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Features Rank and File

Rank And File: Overkill

Higher! Higher! Feel the fire!

Green; it’s my favorite color. I’ve always loved the feeling of something that comes off right smack-dab in the middle of cold and warm. To me, it’s also the color best utilized for dark imagery and brightness alike, because it works so well in either situation. In a world where thrash metal bands were popping up in every corner, it would only make sense to make yourself stand out a little bit, no? The color red always seemed to be heavily associate with the grittier side of metal; probably because it resembles blood. But a pack of Jersey white bois had the genius idea of making green their predominant color, and that group is known as none other than the legendary Overkill!

Anyone who likes thrash enough to go beyond the big four has encountered this incredible group, especially seeing the impact they’d have on the scene all the way up to even today. They’ve got an enormous discography, twenty albums if you count Coverkill, which is more than most legendary thrashers can say. Admittedly, there was certainly a dry period that lasted for the first decade of the 2000s; however more recent efforts would revive much of this. There are a handful of eras to choose from, and today I’m here to discuss and rank them all.

Coverkill (1999) “No Feelings, for anybody else, except for myself, my beautiful self!”

I’m not going to count Coverkill in the actual ranking since it’s all covers, but it is worth going over, as it’s one of my favorite covers albums ever. Essentially, it’s loaded with punk rock songs, classic metal songs, and classic rock tunes alike. For the most part, the punk ones work perfectly, which makes sense. “I’m Against It” by The Ramones, “No Feelings” by The Sex Pistols,” and “Ain’t Nothin’ To Do” by Dead Boys all sound incredible and are made more vicious. The speedier metal or rock songs like Motorhead’s “Overkill” also sound natural, but some of the Black Sabbath choices may not have been the best pick. “Cornucopia” and “Changes” both sound super awkward (especially the latter), and KISS’s “Deuce” was sorta meh as well. Overall though, most of these are pretty fun renditions of classic tunes.

19) ReliXIV (2005) “We drank some beers and broke some heads, we never gave a shit!

Oh boy, this is a rough one. ReliXIV takes everything that wasn’t very appealing about Killbox 13 and makes it even worse. Squealing shrieks? Yeah they’re here. The horrible fucking guitar tone that’s so crunchy that it feels like burnt waffle fries? Oh yeah, also present. Boring tunes that may not be horrible but go absolutely nowhere? Present as ever. “A Pound Of Flesh” has some of the most uncomfortable construction Overkill could possibly be capable of. If it weren’t for the ridiculous ball of fun known as “Old School” at the end, this would be completely worthless. I’ve listened to far worse things than this, but it’s only worth getting if you’re aiming to collect every CD like myself.

Final Grade: D-

18) Killbox 13 (2003) “I am your stand and deliver, I am your shot!”

This album has very little to offer. Killbox 13 was right in the middle of what I call Overkill’s longest run of albums that hardly hold a flame. The vocals on this one get annoying very quickly as Blitz drenches more than enough of the songs with unwarranted screams that just sound thrown on top. There’s a clear attempt for a harsher output, but it falls on its face. “The One” is the only song on this that I get a large amount of enjoyment out of because its tempo stomps hard and the lyrics display a lot of attitude. I guess I can also get behind the fire-fueled speed of “Unholy.” Outside of this, you’re left with a bunch of songs that aren’t criminal status but really hold no memorability.

Final Grade: D

17) Immortalis (2007) “One push and one desire, one time to walk through the fire!”

Overkill remained on the groove train way longer than their thrash peers did, and way past their stop as well. But, Immortalis would be the first ray of light that shows signs of their older days. There are some horrid glares on this, such as the unnecessary addition of Randy Blythe’s vocals on “Skull And Bones.” The shrieks at the end of opener “Devil’s In The Mist” are also so laughable that I can’t take it seriously since it sounds like a scared kid rather a menacing front-man. Other than this, the rest of it isn’t terrible, but a lot of what is here relies on catchiness that doesn’t stick as well as it should. “Walk Through Fire” and “Charlie Get your Gun” probably hold the most value, but otherwise, there isn’t anything essential here. At least the horrid production from its predecessor is gone.

Final Grade: D+

16) Bloodletting (2000) “God can’t see where I stand, so God can’t be my left hand man!”

The beginning of the new millennium would mark when Overkill started to miss their shots. Bloodletting is one of those records where some of the songs are worthwhile, and some are pretty run-of-the-mill. The few standouts are great; see “Left Hand Man” with its catchy chorus or the abrasive opener “Thunderhead.” The rest of them serve a heavy dish of thrashy riffs that still have a glaring groove metal tone to them, and while nothing is outright bad, nothing else is that interesting either. Worth listening to at least once for the die-hard fans.

Final Grade: C-

15) Ironbound (2010) “Going down to sweet temptation, let his people go!”

Ah boy, the infamous Ironbound, otherwise known as the one that brought Overkill back onto the map. Truth be told, I don’t think it’s anything mind-blowing, but it was a clear step up from everything since Necroshine. The thrash roots have fully returned to the way they were over fifteen years prior, and it did what Immortalis hinted at (and failed at). The title track is incredible because of its calm presence midway through which turns into a super swift solo with a stomping backbone. D.D. Verni almost gets his own comeback with this, since his basslines are incredible. This is capitalized on “The Goal Is Your Soul,” and it showcases Blitz’s newer vocal style with its lower snarls mixed with the highs. I don’t quite see the magic that others seem to see, but what’s here is full of life.

Final Grade: C

14) White Devil Armory (2014) “Runnin’ like a freight train, on an iron rail!”

White Devil Armory is somewhat of a continuation of The Electric Age, but it lacks some of the new life that was spawned in that one. There are some obvious bangers such as “Armorist” thanks to it being catchy as hell and loaded with bass and guitar hooks. There’s also a pretty solid verse-to-riff structure in “Bitter Pill” where the vocals give way to a booming rhythm. And of course, the best track “It’s All Yours” is tacked onto the end with some of the punchiest riffs crafted on the entire disc. However, a lot of songs sound like recycled songs from the previous release. Not horrible, since that’s a good record to rip ideas from, but it doesn’t come close to holding the same value. Oh, and if you get this one, I suggest the version with the bonus tracks. “The Fight Song” is a Dropkick Murphys-esque melody banger, and the other is a solid cover of Nazareth’s “Miss Misery.”

Final Grade: C+

13) The Wings Of War (2019) “I’ve been everywhere but it’s never like home!”

You can read my full review for The Wings Of War, even though my thoughts have changed slightly since. Essentially it’s kind of like a somewhat weaker follow up to The Grinding Wheel. Nothing groundbreaking or new here, but there is a healthy amount of ear-splitters that stick in my head pretty well. Lead single “Last Man Standing” is full of momentum from the first drum kick all the way into the booming riffs. “Welcome To The Garden State” allows itself to stand out due to its happier nature and fun vibes, while “Batshit Crazy” hones in on reckless endeavors as the old albums do. Nothing fancy but a worthwhile spin.

Final Grade: B-

12) W.F.O. (1994) “Did they say we were separation? Citizens of a bastard nation!”

If you put Horrorscope through I Hear Black and give it some Pantera to marinate in, you basically get W.F.O. The groove metal riffs really start to show themselves, and although it’s still got a lot of thrash to it, there’s a noticeable difference. Not to mention, a lot of the tracks have that “tough guy” tint to them. Fun fact, this is actually Bobby Blitz’s favorite record of Overkill’s; I can’t say I agree with him. Although it’s not bad by any means, the production is super hard on the ears, and the bass is so heavy that it almost takes over the guitars. Good news for D.D. Verni I guess. It does contain the live staple “Bastard Nation,” which was what they played when Blitz told us it was his favorite one when I saw them. Closer “Gasoline Dream” is also pretty fun, so it’s a bit back heavy. There are a few other standouts like “The Wait / New Highs In Lows” with its slow climbing momentum and strong follow through. I also dig the hell out of the throaty backing snarls in “Under One.” Worth hearing for sure.

Final Grade: B

11) Necroshine (1999) “Basking in the light of the necroshine!”

Necroshine is one of those discs where I thought it was incredible the first time I heard it, but it lost some of its luster after several listens. That situation does not apply to the title track, however, as that one is a booming fireball of incredible groove riffs, bludgeoning drums, and vocal shrieks. “80 Cycles” and “Bevelation” work as a pretty fine duo because of the former’s slow trudges and the latter’s contrasting speed. Occasionally you’ll also come across fun abrasive throwbacks reminiscent to From The Underground And Below. “Forked Tongue Kiss” and “Black Line” both fit that description quite well. The rest of this is a pretty one-sided collection of tunes that are pretty strong but could stand some trimming.

Final Grade: B

10) The Grinding Wheel (2017) “Goddamn trouble ain’t never gonna stop!”

Man was I ever excited when this came out! The Grinding Wheel doesn’t do a whole lot to incorporate new or innovative ideas, but musically it sits somewhere between the two records before it. I did, however, notice a step-up in the drum work here, as they contribute more than just timekeeping. “Goddamn Trouble” is a furious ball of energy, and one of my favorites from this era. “Our Finest Hour” utilizes build-up very well, and vocal harmony slips back in on “Let’s All Go To Hades.” For the most part, the songs all have plenty of memorability, but there is still an underlying issue of some fat that should be trimmed. Mostly this is just in the opposing ends, the title track and “Mean Green Killing Machine.” Other than that, it’s a fine release that just doesn’t change the formula much. Highly recommend the version that includes a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald.”

Final Grade: B+

9) The Killing Kind (1996) “I’m a good boy now!”

Here’s where we mark the complete shift to groove territory. The Killing Kind is everything that W.F.O. wanted to be, but it was too attached to its thrash roots to make the jump. Thus, what we have here is a little less awkward and a little more attitude. But don’t let this worry you, because the speed is still very much alive. “Certifiable” is a super catchy number that flies by before you can even dance to the fun chorus. Along with the new guitar tones comes a deeper rasp to the vocals that just burn through the air. Speaking of burning, “Burn You Down To Ashes” has such a slow and dreadful feeling that eventually morphs into bassy dance-able passages. Somehow, they managed to fit the piano ballad “The Morning After / Private Bleeding” near the end without it breaking the flow at all. Lots of fun here. Although I think Overkill brought this style to peak performance on the following record, this one is great in its own way.

Final Grade: B+

8) Under The Influence (1988) “All those dreams and broken glass, swept down the sewer with the rest of the trash!”

Under The Influence would be the first real sign of a turning point for Overkill after the rawness of the first two discs. While still completely a thrash record, it shifts from the reckless sound on Taking Over to a more in-depth or “sophisticated” collection. If that’s not enough, signs of rock ‘n roll foundation make an appearance, and it’s also the record that finally gives D.D. Verni some justice production-wise. “Hello From The Gutter” is a live staple that combines accessible riffs and fun vibes with Bobby Blitz’s regular snarl. “End Of The Line” uses descending licks with a more minor tone to engage the same overall feel, and opener “Shred” lets Bobby Gustafson shine bright with some absolutely menacing solos. The end of the record slows things down and lays down the proggier sections the heaviest, which hints to where Overkill was going with the following record The Years Of Decay. This may be the weakest of the ’80s run, but it’s still an essential record on its own, and it acts as a bit of a transition.

Final Grade: A-

7) I Hear Black (1993) “And are you beating my meat to the sound of the same old drum?!”

Another transition album right here, and one of the only ones to not feature any green, but all warm colors on the sleeve. I Hear Black is a bit of a mess, but a good mess indeed. There’re a few thrash numbers, a few melodic heavy hitters, there’s doomy presence, and a slight hint towards the groove metal direction. The riffs on “World Of Hurt” sound like it could have come right off of Cowboys From Hell. The title track has one of the catchiest and cleanest choruses Overkill has ever written, and the melodies are quite traditional in build. Besides the two obvious thrashers “Weight Of The World” and opener “Dreaming In Colombian,” the rest of it zeros in on slower tempos. “Feed My Head” and “Shades Of Gray” are doom-ridden; with the latter one showing some clear resonance of Sabbathy hooks. Although the record tapers down a bit at the end, it’s still incredible for most of the run.

Final Grade: A-

6) From The Underground And Below (1997) “All about face, all about life, all about walking the edge of the knife!”

Holy fuck does this one ever pack a punch! First time I ever listened to From The Underground And Below, my mind was blown by how fast it went by for such a long release. What I call their peak groove performance, everything about this hits hard right from the aggressive beginning and pinch harmonics in “It Lives.” The feel here has some industrial tactics and robotic hints that give the riffs such a rusty coating. A personal favorite of mine is “F.U.C.T.” thanks to its horrific aura and break-neck speed. “Long Time Dyin’” is pretty excellent with how well its mixed, allowing the layers to come through at just the right times. And “Rip ‘N Tear” is built sturdily around raspy backing vocals and fun hooks. But the real outlier here is “Promises.” Although Overkill have done ballads in the past, none of them were as warm as this one. Where “The Years Of Decay” and “The Morning After / Private Bleeding” still injected dark and cold undertones, this one is completely heartfelt and comforting. Heavy guitars are added to weave it in smoothly, but primarily it’s held up with acoustic guitars. This is one of the most criminally overlooked albums of the ‘90s.

Final Grade: A-

5) The Electric Age (2012) “Got a lot of mouth for a Jersey white boy!”

Wow! I may be a little bit biased since The Electric Age was the first Overkill album that I can say I remember coming out, but this is incredible! While Ironbound wasn’t bad, this showed a magnificent increase in hooks, and the production is a bit more refined to make it easier on the ears. Songs like “Save Yourself” have a throwback vibe to them because of the riffing style, and the lyrics here are just awesome. The amount of attitude that the classics had comes through in “Old Wounds, New Scars,” particularly with the vocal delivery. But “Electric Rattlesnake” is the biggest banger here, quite possibly the best of this era, and I was so glad that they performed it live when I saw them. “Black Daze” is a standout thanks to the superior riffing and the way that it’s layered; Dave Linsk and Derek Taylor make an unstoppable duo. “Good Night” is a beautiful closer with its soft beginning leading to a speed-drenched track with blast beats and vocal harmony. Truly this is an incredible release; the lyrics, the delivery, the melodies, the attitude, it’s all there, and I think this one gets way overlooked.

Final Grade: A

4) Horrorscope (1991) “So full of hate, it’s getting late, yeah I know it’s coming!”

Can we take a moment to appreciate the drumming on this record? Seriously, that’s probably the first thing that comes to mind with Horrorscope. “Thanx For Nothing” and the cover of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” both start with blasting clicks by Sid Falck to set the mood. These songs are both spun with super aggressive punches as well. Regarding the whole disc, picture the intensity and technical design schemes used on The Years Of Decay. Give it a production that screams “1990s,” add a hint of groove, and you’ve got your album. “Bare Bones” and “Coma” both weave clean guitar sweeps with fast and abrasive punches to keep the blood pumping and the hooks super sharp. Much like the album’s predecessor, the title track is the stand-out slow one that focuses on a terrorizing sensation backed by slower, doomy riffs. Although gang vocals were pretty common for Overkill up to this point, they stick out the most here thanks to the bursting snarls. “Nice Day… For a Funeral” is an incredible work of art that hearkens in on slower creeps with an erupting solo. Not a bad track to be found here!

Final Grade: A

3) Feel The Fire (1985) “There’s nothing I despise more, than a bitch!”

Very few records reach the sheer level of primal angst that Feel The Fire reaches, all the while showing clear signs of more mature influences. Slayer’s Show No Mercy was like a response to the Iron Maiden debut, and this is like the next step sequentially. “Rotten To The Core” (my first ever Overkill tune) and “Hammerhead” reach breakneck speeds due to focus on fast hooks instead of sharp aggression. Moreover, Bobby Blitz has never belted screams like the ones here, especially in the end of “Raise The Dead.” However, attitude meets the steadier NWOBHM influences halfway in the title track with concise construction and miraculous build up to the bridge. “Overkill” takes the same approach by bouncing back and forth between the suspenseful buildups and racing speed, making for an intricate track. Depending on your version, you may get a nasty cover of the Dead Boys classic “Sonic Reducer” to capitalize on Overkill’s crusty lifestyle. Although other albums would hold more intricacy, this is where Overkill delivered their dirtiest, rawest, and most barbaric tunes.

Final Grade: A

2) Taking Over (1987) “Set ‘em up we’ll knock ‘em down, or knock ‘em up, then leave town!”

Only the second album, but the final one to feature Rat Skates on drums. The best way to put this one is that it’s a refined version of the debut. Taking Over has all of the dirty tactics and blitzing (ha) song construction, but it’s far less raw. Another thing that sets it apart is that the drums are tuned to fit the guitar’s buzzing presence, all creating a soundscape that can be felt in addition to heard. “Use Your Head” and “Powersurge” are both nasty kicks to the nuts lyrically and musically, as they boast the attitude to large lengths. “Fatal If Swallowed” is a gross play on words that fits the crude nature quite well. “Wrecking Crew” is basically an anthem that brings on wild fret-based rhythms while “Deny The Cross” coats on the tactic of jumping back and forth. The latter has such a chaotic feel to it, especially in the pre-chorus. It’s always been damn near impossible for me to pick a preference between the first two albums, but when push comes to shove, I think this one has just the tiniest, almost microscopic bit more hooks.

Final Grade: A

1) The Years Of Decay (1989) “Cryin’ in a funeral home, forward my mail, six feet underground!”

For those that remember my Megadeth Rank And File, you’ll know that The Years Of Decay is my second favorite thrash metal record ever behind Rust In Peace. The sound that was being pushed on Under The Influence fully bloomed on this record. The production is clear but cold, making Bobby Blitz’s vocals more concise than ever. Moreover, this is the closest Overkill ever came to progressive thrash since the riffs, layout, and transitions are just as complex as they are hooky. The famous bangers “Elimination” and “I Hate” display bouncy rhythms by Verni and Gustafson’s dual tactics. The vocals keep up perfectly and are so clear that you can hear all of Blitz’s pissed off outbursts. The slower bridge in “Elimination” is one of my favorite moments; it’s supported by Sid Falck’s threatening kicks, before erupting into a solo. “Birth Of Tension” and “E.vil N.ever D.ies” work this way as well, but reel in a lot more start/stop rhythms, and the latter is the perfect closer. “Time To Kill” uses this to create suspense with repeated notes, causing an anxious build (in a good way).

On the flip side, The Years Of Decay includes a lot of early doom influence, namely “Who Tends The Fire” and the beginning of “Nothing To Die For.” “Playing With Spiders / Skullcrusher,” does this as well, and heavily leaks into progressive territory. But the biggest surprise to me the first time I heard this was the fact that the title track is a ballad. Indeed, a slow number relying on a lot of acoustics with a somber and minor tone throughout the entire run. Nothing about it is warm or comforting; all it invokes is an empty feeling of age and abandonment (which is incredible). There’s a lot going on here, and there’s not even so much as a note that I’d cut out. How Overkill were able to craft something with so much going on and make it work so well is beyond me.

Final Grade: A+

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