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Overkill, "From the Underground and Below" Review

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.

Album Art for "From the Underground and Below" by Overkill

Album Art for "From the Underground and Below" by Overkill

Overkill—From the Underground and Below

Label: CMC International Records

Year Released: 1997

Number of Tracks: 10

Run Time: 48:40

1997's From the Underground and Below is my favorite Overkill album of the 1990s, and it easily ranks as one of my top Kill discs overall. The Jersey thrash purists had obviously been working through some "new lineup jitters" on their previous album, 1996's The Killing Kind, which introduced the new guitar team of Joe Comeau and Sebastian Marino. While it had its fair share of quality cuts, The Killing Kind's flat, lifeless production quality held it back from achieving "essential" status.

By the time From the Underground came out a year later, however, the new players' rough edges had been smoothed out, and Marino and Comeau were fitting into the band like a pair of bloody gloves. Overkill also made the wise choice to hire extreme metal guru Colin Richardson to mix the album. Richardson's resume included work with underground extremists like Napalm Death, Machine Head, and Cannibal Corpse, to name just a few, and his input gave F.T.U.A.B. an awesome extra layer of razor-toothed nastiness. Production-wise, this was the best-sounding Overkill album in years. It literally leapt from the speakers and attacked the listener, like a good thrash record should!

In addition, vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth's pipes were in phenomenal form on this record. He screams, he snarls, he caterwauls, hell, he even croons a little! This may be the best, most varied vocal performance of the man's career.

In other words, Overkill was on top of their game on From the Underground and Below, which loudly and proudly announced, "We're not goin' anywhere!" to every insipid, trendy '90s nu-metal combo that had sprung up hoping to usurp their mosh-pit throne.

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The Songs

From the Underground and Below kicks off with "It Lives," a heavy dose of shrapnel that's powered by Tim Mallare's machine-precise drumming, and then continues to steamroll the listener with even more chunky goodness like the crunchy swing of "Save Me," the doomy chug of "Long Time Dyin,'" and the shock-and-awe blast of "Genocya" (love the way Blitz hisses "I am your genocide, the mass inflicted cyaniiiiide!").

By the time you get to the album's mid-point, the old school crush of "F.U.C.T." (which stands for "First Underground Commission on Termination," per the album's liner notes) and the swirling mosh-n-stomp of "The Rip-N-Tear" you should be sufficiently pummeled.

The biggest surprise of the album comes on its next-to-last track, when, out of nowhere, Overkill gives us an honest-to-God, totally legit, full-on power ballad (!) called "Promises." It isn't a terrible track in and of itself, but it certainly sticks out like a turd on a birthday cake after 40-something minutes of pedal-to-the-metal homicidal thrash/groove. I remember reading a review of F.T.U.A.B. which described "Promises" as "a 'God Gave Rock N Roll To You' for the thrash-addled," which I can agree with.

Giving credit where it's due, Blitz sings it for all he's worth, and he gets able backing vocal assistance from Joe Comeau, who was once a lead vocalist himself (in the late '80s cult act Liege Lord). Speaking of Joe, he adds a fair share of background screams and squawks to many of the album's other tracks as well, which makes this album Overkill's most vocally diverse offering.

"Promises" is only a short detour before the disc slams back into more traditional pastures with the neck-snapping closer "Little Bit O' Murder," which will, of course, make you want to break more stuff.

L-R: Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, D.D. Verni, Joe Comeau, Sebastian Marino, Tim Mallare

L-R: Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, D.D. Verni, Joe Comeau, Sebastian Marino, Tim Mallare

Summing It Up

1997 was the first time in quite a few years that it felt like something was "happening" in the old-school metal scene. From the Underground and Below was one of that year's highlights for me, along with such quality comeback platters as Bruce Dickinson's Accident of Birth and Judas Priest's Jugulator. Coincidentally, all of these albums were released by CMC Records in the U.S., a label that was definitely on a winning streak at the time!

A year or two after From the Underground's release, it seemed like just about every '80s metal band was getting back together trying to recapture their glory days, but Overkill had never gone away. They'd been out there in the trenches all along, soldiering on through the lean years, and when they came out on the other side proudly waving From the Underground and Below, they proved that they could still kick your ass as capably as anyone else on the scene, and for that they deserve every metalhead's continued respect!

© 2019 Keith Abt

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