Overkill: Thrash Metal Vets Return With "The Grinding Wheel"
"Ride High, Ride Tall...Overkill Will Never Fall!"
New Jersey thrash metal legends Overkill released their eighteenth (!) studio album, The Grinding Wheel, in February of 2017...which was welcome news for this longtime fanboy. Overkill has been one of my favorite bands for more than a quarter century and in that time the band has never wavered from their mission to bring fans the best in crunching, punishing, heavy-as-hell Thrash Metal. It does my heart good to know that Overkill is still around and still recording long after most of their mosh-pit contemporaries from the '80s have either broken up, sold out, or disappeared. They may never have achieved the massive level of popularity that the so-called "Big Four" bands did during the '80s thrash metal explosion, but Overkill has maintained a diehard, blue-collar cult following both at home and abroad that comes out in force every time they release a new album or go on tour. This is a band that has survived countless line up changes, continuously ignored musical trends, and has damn near lost its lead singer to the Grim Reaper -- twice! -- and yet they keep on truckin', releasing a new album every year and a half or two years like clockwork and continuing to fight the good fight on concert stages across the globe. Such longevity demands respect!!
At the Dawn of the 80s...
Overkill were born and bred in Southern New Jersey, formed out of the ashes of bassist Carlo (later "D.D.") Verni and drummer Lee "Rat Skates" Kundrat's high-school punk band The Lubric*nts. Overkill was equally inspired by '70s punk rock and the early '80s NWOBHM scene, and started out as a cover band, playing their favorite songs at local clubs and bars. Verni and Skates went through the usual lineup shuffles common to all young bands while banging out a fairly eclectic (for the time period) set of covers of the Scorpions, the Ramones, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the Dead Boys. Eventually the "classic" Overkill lineup consisting of Verni, Skates, vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and guitarist Bobby Gustafson came together circa 1982. By this time, the band had phased out most of their cover tunes in favor of aggressive Sabbath and Motorhead-inspired originals based around the themes of horror and death. A theatrical, ghoulish stage show inspired by the Misfits accompanied their live presentation and made them a popular draw around tri-state area rock clubs.
Overkill recorded a five-song demo tape, Power in Black, in 1983, which sold like hotcakes at their live shows and through mail-order. The success of the demo led to a four song self-titled EP on Azra/Metalstorm Records in 1984 and finally, a full length debut album. 1985's Feel the Fire was released on Jonny Zazula's legendary MegaForce Records - the metal indie label that had also been the launching pad for Metallica, Raven and Anthrax. It was official, Overkill had arrived!
"Rotten to the Core" (1985)
Major Label Madness...
Feel the Fire put Overkill on the map, but the best was yet to come. By the time their sophomore release, Taking Over, hit shelves in 1987, MegaForce had signed a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. The extra "push" from having a major label in their corner put Overkill on MTV with "In Union We Stand" and on the road around the world. Skates left the band at the end of '87, citing tour burnout, but Overkill quickly replaced him with Sid Falck and unleashed Under the Influence in '88, a career high point that included the signature tune "Welcome to the Gutter," another set-list mainstay.
1989's The Years of Decay was the peak of Overkill's major-label period. With heavy metal at its mainstream height, the band's video for "Elimination" got major play on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball," and relentless touring paid off with sold out shows across the U.S. and abroad. However, musical tastes changed as the 90s dawned, the industry turned on a dime and Overkill's lean years began. Gustafson exited after the Decay tour and Overkill became a five piece, replacing him with two guitarists - Rob Cannavino and Merritt Gant. Still a major label act, this lineup released the fine Horrorscope in 1991, the odd I Hear Black (which marked the debut of drummer Tim Mallare) in '93, and W.F.O. for Atlantic in 1994, but grunge was king at the time and Atlantic had placed Overkill on the back burner. When the label finally cut them loose in 1995, it was probably a relief!
"Hello From the Gutter" (1988)
Back to the Indies...
Overkill found a receptive new home with the metal-friendly indie CMC International label in 1995 and released the double-live album Wrecking Your Neck. By this point Gant and Cannavino were already gone, replaced by the new guitar team of Sebastian Marino (ex-Anvil) and Joe Comeau (ex-Liege Lord). 1996's The Killing Kind, 97's stellar From the Underground and Below, and 1999's excellent Necroshine spewed forth from this lineup, and while the band kept on chugging, they found that the wheel was starting to come around for old-school, traditional metal again. Overkill were now regulars on the European metal festival circuit while still packing clubs on the home front, settling comfortably into their status as Elder Statesmen of the thrash scene. 1999's Coverkill was a collection of the band members' favorite songs by KISS, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and many more, touching base with their cover-band roots and bringing them full circle.
A brief cancer scare for Blitz Ellsworth only temporarily sidelined the band during the making of Necroshine (thankfully he made a full recovery), then 2000's Bloodletting marked the exit of Comeau and Marino. Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer became the new guitar team in time for 2002's Wrecking Everything live CD and DVD (their debut for new label Spitfire Records). Prior to '03's Killbox 13, Blitz suffered a mild stroke while onstage in Germany, but obviously nothin' keeps this guy down for long, because he was back on his feet in record time. Ron Lipnicki (ex-Hades) took over the drum stool for 2005's excellent RelixIV. Lamb of God's Randy Blythe made a guest appearance on "Skull and Bones" from 2007's Immortalis, showing some respect for a band that was a major influence on him. 2010's awesome Ironbound featured the single/video "Bring Me the Night" and was Overkill's most successful album in years, even managing to crack the lower regions of the Billboard sales charts upon its release.
"Midnight, dark sky...OVERKILL WILL NEVER DIE!"
White Devil Armory was unleashed in July of 2014 and was met with an ecstatic response from the band's faithful "Blood Metal Donors." W.D.A. actually managed to crack the Billboard Top 40 album chart in its first week of release, reaching a position of #31. Not bad for a bunch of thrashers with 30 years under their studded belts. As usual, Overkill supported the release with near-endless touring around the globe, bringing their blue collar metal to the masses.
I was lucky enough to catch Overkill live for the first time since 1994 (yes, it had been TWENTY YEARS!) in late 2014 and I can vouch for their continued intensity and power on the concert stage. If they hit your area, you are well advised to buy a ticket and prepare for the thrashing of your life!!
In 2015, Overkill signed a new worldwide deal with the veteran metal label Nuclear Blast Records - who had previously only handled Overkill's European affairs, but will now release their work globally. The first fruit of this new partnership was Historikill: 1995-2007 - a collector's edition box compiling all of their studio and live material released between '95 and '07 on the CMC, Sanctuary, Spitfire and Bodog labels, plus a bonus disc of demos and rarities. Many of the albums Overkill released through these now-defunct labels have been out of print for years...which made Historikill a handy way for fans to play catch-up on any titles they may have missed without having to pay exorbitant collector's prices on auction sites.
Historikill celebrated Overkill's three-plus decades in the trenches of metal, and set the stage nicely for The Grinding Wheel. 2018 brought a massive live concert CD/DVD package called Live In Overhausen, taped at a German festival where Overkill performed two of their benchmark albums (Feel the Fire and Horrorscope) in their entireties. The band has now welcomed new drummer Jason Bittner, formerly of Shadows Fall to the fold, and are prepping a new album for a projected 2019 release. Here's hoping that they will keep producing their brand of skull crushing old school thrash for another 30 years!
"Goddamn Trouble" (2017)
Power In Black (demo tape) 1983
Overkill (EP) - Azra/Metalstorm, 1984
Feel the Fire - MegaForce, 1985
Taking Over - MegaForce/Atlantic, 1987
!!!F**K YOU!!! (EP) - MegaForce/Caroline, 1987
Under the Influence - MegaForce/Atlantic, 1988
The Years of Decay - MegaForce/Atlantic, 1989
Horrorscope - MegaForce/Atlantic, 1991
I Hear Black - Atlantic, 1993
W.F.O. - Atlantic, 1994
Wrecking Your Neck (live) - CMC, 1995
The Killing Kind - CMC, 1996
!!!F**K YOU!!! (And Then Some) - Megaforce, 1996
From the Underground and Below - CMC, 1997
Necroshine - CMC, 1999
Coverkill - CMC, 1999
Bloodletting - Metal-Is, 2000
Wrecking Everything (Live) - Spitfire, 2002
Killbox 13 - Spitfire, 2003
RELIXIV - Spitfire, 2005
Immortalis - Bodog Music, 2007
Ironbound - E1 Music, 2010
The Electric Age - E1 Music, 2012
White Devil Armory - E1 Music, 2014
Historikill 1995-2007 (box set) - Nuclear Blast, 2015
The Grinding Wheel - Nuclear Blast, 2017
Live in Overhausen - Nuclear Blast, 2018
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© 2012 Keith Abt