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Overkill: Masters of East Coast Thrash Metal

I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

Overkill L-R: Jason Bittner (drums), Dave Linsk (guitar), Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth (vocals), Derek Tailer (guitar), D.D. Verni (bass)

Overkill L-R: Jason Bittner (drums), Dave Linsk (guitar), Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth (vocals), Derek Tailer (guitar), D.D. Verni (bass)

"Ride High, Ride Tall...Overkill Will Never Fall!"

Overkill's most recent studio album, The Wings Of War, was released in February of 2019, but their next one (which will be their twentieth!) is reportedly in the works for later this year...which is welcome news for this longtime fanboy. Overkill has been one of my favorite bands for more than three decades, 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 long after most of their mosh-pit contemporaries from the '80s have either broken up, sold out, or disappeared.

Overkill may never have achieved the massive popularity that the so-called "Big Four" bands did during the '80s thrash metal explosion, but they've maintained a diehard, blue-collar cult following that comes out in force every time they 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 fighting the good fight on concert stages across the globe. Such longevity demands respect!!

POWER IN BLACK demo, 1983.

POWER IN BLACK demo, 1983.

At the Dawn of the 80s...

Overkill were born 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 Lubricunts. Inspired by '70s punk rock and the early '80s NWOBHM scene, Overkill started out as a cover band, going through the usual lineup shuffles common to all young bands as they banged out songs by 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 in tri-state area 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)

"Under the Influence" (1988)

"Under the Influence" (1988)

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."

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 were changing 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 excellent Horrorscope in 1991, the odd I Hear Black (which marked the debut of drummer Tim Mallare) in '93, and W.F.O. in 1994, but grunge rock was king 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. Gant and Cannavino were 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 and still packed 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.

"Last Man Standing" from "The Wings of War" (2019)

"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 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 metal to the masses.

In 2015, they 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 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 also welcomed new drummer Jason Bittner, formerly of Shadows Fall, to the fold, who made his first recorded appearance on The Wings Of War.

Here's to Overkill for keeping the grinding wheels turning, and we hope that they will keep producing their brand of skull crushing old school thrash for another 30 years!

© 2012 Keith Abt


Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 14, 2012:

Cool man, will check it out. I will post a review of my own eventually, I just need to find the time to bang one out.

Steve Orion from Tampa, Florida on April 14, 2012:

I've posted my review of the album, and am awaiting yours! I thought, after repeated listens, that Ironbound was better.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 13, 2012:

Right on, Skurv... and seriously, you gotta write some Hubs of your own about some of your musical adventures one of these days!!

ScurvySkalliwag from Judith River, Montana on April 13, 2012:

I first a these yahoos in Old Bridge, New Jersey in like 1983. I was a weary travler from the west coast trying to earn a buck or two playing in some tri-state bars and dives. I dig the first few lps. Say up till Horrorscope than interest waned. I scrounged up a used copy of Killbox 13 as a kickdown from a guy whom I played in a band with just after it came out and have slowly but surely revisited most of the discography.

Ironbound was a notch or two up from Immortalis and The Electric Age continues on the same vein as Ironbound.

Alf on April 05, 2012:

Review of Spanish fan

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on April 02, 2012:

Cool man, glad you're digging it!! I picked it up as well and it's pretty badass. Will be posting my review as soon as I find time to bang one out!

Steve Orion from Tampa, Florida on April 02, 2012:

Damn, I am liking the new album! Listening to it now and will be for a while. I'll also post a review ASAP and will be waiting for yours!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 06, 2012:

I was a big Anthrax fan during the '80s but once Belladonna split and they replaced him with John Bush it just wasn't the same.

That said, their new one w/Joey, WORSHIP MUSIC, is a pretty damn fine piece of work.

NetBlots from Melbourne on March 05, 2012:

Yeah same, I'm not much of an anthrax man myself =)

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 05, 2012:

If they ever extend the "Big 4" to the "Big 5," then Overkill definitely deserves the #5 spot in my book. I always preferred them to Anthrax (and still do!)

Manny on March 05, 2012:

Love Overkill and IMO they should replace Anthrax with Overkill as one of the big 4, no drama when they replace musicians, no pretense, just balls to the wall hard driving ass kicking metal done New York Style

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 29, 2012:

Cool man, will check out your band!

NetBlots from Melbourne on February 29, 2012:

No problemo!

Oh my profile may not look all that metal, but I front a heavy metal band called Knightmare... =)

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 27, 2012:

Right on, NetBlots! Thanks for stopping by!

NetBlots from Melbourne on February 27, 2012:

Damn that's awesome!!

Be straight down to the music store to buy that one!!


Steve Orion from Tampa, Florida on February 23, 2012:

Hell yes! Nice preview, this album is on my to-watch-and-review list. Can't wait!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 09, 2012:

Cool man, I'm sure you will dig!

TheHeavyReview on February 09, 2012:

Thanks, FFC! I might write a review for "Ironbound" sometime soon, you've definitely got me interested in hearing it.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 09, 2012:

Thanx THR... obviously I'm a bit of a fanboy (Haha), I think pretty much any Overkill is good Overkill, but IRONBOUND was definitely a step up from the last few albums that preceded it and is well worth checking out in my book.

TheHeavyReview on February 08, 2012:

I haven't listened to "Ironbound" yet, but these comments really make me want to go check it out! This is great hub, and it's very well written. You obviously know lots about Overkill!

I love their first four albums; I think "Under the Influence" is my personal favorite. "Wrecking Crew" from "Taking Over" might just be my favorite song from the band. I'm excited for the new album, there are so many great metal releases coming out in 2012!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 08, 2012:

You're welcome Steve... IRONBOUND was their best in a long time and from what I can hear in that "in the studio" clip it sounds like the new stuff will carry on in that vein. I'm stoked!

Steve Orion from Tampa, Florida on February 08, 2012:

Sweet! I first found these guys after they released Ironbound and have been listening to them ever since. I think their last was best, based on the albums I heard. Thanks for this news, I'm totally psyched!

Brian L Marshall on February 08, 2012:

Cool that they have a new one, although I haven't paid attention much to their output after Necroshine.