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Overkill mercifully chose to bide their time regarding the release of their first professionally produced live album. The early '90s brought us behind the scenes footage alongside then-new music videos in Videoscope, but other than bootlegs, quality live footage of Overkill was simply not easy to procure. The real bummer here is that the this particular lineup of Overkill had the best stage presence along with seamless integration of the old material with the new. With Overkill's lineup facing an uncertain future for the second time in five years, the band decided to release their first earnest attempt at a live album as well as a rightfully-deserved swansong for departing axeslingers Cannavino and Gant.
What elevates this above Overkill's other live album Wrecking Everything is the same thing that brought down the aforementioned 2002 album: it's location in Overkill's history. While Wrecking Everything suffered from the inclusion of the tepid groove material that had begun to infect the band's setlists in earnest by that point, Wrecking Your Neck Live benefits from being released prior to The Killing Kind, Bloodletting, and the other late '90s albums that contributed much of the lamer material to Wrecking Everything. Being dropped during the cryptic period immediately following W.F.O., we naturally get a lot of material from said album, along with large chunks of I Hear Black and Horrorscope. When I was younger I would simply call this the "W.F.O. live album", since most of the band's 1994 record is included here. In fact, many of the songs here are obscure W.F.O. inclusions that were likely never/rarely played again afterward, like "Under One" and "Supersonic Hate".
The I Hear Black material is naturally neither here nor there from an entertainment viewpoint, although the two cuts included are among that album's best, making Wrecking Your Neck Live only that much easier to digest at the end of the day. The inclusion of my all-time Overkill favorite "New Machine" earns the album big personal brownie points, and other than a lack of material from Taking Over, the group's earlier material is represented well-enough. In typical Overkill fashion the proceedings are wrapped up courtesy of the cover song "Fuck You". All-in-all a great setlist that is skewed towards material that is all but entirely disregarded nowadays, helping give Wrecking Your Neck Live a unique value even today.
Ironically, this release also sounds much like W.F.O., with Verni's clanging bass tones leading the charge alongside Cannavino's polished rhythm. The guitars aren't necessarily quiet, but just like on the album they often represent here, the six-strings can't help but embody an afterthought of sorts after the vehement bass is taken into account. Verni even includes a one-off bass instrumental called "Anxiety". It sounds decent enough and reminds the crowd that Verni actually does have fairly deft fingers on the four-string, lest we forget. Mallare's presence was still fresh at the time of Wrecking Your Neck Live's release, so he plays with more a fire lit under his ass and feels the need to ratchet up the speed most of the time, adding a new dimension to otherwise plodding mid-paced numbers like "Under One".
While Wrecking Everything is longer and features a video companion piece, it still can't dethrone Wrecking Your Neck Live as Overkill's greatest live record. The production values are crisp and pluggy, lending to the guitars' neck-jerking patterns and Gant's digital-sounding leads. Blitz is also showcased during one of his better vocal periods. Bittersweet conclusion to the end of an era.
No one could ever rake Overkill over the coals for some premature live recording, they waited an entire decade and seven full-length studio LPs before venturing into this territory, and when they did, the format was undeniably in the fan's favor: two discs, 22 tracks and well over 100 minutes of material spanning their career to date. Technically, they had put out a few rare short-form releases with live tracks, but this was really their first commercial product of its type, and more substantial than what a lot of thrash bands had offered through the 80s on their first live discs. This was highly representative of where the band was at this point, an unstoppable 18-wheeler rambling through the 90s without looking back, the only sacrifice to their momentum coming in songwriting quality.
Unfortunately, the real obstacle for me in this recording is that it's just not 'made for me'. As someone who had a muted reaction to their more recent fare like I Hear Black and W.F.O., the emphasis on the newer material in the set holds little value. Granted, it made sense that they'd be incorporating current compositions into 1995 gig, but few if any of these particular tunes seem improved to me in the live arena. The selection of cuts drawn off the records I love is rather skimpy: just "Rotten to the Core" from Feel the Fire, "Wrecking Crew" and "Powersurge" from Taking Over, "Hello from the Gutter" from Under the Influence and then "Elimination" from The Years of Decay (they also perform "Skullkrusher", but it's a drag as always). Now, compare this to the inclusion of FIVE tracks from Horrorscope or SEVEN from W.F.O. and you've got an album inherently skewed away from my attention span. In their defense, they only break out two tracks from the unwelcome I Hear Black ("Spiritual Void", "World of Hurt"), but that's as many as they played from any of the classics...
Aside from that, Wrecking Your Neck Live just doesn't sound particularly great to me, which is a shame since it's delivered with audible clarity: punchy guitars, omnipresent bass, bleeding leads, capable drumming and Blitz summoned at just the proper level not to drown out the instruments. I think the mix just feels a little dry to my ears, as if each constituent track was leveled out but they just couldn't make them sound all that exciting. The cheers from the Ohio crowd are nice, often drifting into a spectral presence behind calmer moments in the set (like the exclusive bass/guitar instrumental "Anxiety" which is decent), and Blitz is the consummate entertainer when he speaks out between each of the band's pummeling concoctions, but in all the album never struck me as one of those essential live experiences like, say, Live Without Sense.
That said, it's also far from one of the worst I've heard, and fans who clung closely to the band's 1991-94 evolution and enjoyed all those records with Merritt Gant and Rob Cannavino will find it climactic, as this was also their swan song with Overkill. I am just not to be counted among these, and while I had hoped the live translations of several of the songs might further enamor me to them, I remained indifferent, not only from this album, but from several of their gigs I attended in person. With a little less Horrorscope or W.F.O., and perhaps a few other essentials like "Hammerhead", "Shred", "Deny the Cross" and "Electro-Violence", I'd have been more interested.
This is a pretty damn good live album. It's Overkill, who consistently kick some fucking ass, and are also the best live band ever. The recording doesn't QUITE capture them at full intensity (see the new album, Wrecking Everything, for something that does do that), but it is really quite good.
The song selection is decent, though a bit too concentrated on Horrorscope and WFO - two of their three last albums at the time. (The third, I Hear Black, was mostly skipped over, and with good reason!) There are five Horrorscope songs here, and six from WFO - good albums both, but there should have been more stuff from Feel the Fire (one song) and Taking Over (the mdeley of Wrecking Crew and Powersurge).
The closer is of course "Fuck You" with a bit of War Pigs thrown in. Overall, they play competently, and are genuinely enjoying themselves, and one can tell. Like most metal bands, they kick more ass live than in the studio. This album demonstrates that pretty well.