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Overkill Never Dies! - 100%

hells_unicorn, March 14th, 2007

Tracing its roots back to the NWOBHM and the underground punk scene, thrash combines the right amount of aggression and technical flair to both frighten the self-righteous into hiding and inspire a punk rocker hack to learn his instrument and grow his hair down to his ass. Naturally one is then to ask what the standard is for measuring the success of an effort at compiling an LP in this very unique and poorly imitated art form. Although some might site a release by Kreator, MegaDeth, or Metallica as the pinnacle of the genre, they probably never heard Overkill’s fourth invocation of the high speed, bone crushing, virtuoso worshipping demon that is thrash metal.

“The Years of Decay” accomplishes what many believe that Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” did, introduce a long-winded epic style with a more progressive sound without sacrificing the raw energy that an album of the thrash style demands. Several of the songs make use of brief introductions, as did Metallica’s heralded 3rd release, but here we see a consistent use of darkness and gloom that doesn’t clash with the faster sections that follow after. “Evil Never Dies” has an intro that may well be compared with “Damage Inc.”, except it listens like an ominous version of Medieval Organum rather than a comical pre-classical overture that doesn’t fit with what follows. The title track might be compared to “Sanitarium”, except it is structured completely different and highlights a dynamic vocal performance (Blitz has twice the range that Hetfield had when he could still sing) as well an artful avoidance of redundancy.

The first half of this album is where most of the thrashers lie, all of them clocking in at under 5 minutes except for “Time to Kill”, which has an extended riff intro that takes a minute or so before stomping the listener’s neck into the ground with a high speed riff frenzy. “I Hate” is the shortest and most aggressive of the lot; not to mention being lyrically the most punk inspired. If you are having a bad day and wish you could kick the shit out of whoever made it so, this song is quite therapeutic and a good alternative to facing assault charges. “Elimination” is the most listener-friendly and the most hook-laden, the lyrics are easy to follow, and the music video was a good alternative to the glam stuff that dominated MTV at the time. “Nothing to Die for” is another anthem of angst superimposed against a series of great thrash riffs, some of which sound like an even more speed driven version of Metallica’s “Blackened”, not to mention one where we can actually hear the bass.

The second half of this album is a mix of more insanely thrashing good fun and some experimental songs that rival longer works by other metal outfits. “Playing with Spiders/Skullcrusher” is the muddiest and slowest song I’ve ever heard out of the band, sometimes reminding of Black Sabbath, although Blitz’s vocals are literally all over the place yet never missing a note. It transitions into a somewhat faster tempo after the first few minutes, but it mostly reeks of doom influences. “The Years of Decay” is the closest thing to a ballad on here, starting off with a long acoustic section with Blitz actually singing cleanly, but getting plenty aggressive after the first few minutes. “Who Tends the Fire” is also quite long and starts off quiet, but is far too menacing throughout to be profaned with the title ballad. Metallica wishes they could write songs this horrific yet moderated in tempo and avoid getting boring. “Birth of Tension” and “Evil Never Dies” are more classic Overkill style thrash, rapidly shifting beats and riffs, and literally bashing the hell out of the listener until his ears bleed.

In many ways, “The Years of Decay” is the end of a grand chapter in the history of metal. It came out in a year when thrash was still very much alive, as were the 80s, but also when its impending demise was beginning to rear its ugly head. The closing track “Evil Never Dies” is accented with 3 periods to spell out “END”, obviously to signify that the 4 part Overkill saga started on the 9th track of the debut was over (although not credited as part 4 in the title, the signature riff found in the other 3 parts can be heard briefly towards the end). Ironically this would also come to signify the end of the era for the band with Bobby Gustafson as the sole axe man, but also signified in the title is the assertion that Evil is forever, and as one can readily observe on “Horrorscope” and the bulk of Overkill’s releases afterwards, this band is unmoved and unbroken by the tides of time and public opinion.

Although I argue this to be the greatest accomplishment of Overkill and the best thrash album I’ve ever heard thus far (I’m still proliferating stuff from the 80s), I am still partial to the debut due to a greater level of accessibility as well as my own history with it. The only flaw in this album is that it is so fast, so furious, and so complex that many will have a hard time grasping its true nature. If you like thrash and you don’t have this album, lie and say you do have it until you can get it, don’t be like me and be caught praising Overkill yet not actually have your own copy. If you only own one album by them, get this one, if you can get 2 albums, pick up “Feel the Fire” after you get this one.