If you took the time to read up on my Rank And File of the Overkill discography, or read any of my other articles that mention my love for the album at hand, or if you just happen to know my taste that well, then it should come as no surprise that Overkill’s The Years Of Decay is my second favorite thrash metal record ever created, behind Megadeth’s Rust In Peace. As you can imagine, I’ve touched on this before, but if you took a breath to read that paragraph-long sentence, then why not stick around for my proverbial jerking-off to this fundamental piece of thrash excellence on its thirtieth birthday?
Musically speaking, it’s pretty well known by now that The Years Of Decay marked a significant leap forward in musical technicality and songwriting. Bobby Gustafson would leave after this record due to complications with Bobby Blitz and D.D. Verni, but he sure went out on a bang. Rather than keeping the formula straightforward thrash metal, they would embark on an effort that followed the bands that were upping the ante regarding technicality. Consider the second wave of thrashers; Annihilator, Vio-lence, Dark Angel, etc. who were innovating this as their prime basis. Factor in the well-established first-wavers like Metallica, Megadeth, or Kreator who were also heading in this direction. It makes perfect sense that Overkill pumped this beast out.
Production-wise, this also had a far clearer, yet colder vibe to it, so I wouldn’t call it overly polished. What that meant is that the bass stood forward in the mix more substantially, Bobby Blitz’s vocals were a bit more comprehensive, and the guitars were stripped of excess sound, which gave them a sharper blade. But the attitude behind the riff-work was so frigid that you could almost quiver at the cold atmosphere that the album cover suggests when looking at it and listening. Most importantly, this very attitude and solid production are what prevented The Years Of Decay from sounding inconsistent, despite the many different song approaches.
The Songs, Broken Down:
The record starts with “Time To Kill,” which uses repetition with irregular rhythmic patterns to let us know how unique it’s going to be from the start. Multiple different bridges and tempo-shifts are included. The core of this tune is when things reach the slowest point, letting descending, higher guitar notes lead to a vocal bridge. The song then erupts in outbursts of firework-like blasts from the drums and guitars that eventually lead back into the speed, thus resolving itself. Consider this like the foreshadowing in a horror film, as most of the songs present have something in common with this one.
But the next two tracks “Elimination” and “I Hate” are when the anger truly kicks in. These two songs double as a pair of flawless blitzing thrashers. The former one is a tale of early death and disease that weaves in screeching solos between verses, and a furious yet clean vocal delivery. The bridge that comes before the solo has some of the greatest lyrical sequences on the album, before hitting the main solo. The latter of the two is a bit more direct and utilizes a higher pitch to gauge the mood. But that instantly collapses in on stomping verses that even top the intensity of the previous track. Both tracks showcase some of the band’s greatest timing tactics and Blitz’s sharpest delivery. His ability to give them such a smooth flow while maintaining a hard snarl is beyond impressive.
“Nothing To Die For” throws back to the repetition tactics that were introduced in the album opener. What’s nice about this one is how the guitar layers work so well. Bobby Gustafson teeters with a higher lick that winds up snagging the D.D Verni and Sid Falck parts into its patterns. With that, you’ve got a bit of a confusing intro that falls into a hefty blast of melody. The bass plucks that introduce fuming-fast drums behind a solo finish it off perfectly. Following this, the final number on side A resurrects the slower moments. Starting as a full-on doom number, “Playing With Spiders/Skullcrusher” is a longer ditty built on ultra-thick riffs that are explosive as fuck. Paying a lot of homages to early Black Sabbath, Bobby’s deep and gritty voice has a horrific effect. But rest assured, this song doesn’t sound out of place amidst all the speed metal backbone.
Side B returns to form for a hot second with “Birth Of Tension.” Sid Falck’s blasting drums take a high presence here again, although it’s weirdly one of the most melodic songs among all of the thrashers. But after this, it’s back to the doom-ridden numbers. “Who Tends The Fire” isn’t too far off from what “Playing With Spiders/Skullcrusher” introduced, as the abrasive and dry atmosphere shadows more Sabbathy riff-work; also on the longer side. The real anomaly is the third and final doom number, the beautifully crafted title track “The Years Of Decay.” First of all, this song was a very ballsy move considering it’s meant to be the focal point, yet it’s actually a ballad! Perhaps being the only song that isn’t predicted by the first track “Time To Kill,” it’s crafted on acoustic guitars and super clean vocals for a great portion of it. Seems anticlimactic, right? You’d be a fool to assume so, because this is easily the coldest, darkest, and most spine-tingling track on the whole album. Much like W.A.S.P.’s “Sleeping In The Fire,” I refer to these as dark-ballads, or very doomy and creepy soft songs. A feeling of loneliness, abandonment, and sheer stillness is achieved with this long masterpiece. Just when the song sounds like it’s gonna end, a suspenseful second half is added and allows the whole thing to follow through with stunning perfection. The whole thing paints brilliant and depressing pictures of life itself passing on, and eventually dying off forever.
The record closes with one last speed/thrasher that easily matches the delivery of “Elimination” and “I Hate.” Known as “E.vil N.ever D.ies,” this tune is meant to be a continuation of the “Overkill” series that featured one song on each of the previous three albums. It may not be in the name; however, it’s a magnificent way to end an album, especially following such an emotional roller coaster of a song. The breakneck speeds and interwoven acoustic licks are the biggest things to be gained from it.
The Years Of Decay was one of the biggest inspirations for Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell. Overkill would head into a more groove-oriented build shortly after this, but the tones and the start/stop execution was a big inspiration to the late Dimebag Darrell. Producer Terry Date would also go on to produce that album. If that’s not enough, it certainly helped push the more progressive thrash albums that were in the making. Seeing that it hit a year before Rust In Peace, the two make a great double-feature. This is also typically hailed as their best record by many fans, alongside its follow-up Horrorscope, which shared many similarities with this one. So overall, this broke some serious ground for the band.
These New Jersey thrashers had an unstoppable run of albums in the ‘80s, and also hold many greats beyond that. Some more overlooked than others, and the first couple definitely embraced that raw punk-fueled energy the most. But if you ask me, The Years Of Decay was where they peaked. If you’ve never heard this the whole way through, I can’t encourage you any more to go and give it a spin. It’s meant to be listened to in a focused setting, as there’s so much to take in. For the long-time fans, go get your skull crushed and re-crushed!
The Years Of Decay came out on October thirteenth, 1989 (which happened to be a Friday the thirteenth)! It was released through Megaforce/Atlantic and was pressed to vinyl, CD, and cassette. Surprisingly, it didn’t see any official re-issues besides one in Japan in 2013. Find yourself an old copy here!