for Hello From The Gutter, which not surprisingly is also the most melodic song on here.
The riff core on this album is also thrashier than the first two releases, and rarely goes in that speedy direction as before. This also adds to the darker and angrier vibe the album gives off, which is enhanced by the aggressive production job.
The vocals of Blitz are also changing here, and not once does he pull off those insane shrieks of his. Instead, he manages to do a voice that's higher than the general stuff on the first two yet still somehow darker, a style he would perfect on upcoming releases.
While most of the songs on Under The Influence fail to keep my attention all through, there's some really good moments to be found.
Shred does just what the title indicates - it fucking shreds, right from that very first ripping thrash riffs. Very catchy song, classic 'Kill style, and one of the best songs on here.
Brainfade has some really memorable vocal lines and a very solid midpaced riff at around 2 minutes which provides some nice headbanging time.
Drunken Wisdom begins with a nice acoustic intro, and then goes into a decent midpaced grinder to speed up in the middle right after the classic line: "Why don't you get yourself a life? Just get the fuck out!"
End of the Line is somewhat forgettable, but has a crazy solo with a lead section resembling to Maiden's Phantom of the Opera.
And of course the third part of the Overkill trilogy (which isn't really a trilogy, as the unofficial fourth and last part is E.vil N.ever D.ies): Under The Influence.
It has that one really evil-sounding melodic main riff and some further cool vocal lines, but is a bit of a disappointment compared to the first two (and last) parts of the Overkill saga.
Aside from Shred, there's really just one song that manages to stay solid from start to finish, and that's Hello From The Gutter. It's upbeat, memorable, melodic and catchy as hell. And it doesn't just stay solid, it completely owns.
It has no vicious thrash riffs and no particular in-your-face attitude, just a totally fun song that provides some variety from the darker and occasionally monotone mood that lies over the rest of the material on here.
But if you look aside from these good moments, there's also some less enjoyable things in here. The thrashy riffs that build the core for the album can get a bit uninteresting after a while, and combined with the harsh guitar tone they don't manage to give the songs much personality. The song arrangements are solid, and different from the early stuff, but just fail to grab my attention every once in a while. So in conclusion, this is not a bad album, just rather underdeveloped. But it was a turning point for the band, and would lead to better things to come...
Overkill's followup to 1987's Taking Over. This recording also marks the debut of drummer Sid Falck.
The result is an album that is much more aggressive than the previous Overkill recordings. The riffing takes on a schizophrenic approach as Overkill becomes a more menacing thrash monster.
Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth (vocals) - Blitz here sounds more gravelly and seems to push his vocal range a little more. His delivery here starts getting more over the top, especially in Mad Gone World and Hello From The Gutter. He also starts to employ his trademark snarl here too.
Bobby Gustafson (guitars) - Bobby's riffing here takes on a more schizophrenic approach, with him adding/subtracting extra beats here and there (see the verses of Shred in particular) along with an all-out odd time section in the middle of Brainfade. His soloing is still the quick and sloppy soloing that has characterised his work, but shows in areas that he can
play melodically, as evidenced in End Of The Line.
Carlos "D.D." Verni (bass) - D.D. again follows Gustafson, and also locks in nicely with Falck to create a nice driving rhythm section.
Bob "Sid" Falck (drums) - Previously of Battlezone, English newcomer Sid Falck appears on drums and wastes no time making his presence felt. He hits the drums much harder than his predecessor Rat Skates, and has more speed, precision and power. Although not as fill-happy as he is on later releases, Falck still takes the quick opportunities to further pound his kit
into submission, and also shows some nice double-bass use.
The production was handled by Overkill themselves with Alex Perialas, and you can see the difference Overkill's input has made to the sound. The guitars are now beefier and less muffled, the bass is more distorted and prominent in the mix. The drums are also mixed better having a more clean sound to them, with a loud snare and less hi-hat.
Shred - Does exactly what the title says. Starts off with a neckbreaking riff much faster than anything they'd done previously (and as far as I know, since!). Features some off timed verses courtesy of Gustafson, and with the fast-paced riff reappearing repeatedly during the song, closing with it and Blitz's piercing "SHREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!"
Hello From The Gutter - This song got made into a video. It features a nice odd-timed riff and some of Blitz's most over-the-top vocals on the disc. Also featured here is an extended melodic solo from Gustafson.
Brainfade - A good venomous song on offer here, with some really catchy riffs and one of the best choruses on the disc. Some of Blitz's most sarcastic lyrics appear here too. Also features a totally off-time solo section that sounds completely chaotic.
Drunken Wisdom - Begins with a nice acoustic intro before turning into a Sabbath-esque grinder, before speeding up in the solo section. The heaviest cut on the disc.
End Of The Line - A nice headbanging number with a good chorus and some mice aggressive riffing. The real highlight is the slow clean section on which Gustafson bases his first solo. Very melodic and well executed, with the best solo on the album here too.
Mad Gone World - This one tries to fit a million different riffs into the one song without success. There's no real flow to the song and the chorus is totally out of place.
From early Overkill? No way!
- Crazier arrangements
- Improved drumming
- Clearer production
- Sometimes too chaotic for its own good (see Mad Gone World)
- Blitz's voice may be off-putting
This is where Overkill become the thrash monster that they are best known for. Essential for any thrash fan.
And shred they do, indeed. Although, it’s not shred in the traditional Yngwie Malmsteen sense. It’s more like shred as in rip your fucking face off, sew it to your ass and keep feeding you chili until you blast shit all over your own face! All right, maybe not that extreme, but you get the picture. This is definitely not the best Overkill album, but it is surely not the worst. It has its fair share of memorable moments, like "Shred", a favourite among Overkill fans, and a good, fun, singable thrasher.
Blitz, DD, Bobby and new drummer Sid Falck also give us such tasty numbers as "Never Say Never", which is somewhat of an ode to the band’s career thus far, "Brainfade" a typically fun number from the ‘Kill and "Head First" which is just oh, so groovy. Not to mention "Drunken Wisdom" and "End of the Line", to of the finest tracks the band has done over the length of their long career.
The highlight, however, has got to be "Hello from the Gutter", a true thrash giant. It is much like "Elimination" from THE YEARS OF DECAY or "Deny the Cross" from TAKING OVER in that it has that unmistakeable Overkill swagger, although it’s not really a swagger so much as a cocky twitch.
This album also captures the band in the middle of their first transition period. FEEL THE FIRE and TAKING OVER were undeniably similar in their classic speed/thrash leanings. On UNDER THE INFLUENCE we see a more aggressive Overkill, more in the vein of what Exodus or Slayer were doing around the same time. They haven't quite perfected it at this point, but it's damn enjoyable none the less.
There are only two songs which kind of bring the album down a bit. "Mad Gone World" starts off nicely enough, but never really seems to find a focus, and "Overkilll III" is a rather big disappointment. It’s not like the song sucks, but it just doesn’t live up to the memory of the first two chapters. That’s really the story of this album, though. It just doesn’t quite live up to the first two magnificent beasts that are FEEL THE FIRE and TAKING OVER. That’s not to say it’s not a great album in its own right, just not as great. Anyway, buy it, love it, hurl yourself into your stereo, whatever.
By this album, Overkill had gotten rid of most of their speed metal influences, and became an all-out thrash band. There are still melodic bits in the songs here and there, but they are more of a power-metal style than a speed-metal style.
Kicking off the album is "Shred", whose riffs are pretty much the epitome of New York thrash. The single note repeated under the verses, at efficient speed - something Anthrax and Nuclear Assault also employed extensively. The first side of the album is similar to that, and also includes Hello from the Gutter, which was a hit of sorts, and even had a video.
The second side of the album features longer and more epic songs. Drunken Wisdom combines aggression and melody nicely, and has a nice juxtaposition in the middle of a vicious Slayer-esque thrash solo that gets louder and louder, and noiser and noiser, and then a clean break of a riff that pretty much forces you to headbang now, survive later. End of the Line has a nice catchy chorus and some pretty well-done soloing, almost in the Iron Maiden style at times. Head First and Overkill Part III are also pretty nicely done.
It's Overkill, people - you really can't miss with them. This is yet another great album by them.