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Good Yes..."Masterpiece" Not Quite - 79%

OldSchoolKid, April 26th, 2010

"The Years Of Decay" is a record I've had a peculiar relationship with since its unleashing upon the world. The year was 1989 and by this time, the thrash genre was just beginning its downward descent from what I consider its second peak in 1988 (into VERY early '89). Many of the more establish bands were beginning to dabble in experimentation with slower tempos and different sonic textures and Overkill were no different here. Some bands were able to pull it off rather well, like Slayer on the previous years "South Of Heaven" while others, such as Metallica's "...And Justice For All", turned into unmitigated snooze fests.

Coming off the absolute rager that was "Under The Influence", one of my personal favorite albums from the entire genre, Overkill offers a sort of "both worlds" approach on "The Years Of Decay". On the one hand, you have a sound that is as raw as any the genre ever produced. Blitz's vocals took on a less melodic and more of a raspy, screechy tone that he has continued to use to this day and Terry Date's production here is absolutely masterful as he finds the perfect balance between giving each of the instruments their own space and identity while also mixing everything into a coherent whole.

Having said this...the highlights of this record are those songs where Overkill does what Overkill has done the very best for 25+ years now...thrash, stomp and rage.

Opener "Time To Kill" gets the record off to a solid, if unspectacular beginning but does a fine job setting the stage for everything to come...including a tasty, crunchy down tempo middle section. From here we get what I feel are the two best tracks on the record and two of Overkill's best tracks in their long career, the very well known "Elimination" and the very underrated "I Hate", a tune where Blitz's new found raspy, pissed-off hiss finds a perfect outlet.

From here, this record becomes MUCH less the Overkill I'd come to know and love and more the "experimental" Overkill. The approach yields a few "good", not great tracks in "Nothing To Die For" and "Birth Of Tension" that have much going for them but seem to be lacking that edge that made Overkill an all-time great thrash band. It also results in the forgettable "Who Tends The Fire", the overlong "Playing With Spiders/Skullcrusher", a tune saved by an up tempo middle section and the unusual, yet spectacular title track.

About the title track...this was at a time when many established thrash acts were writing ballads and pseudo ballads, and not with a great deal of success. This is one song by one band who got it right...building it up brilliantly from Bobby Gustafson's acoustic texturing to a nice, crunchy mid-tempo stomp without either losing momentum or turning it into another song entirely. Blitz gives one of his finest performances ever on this track, recalling his previous vocal style while working in his new approach when the moment called for. What starts as acoustic rock builds up to an epic ending, succeeding where "Who Tends The Fire", a plodding, going nowhere 8-minute excursion failed.

Overkill then end with "E.vil N.ever D.ies", a most appropriate swan song to the Bobby Gustafson era of Overkill and a tune that sums up this album perfectly. A balls-to-the-wall slab of uptempo thrash that is a final return to what Overkill do the very best.

I've seen many people, both here and elsewhere, hail "The Years Of Decay" as a masterpiece and Overkill's finest hour...and indeed, the best songs on this record are among the best the band ever penned and for certain, highlights of the Bobby Gustafson era of Overkill, an era that brought young thrashers such as myself several year of shredtastic ear candy. To me, it is still an enjoyable and overall solid release

However, when I bought this album upon its release, I felt it was a step back for one of my favorite, if not my #1 favorite band...possibly the sign of a band either in transition or simply beginning to lose its spark, its edge, its fire. In spite of its awesome production and, in my opinion, some of the best performances of the respective careers of each of the musicians (especially Blitz and D.D.), this album still has a few too many dull moments, a few too many glaring flaws and not nearly enough musical cohesion or aggression to be considered a "thrashterpiece"...or even terribly representative of the band as a whole.

It is Overkill, it is good and I do still recommend this record if you don't own it already, not only as a solid Overkill release but as something of an historical document of the crossroads the thrash genre and many of its established acts found themselves at coming into the 1990's...but if you're looking for an introduction to this legendary outfit, I recommend finding "Under The Influence", "Feel The Fire" or "Horrorscope" before diving into this record.