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"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.