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An essential thrash metal album! - 96%

DGYDP, January 4th, 2008

Every self-respecting thrash metal fan has at least heard of the name “Overkill”. Not only is this the name of an album by Motörhead (an album that had major influence on the development on thrash), but also the name of a band. Not just “a” band, but the band that would become known as the creators of the first ever thrash song (“the Beast Within”). They didn’t necessarily invent the genre, but they were pioneers and among the first to master a style that is loved and cherished by millions of people, even 20 years after its peak.

This album is their fourth studio album, and by many believed to be their magnum opus. It is indeed an essential thrash record, and not headbanging while listening to it is simply impossible. The name of this classic piece is “The Years of Decay”. It’s an excellent demonstration of how thrash metal should be played, but also a lesson on how to redefine yourself without selling out and staying within the boundaries of the respective genre. On a couple of songs we can hear how Blitz and company tried out some new elements and concepts. Some call this being ‘progressive’, but since I’m not fond of putting things in boxes (so to speak), I’ll leave that to you. These attempts to be less traditional are not that appealing to me, simply because I enjoy the other tracks a lot more.

“Playing with Spiders/Skullcrusher”, for example, is a 10 minute song that should have been split up in two different songs. The song starts with a slow paced, simple (but nice) riff and Ellsworth talking about difficulties in life. After a while though, it starts getting really repetitive and even a bit boring. That being said I did enjoy listening to it for the first time, it’s just not the sort of track you’d put on repeat and listen to for hours. Anyhow, Gustafson speeds his guitar work up halfway through the song. An instrumental part follows, and after a while the riff from the beginning comes in again. A solo follows, then a slow part again, and finally, the track fades out with the chorus. As you can see, this song has a much more complicated structure than we are used to hear from them. I am glad Overkill tried out something new, and I don’t mind this track that much, but after listening to the album for a couple of times I simply skip it.

“Who Tends the Fire”, is another track that is unlike all the other ones. The first part of the song is pretty dramatic, with Billy providing vocals in such a way and with an obvious attempt to have an epic, acoustic riff. This part is a perfect example of the more ‘epic’ nature of the album. Suddenly though, a great thrash riff kicks in. Unfortunately, this doesn’t save this song. After eight minutes it ends, and save for a couple of really cool riffs, this is perhaps the worst (as in: least enjoyable, because it’s certainly enjoyable) song on the album. This song forms a duo with the title track, which is pretty similar. I find “The Years of Decay” a lot more listenable though, mainly here, Blitz demonstrates his talent. For all of you people who thought he was only good for high-pitched singing, this song proves that he is capable of a lot more. With also a cool acoustic part, an awesome ‘whiplash causing’ part, a great solo and a great ending, this is a very good song. The ending alone is worth mentioning, since it just wants to make you jump out of your chair, raise the horns and sing along as loud as you can.

Even though I certainly enjoy the ‘less traditional’ songs, I like the other ones a lot more. Enough about the ‘weird’ songs, lets talk about the pure thrash classics. The album opener, “Time to Kill”, has an epic intro (what would you expect from the first song on an Overkill album?!). This song has many awesome thrash riffs, a sweet chorus (which will have you singing ‘time to kill!’ long after the album has ended), an amazing solo and an epic outro. What more would you wish for? The more I listen to this song, the more it grows on me.

All the nay-sayers are immediately silenced by “Elimination”. If you haven’t heard that song yet; you have failed. Period. The only way to make up for your failure at life is to run to the record store, get this cd, and listen to “Elimination” at least 89 times in a row. I don’t even know where to start praising it. I mean, this is quite possible one of the best thrash songs ever made. Everything about it kicks so much ass it’s a wet dream come true for all metal fanatics. The opening riff is so awesome, mere words cannot describe it. The bass line in the chorus is so amazing, that when I tried playing it, the gods punished me for touching something sacred. Blitz’ vocals are so amazing that you will be haunted by his presence for the rest of your life if you don’t learn the lyrics by heart. The drums are so great, that I simply don’t have anything more to add about them. There is also a dual solo, which you’ll have to check out for yourself because I don’t have words to describe that much ‘epic win’. Yes. Fuck. Yes.

Next are two other mind-blowing classics, “I Hate” and “Nothing to Die For”. The latter demonstrates (again) that Blitz is also good at singing clean vocals. The intro is really cool, and the rest of the song will cause your head to bang. Same thing for “I Hate”, which has a very catchy chorus. Once again … you’ll be singing this track long after the cd has ended. Thrash doesn’t get any better than this, so be sure to check out this cd if you even remotely like the genre.

“Birth of Tension” and “E.vil N.ever D.ies” are two other great songs. “Birth of Tension” has a cool opening and a really sweet bridge. Sid Falck demonstrates he’s good at double bass pounding in the chorus, and Gustafson demonstrates his guitar talents is another great solo. This solo is different from other ones he has done, and is actually pretty weird. The wah-wah pedal does its job, but perhaps Gustafson should have chosen to use it a bit less. Nonetheless, this solo demonstrates that lead guitarists can also try out new things in stead of sticking to the old-fashioned ‘play scales as fast as you can’ approach.

The last song on the record, “E.vil N.ever D.ies” starts with a really weird intro. I don’t really understand the purpose of it, and neither do I understand why they didn’t just edit it out. Luckily the intro quickly ends and we are treated with an awesome headbang moment. The song is overall very ‘Overkill’, the kind of thing you expect, but still blows you away while listening to it. The bridge has a sweet bass lick, and after it the song starts speeding up. This is an amazing song, to say the least. Once again a great solo follows, but unfortunately the song abruptly comes to an end. Too bad, because in my opinion they should have made this track longer and shortened longer songs. You wont hear me complain though, it’s still a good song.

As you may have noticed by now, this album is a thrash classic. Negative points are some of the lyrics, which are a bit predictable and contain the average ‘me angry’ approach, such as in “I Hate” and “Time to Kill”. I don’t mind these type of lyrics, but it’s just nothing new after hearing dozens of other records who contain the exact same message. There are also good lyrics though, most notably in “Elimination” (which deals about a person who has been diagnosed with a fatal disease) and in “The Years of Decay”. Blitz does a great job as a vocalist, and to me he is perhaps one of the best metal vocalists ever. He’s definitely a metal icon, who still goes by his original ideals (unlike others …). Most of his vocals contain high pitched singing, something a lot of people can’t stand. Therefore, the phrase ‘hate him or love him’ applies to Blitz. Even if you dislike his regular vocals, you still have to give him credit for being able to sing ‘normal’ as well. Something that is proven in “Nothing to die For” and “The Years of Decay”.

The instrumental part is really good too, especially DD Verni’s work as a bassist. Unlike most metal bassists, this guy does his job (as opposed to simply playing root notes of rhythm patterns). There’s even a ‘pop and slap’ thing featured in “Nothing to Die For”. I didn’t expect that, because I always thought that Claypool was the first to bring slapping into metal. Bobby Gustafson does a great job on guitar too, with great solos and some very memorable, amazing riffs. Falck’s job on the drums is good as well, nothing to criticize there. I think that many people give too less credit for drummers like him, because most of us hardcore metalheads are used to insane drumming. He may not be the best metal drummer ever, but he perfectly accompanied Blitz and co. on this album.

Oh and before I forget, the production is great too. It’s perfectly mixed, the bass is audible when it needs to be audible, the drums and vocals seem to be set at the right level … if I would be given a chance to re-master this album, I wouldn’t change a single thing!

Overall, this is a great album. If you like thrash, you should try it out, since it is an essential classic. Overkill are an important part in the history of the genre. Where other bands sold out and changed their sound to be more radio-friendly, Overkill have always stayed the good old Overkill. In 2008 they are one of the few pioneers who are still doing what they did 25 years ago, and only because of this fact they deserve respect. While ignored by the mainstream public, they still release amazing thrash albums (check out “Immortalis”, released in 2007). I love this band, and they deserve more respect than all the idiots who betrayed their roots …