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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.