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Terror layeth beyond this moment. - 91%

hells_unicorn, August 20th, 2013

Most great albums are judged by how much influence they've exercised over subsequent offerings by other bands, but this standard becomes quite dicey when a great album comes in just before the end of an era where a completely different road is taken. These are the releases that are heralded mostly for being powerful works unto themselves, though often times they tend to set a precedent by which the same band will tend to refer back to when the tempest of change rears its ugly head. Thus is the story of Overkill's near universally praised and, rightfully so, 5th studio offering "Horrorscope", an album that came to define most of what would happen on further excursions into the dark and dreary world of 90s thrash metal, one that would prove to be less of a liability for these New Yorkers in terms of quality output when set alongside fellow thrashers Anthrax and all the important names in the Bay Area.

Occurring in the recent aftermath of longtime guitarist Bobby Gustafson jumping ship, this album takes a surprising route by keeping a general stylistic consistency with previous albums, but also taking great care not to sound like a collection of recycled ideas from "The Years Of Decay". The entry of Gant and Cannavino to the fold leaves the band with a denser atmosphere which tends to exploit the dueling soloist approach in a manner slightly reminiscent of those heard on "Rust In Peace", but scaled back significantly in scope. But the biggest change heard on here, and one that would prove to continually impact the band's sound up until "Ironbound" is the higher prominence of the bass in the mix, to the point of introducing something along the lines of a Peter Steele meets Joey Demaio sound, though not quite as flashy as the latter or effects drenched as the former.

It is often pointed out that atmosphere plays a heavy part in the shaping of this album's sound, but it should be noted that the usage of creepy quiet intros and interludes is only slightly greater than what occurred on "The Years Of Decay", and that the bulk of this album is on the upper echelon of the scale of early 90s thrash bludgeoning. The intro to the opening bruiser "Coma" fits the name of the song quite well with a haunting clean guitar line that reminds heavily of a number of atmospheric intros out of the Testament and early Annihilator model, though what follows is more akin to a upper mid-paced nightmare world with a riff set powerful enough to ruin even the astral projection of a spinal column. "Bare Bones" takes it a step further with a "Halloween" inspired piano intro followed by something very similar to the beginning of Helloween's song by the same name, but soon finds itself in ripping high tempo territory with a riff set massive enough to rival "Time Does Not Heal".

Having said all of this, most of the songs on here have a clearer separation of style and tend to embody a lot of the elements found on the two previous albums. Most of them come in the form of either outright fast and furious cruisers after the mold of Metallica's "Dyer's Eve", such as the riff monster "Live Young, Die Free" (which has a chorus riff that sounds very similar to the one that Iced Earth used soon after on the title song of "Night Of The Stormrider"), or slightly more moderated punchers like "Infectious" and "Blood Money", each one serving as templates of a familiar formula that would recur on a number of songs from "W.F.O." up till and including "Killbox 13". At the same time, the doom metal trudging of the title song with its Type O Negative sounding bass intro (2 years before the seminal "Bloody Kisses" was released no less) can't help but dredge up recent memories of "Skullcrusher", while the closing ballad "Solitude" lives up to the name in terms of its sadness and fatalism, and definitely reminds of the previous album's equally somber title song.

It's impossible to fully comprehend the significance of this album without making at least a short reference to the elephant in the room that often causes people to dismiss much of the thrash metal that came out post-1990, namely the groove metal craze that was kicked off by Metallica and Pantera. Like all new styles, the albums that first pushed the idea tend to be better than what follows, but in contrast to the output of many bands at this point, save a few holdouts like Evildead, Cyclone Temple and a few others, this doesn't really contain anything resembling either "The Black Album" or "Cowboys From Hell". It is a fully faithful stylistic rendition of the late 80s character of the style, and a lasting testament to the jarring nature of the stylistic transition that took place on "I Hear Black". And yet, at the same time, this album has come to define Overkill's sound since the close of the 80s, even in the case of their latest 2 albums "Ironbound" and "The Electric Age". This is not quite Overkill's finest hour in all respects, but it can be seen as an archetype, for what it's worth.