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The cliché fall to redemption story is one that can't help but continue being told, and there are few bands, and fewer great bands that can boast having this all take place within the brief span of 2 years. But Overkill has always counted itself amongst the few and proud, often times doing so simply by showing up, and while they were briefly AWOL in 1993, the very next year they were back at almost the same level of intensity that had been on display at the beginning of the 90s. As strange as it may seem, this longstanding New York/New Jersey thrashing cult of the flying skull accomplished something that was not really heard of in the mid 90s save in the case of Iced Earth, namely moving forward by taking a few steps back. But while definitely a full return to bona fide thrashing glory, it should be kept in perspective that "W.F.O." is very much a creature of the 90s, albeit one that does draw a fair bit from the 80s at times.
Spilling forth like a green, glowing, slimy sludge of toxic waste, this album listens like a byproduct of an entire district of mechanized factories, therein being a rather brilliant answer to the "groove" question. Indeed, when inspecting a number of songs on here such as "What's Your Problem", "Under One" and "Up To Zero" it becomes pretty clear that elements of Pantera's handiwork on "Cowboys From Hell" has intermingled with elements of "...And Justice For All". Truth be told, if taking this album as a whole, this album could well be qualified as being what "The Black Album" might of sounded like had Bob Rock not gotten his grubby hands on it. Lending probably the most credence to this analogy alongside the continuing mid-tempo tendencies of much of the album is a guitar sound that is heavily reminiscent of Metallica's signature punchy tone on their last 2 albums with the hair at full length, not to mention a drum sound bombastic enough to cut heads with the famed self-titled Metallica venture in all its over-polished glory. The only thing that's kind of out of place in the Pantera/Metallica comparison is the massive bass presence of D.D. Verni, whose abrasive and tinny tone definitely brings this thing a bit closer to Manowar territory.
As much as I've generally shied away from comparing this band to Metallica given that between the vocal work and the radically different evolutionary path both bands took the comparison becomes quite tenuous, this album proves to be ripe territory for pointing out commonalities. When things sort of cruise around at mid-tempo as in the case of "Bastard Nation, which also contains a massive bass intro reminiscent of a variation on the idea put forth on the title song of Metallica's famed and bass-lite 4th LP, the moderately fast character definitely points to said band a bit more than the Exodus comparisons that would have applied more on albums past. Likewise, when this album cooks and lays out the galloping chug riffs at full intensity as on "Where It Hurts" and "Supersonic Hate", it reaches back a bit more to the sort of high-octane "Master Of Puppets" worship that is regularly heard out of the likes of Evile at present. But the most absolutely insane, neck-wrecking thrash fest to be found on here is "They Eat Their Young", which manages to completely blast itself through the space-time continuum and predict the sound heard on their old school comeback album "Ironbound", albeit with a far more mechanical sound that also shows how Pantera might have turned out had Phil Anselmo kept on expanding his high range and Dimebag had spent a little more time constructing thrash riffs instead of coasting along for a sequel to "Walk".
For 1994, this album is not merely good, it's a rather blatant aberration that has little in common with where the music scene was heading at this time. Sure, it's an album that a newcomer to thrash might mistakenly lump in with Pantera because of the similarly mechanical sounding guitar distortion and the generally gruff-driven vocals, though Blitz's version of gruff sounds a lot closer to a pissed off 2nd place runner up to an AC/DC vocalist audition than James Hetfield's version of the style, not to mention one of the few singers that didn't go around trying to sound like Layne Staley simply because everyone else did by this point. The only thing that really falls into the same league as this, though still being quite different in overall style, is Iced Earth's "Burnt Offerings", yet another exception to a growing rule of band's stripping down their sound to play to a younger and admittedly dumber audience that eventually went for mallcore. Many like to point to this as a failed attempt at making up for the experimental mess that was its predecessor "I Hear Black", but one listen to it will more likely reveal a mutant offshoot of said chemistry set nightmare coming back to reap havoc upon the masses, in a very good way.
After I Hear Black failed both critically and with the fans, Overkill faced what was perhaps their most daunting challenge since their inception: Whether to continue with the Sabbath-worship present on the previous LP, try to reinvent themselves again, or continue with the thrash formula which garnered them most of their success. In a fascinating twist, the band drew inspiration from all of these avenues, resulting in the enigmatic W.F.O.
The infamous production is without a doubt what most people remember about this release, even more than the music. Yes, the bass is ridiculously loud in the mix. This would have been a more effective approach if the bass itself didn't sound so gutted. It really doesn't rumble your bones like you would expect. It pops and clangs at a much higher timbre than expected, essentially clashing with the average guitar sound, resulting in aural conflict that never lets up.
This would all be forgiven if the songs were kick-ass. The album does feature some impressive cuts that wouldn't sound out of place on Horrorscope. "Where It Hurts", "Fast Junkie", and "They Eat Their Young" all scratch the thrash itch to a decent extent. In fact, at first blush the album sounds like an impressive return to form after the lackluster I Hear Black. However the middle of the album seriously drags, and a lot of these tracks are complete throwaways. "Under One" is a functional enough mid-paced number, but the subsequent section all the way up to "Bastard Nation" is completely vapid. The pointless instrumental "R.I.P. (Undone)" is completely ineffective. "Bastard Nation", however, redeems many of those follies, turning out to be the best track here. It could do without the overlong acoustic intro, but the shout-along chorus is extremely memorable.
The individual performances are hit and miss here. DD Verni can't be ignored, no matter how hard you try to filter the bass out of your mind. Blitz is his usual venomous self here, and he breaks out his cleaner "singing" voice on more than one occasion, a treat rarely observed after the Taking Over days. His prime inflection is a gravely approach that hearkens back to Horrorscope, which isn't unwelcome. Gant and Cannavino's swansong performance is pretty average, honestly. The riffs are quite thrashy, with more of a hard-rock essence at their core. For some reason most people group W.F.O. with Overkill's groove period, but the band honestly doesn't slow down enough here to get in any sort of significant groove; the only exception being the closer "Gasoline Dream". Tim Mallere improves upon his debut with the group, but honestly doesn't have much to work with here.
It's a shame so many of these tracks are so unmemorable, because the aforementioned impressive cuts are quite searing and powerful. Not a complete waste, and definitely a step in the right direction. Don't let W.F.O.'s reputation as a groove album turn you off. Worth a spin or two.
Gods know acronyms were never in short supply in the thrash metal scene, but the motorcycling term W.F.O. (for 'Wide Fuckin' Open') seems wildly appropriately for the tension and release Overkill had expressed in their best years. Naturally, with the title and songs like "Fast Junkie" on the track list, I had some anticipation that the band would be returning to the no-nonsense, infectious thrashing present on their formative displays of power, but the best I can really say for this record is that the band had gone 'green' again, whipped up a pretty sweet icon for Chaly which would look good spray-painted on any vehicle or guitar case, and taken I Hear Black out to the back alley and put it out of its misery. A proper mercy killing.
In spirit, W.F.O. definitely falls in line with earlier records like Taking Over and Under the Influence, but the music is unfortunately not up to snuff with earlier compositions. This is often considered another album in their 'groove metal' phase, but for the most part that just manifests in similar, rock-fueled riffs delivered at a meaty, thrashing pace. It's definitely pretty 'street' and tough guy, and one still draws the impression that the band were beefing themselves up to perform in a world alongside dominant 90s groove and nu-thrash staples like Machine Head or Pantera, but I'd hardly consider this as lame or offensive as Sepultura's Roots or similar tripe. W.F.O. consists primarily of straight thrashing tracks redolent of 1988-mid 90s' Anthrax, with a few hints of Metallica's percussive riffing circa Master of Puppets or ...And Justice For All. The riffs are admittedly quite simplistic throughout the track list, but in all honesty there are moments which, in retrospect, deliver all the charm and power of more modern, popular 'comeback' albums like Ironbound.
This was the second full-length with this particular lineup, and you could feel the confidence grow over the rather timid and uninspired I Hear Black. The riffs punch harder, with some more surgical riffing cutting through the rhythm guitars in cuts like "They Eat Their Young" or "Bastard Nation", and a bit of the band's punk influence is recaptured with the driving "Supersonic Hate". D.D. Verni's tone is officious in this mix, so puerile and prominent that it often distracts from the guitar with its very Anthrax-like pacing, and there is more than one point on this recording where I felt like I had been catapulted into State of Euphoria, with the often enthusiastic impetus in the note progressions. The drums feel polished but a little dry, there isn't much depth created through the fills and the kick and snare really needed some more power or reverb. As for Blitz, he's pretty charming here as usual, that beady, arsonist gleam in his eye translating to each scream and chorus, but I wouldn't say this is one of his more memorable performances. Explosive, not enduring.
I was somewhat worried that Overkill were going to just go all out bluesy-metal here and continue to draw heavily upon the Sabbath influence they've expressed in the past, so I was happily surprised that this was for the most part pretty upbeat. There are some slower grooves, often created by Verni's bobbing brickwork rhythms, but they almost always pick up the pace to better reflect the album's title. Thrash was quite the dead scene in 1994, a few stalwarts pressing on but the rest having transformed for the current market, so I can hardly fault the New Jersey/Yorkers for keeping it real. The problem is that this music feels like a sheet of bubble wrap. Fun to pop for 5-10 minutes, but the attention is quickly drawn elsewhere. None of the immortal craftsmanship of Under the Influence of Taking Over. No standout riffs or leads, just blue collar, functional bruising. At the same time, none of the tracks are exactly shit either: I could live without the banal acoustic interlude "R.I.P. (Undone)" or the 'hidden' cover jam at the end, but the core selection of songs stick with the program, though this program hardly reaps in a higher Nielsen rating.
Within a year after the ‘I hear Black’-debacle Overkill already released a new album. At first listen the albums appears to be more metal than its predecessor but appearances are very deceptive in this case. Musically seemingly going back to an earlier period and doing it so short after another one (which as said was style wise rather different) makes one think the band had regrets about the path chosen earlier. However this album suffers from a total lack of memorability, bad sound and possible the most uninspired performance by Bobby Blitz thus far.
It will not come as a shock to anyone who has heard this album when I say the production is pretty messed up. The guitars are rather annoyingly shrieking when one plays the album at a high volume but most important, the volume of the bassguitar is twice too high. On a few sections this actually has a nice influence but mostly it’s extremely annoying. As a whole the album lacks low, body and depth.
Then there’s the song writing. The darker (sometimes grungy) melodies from I Hear Black are gone and we are left with just groove thrash and some failed attempts at crossover. The choruses on this album all lack the catchiness which gave their previous 5 studio albums their character. And if one has to name a single song which can be considered good from start to finish only ‘Gasoline Dream’ can be considered decent. A song like ‘They Eat Their Young’ has some good ideas, nice build up and plenty of energy but the chorus is horrible, totally messing up a possibly good composition.
Then there is Bobby Blitz. I don’t recall hearing him sound so flat and dull before. Often one can hardly hear anything even remotely describable as a vocal melody. Uninspired and monotone. Is this the man who sang on ‘Elimination’? I can hardly imagine. Where on earth was his mind at when this album was written and recorded.
At least ‘I Hear Black’ had three memorable good songs and could be considered very incohesive and inconsistent. This album is just consistently bad. In true Stomp 442-ReLoad fashion this is utterly despicable hipster groove crap and don’t let anyone fool you into believing this to be a quality (or even decent) album from a once glorious speed and thrash metal band.
The dawn of the 90s brought an end to the glory of thrash. Some bands changed styles to appeal to a wider audience while others became more death based or groove based. Overkill would fall into the groove category and "W.F.O" is definitly groove metal, but it also has some killer pure thrash songs to satisfy the long time listener.
Before I start going into detail about the tunes, the first aspect noticeable about this album is the obnoxious sound of the bass. Now D.D Verni can play a mean bass, but it overtakes the guitar riffage as it engulfs the sound of the songs on here. It is too hard to ignore or overlook it as it is quite annoying.
Now with that settled, I shall proceed. Overkill has always had a knack for having great openers and they continue that with "Where It Hurts." It is fast, pure thrash. What could anyone else ask for? "Fast Junkie" continues the thrashing and has breakneck speed that recalls "Deny the Cross" from their second album. Then there is this angry ending with Blitz shouting "Wide Fuckin' Open" to spew the madness on this tune. "They Eat Their Young" is also a good, solid thrash song with a haunting chorus that will chill the bone.
Along with these great thrash tracks is the onslaught of Bobby Blitz's vocals. Comparing to past albums, Blitz sounds like he is out for vengeance displaying anger and ferocity in his vocals and is overall a big plus. His distinctive voice adds character to these songs he knows how to fuel a fire within a record. His fierce growl in the chorus "Under One" shows just what I am talking about.
With the talent that Blitz has though, Overkill starts this new trend of gang shouts into their songs and is no good. "Fast Junkie" incorporates this as well as "They Eat Their Young" and it boggles my mind as to why they would do this. It sounds like dogs barking for food or something to that effect. It is useless and very frustrating to listen to.
On top of that, Overkill manages to write a song that I can only describe as an utter embarassment. The first thing I thought of when I heard this song was Pantera. Especially the song "Walk" minus the annoying chorus. Speaking of the chorus, it tries to be powerful and anthemic, but it falls flat on its face. It does not fit at all with the rest of the numbers on here.
Thankfully, the listener can enjoy "The Wait-New High in Lows" which features a wicked lead into Blitz blasting the vocal line and the tempo pick up at the end makes this one a keeper. The closer "Gasoline Dream" has an opening vocal linecomparable to the ones used on the Overkill II and III songs, but it maintains a doomy atmosphere throughout. The tempo continually goes from slow to mid-paced and is a good closer.
This record came out in 1994 and for what this album features, it is very impressive. With the pure thrash songs and Blitz's awesome vocal performance, this is something most people can enjoy, but the bass sound might turn people off. Songs to check out are definitly "Where It Hurts", "Fast Junkie" and "The Wait-New High in Lows." Also, do not miss out if you find this W.F.O.
As the 90s progressed, thrash was basically dead. Most bands were either disbanded, or changed their style to meet the mainstream's standards. However, for the most part, Overkill stuck to their guns as a thrash band, and managed to release another great thrash record. This album was quiet the shocker. Considering that just a year before, they were experimenting with groove metal, but this album is almost a return to sound for this band. The only other band that managed to put out a half decent thrash album during this time was Slayer, but this album is certainly better than Divine Intervention.
Where It Hurts, Fast Junkie, and Bastard Nation are my favorite songs on this album. Fast Junkie is an awesome thrasher, with a monster riff that if you don't approach with caution, will rip your head off. Fast Junkie and Bastard Nation have a bit of a punkish vibe to it. Especially Bastard Nation, that chorus has a very punkish feel to it. The singing and shouting of Ellsworth and Verni is a major reason for this, it's quiet enjoyable. Other good songs on here would be Supersonic Hate and What's Your Problem. R.I.P. (Undone) is a miunte in a half acoustic session. Some like it, and others don't. I happen to be one of those that do like it.
About the only songs on here that I'm not into are Up To Zero and Under One. Both feel rushed an uninspiring. Yeah, and there's already been alot of talk about the loud bass tone. Some people think it's pretty annoying, and I too admit that it took some time to get used to, but once I did, I thought it was pretty cool and original, especially for thrash.
Conclusion: It's not quiet as good as their classic albums, but W.F.O. is an essiantial for any thrash metal fan. It's also the last greta Overkill record until Blooletting. If you find this album, get it!