"Overload: A Tribute to Metallica" Album Review
Various - "Overload: A Tribute to Metallica"
Dwell Records, 1998
Featuring: Steel Prophet, Prototype, Crematorium, Diesel Machine, and others
Rating: Below Average/For Completists Only
Tribute albums were one of the biggest record-industry trends of the 1990s. I first became aware of the phenomenon when the all-star Jimi Hendrix tribute Stone Free was released in 1993. The success of that album (and others that followed, like 1994's Nativity in Black: A Tribute to Black Sabbath and 1996's Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin) opened the floodgates, as record labels large and small began jumping on the bandwagon. Virtually every major performer you could name was "honored" by at least one collection of their songs being covered by other artists. Naturally, some of them were better than others.
Small indie labels soon figured out that you didn't need a major label budget or a stable of big name contributors to cash in on the tribute-album trend—there were plenty of unknown bands out there willing to cut a quickie cover tune to earn a slot on a "real" album release. Dwell Records, a tiny Los Angeles-based label that dealt mainly in extreme black and death metal bands, ended up carving out a decent niche for themselves in the late '90s and early 2000s using that business model. Dwell released dozens of low-budget "tributes" to big-name hard rock and metal artists during this period, featuring mostly obscure, unsigned, underground acts. It was a win-win for the bands and the label: the discs were cheap to produce, sold reasonably well to curiosity-seeking fans of the artist(s) being "tributed," and the bands who took part got some minor mainstream exposure.
I'm not much of an extreme-metal guy, but when I found Dwell's Overload: A Tribute to Metallica in the bargain-CD bin at my local music store recently (for a mere fifty cents!), I couldn't resist picking it up. There was no way I could possibly pass up such a classy album cover!
Crematorium - "Whiplash"
The dozen songs on Overload will, of course, be familiar to any Metallica fan, even if the bands covering them aren't. None of the contributors do much to "re-imagine" these classic tracks - they're mostly played straight, though since many of the participants come from the death metal scene, the vocals are generally harsher and more 'growly' than Metallica fans may be used to.
Crematorium kicks things off with "Whiplash," and vocals aside it's a reverent, well played rendition, complete with an audio sample of Metallica's James Hetfield and Cliff Burton (lifted from the legendary Cliff'Em All video) explaining how they have always done things their own way without "selling out." Cleveland-based black/death metallers From The Depths are next with "Creeping Death," and though they nail the instrumental portion, the screechy vox become annoying very quickly. Terror and Habeas Corpus are next, covering "Jump In The Fire" and "Fight Fire With Fire" respectively. Terror's off kilter singer sounds as if he's a step behind the rest of the band for the entire song, and the Habeas Corpus track is so poorly mixed that the frantic drumming overpowers everything else.
Diesel Machine features a familiar name -- their guitarist, Pat Lachmann, went on to join Rob Halford's solo band "Halford" in the early 2000s and then he fronted the ill-fated Damageplan, with Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul. D.M.'s chunky, sludgy rendition of "The Thing That Should Not Be" suffers in the vocal department, but the music is solid enough.
Seated comfortably at the album's mid point are Steel Prophet ("Fade To Black") and Prototype ("Trapped Under Ice"). Both of these bands hail from the melodic, power/progressive end of the metal spectrum, so their covers sound the most faithful to the originals (except when Steel Prophet's Rick Mythiasin opts to throw a few of his trademark Halford-style high pitched screams in the midsection of "Fade..."). Prototype's ripping track is the highlight of the album for me, and the major reason that this disc didn't go straight to my trade-in pile!
More no-names follow, as Sickness turns in an unlistenably growled rendition of "Eye of the Beholder" and the Mexican hard-rock oddity Fongus (?) dares to take on Metallica's signature song, "Enter Sandman." Surprisingly, it turns out to be one of the better cuts on the album. By the time Overload finished with Castle of Pain's weird, synth-drenched "King Nothing," Fist's barely demo-quality take on "Damage Incorporated," and Engrave's spirited but sloppy run through "Metal Militia," I was glad this CD only set me back half a buck!
Prototype - "Trapped Under Ice"
Obviously Overload is not an essential purchase unless you're an obsessed, gotta-have-it-all collector of everything Metallica-related, and your mileage will vary depending on your tolerance for the growly, death metal vocal style.
Dwell followed this album up with a second Overload volume in 2001. Overload 2 featured more Metallica classics covered by more rookies like Krabathor, Coffin Texts, Soulless and Noctuary. Honestly, after hearing this volume I am in no hurry to hunt down the sequel. Dwell later released both volumes packaged as a 2-disc set titled Total Overload.
Dwell Records is now defunct, but Overload was re-released by Crimson Mask Records in 2008 with a new cover and a new title (Crushing Metal Strikes: The Tribute to Metallica). I'd advise curious buyers to hold out for a copy of the original version (especially if you can find it cheap, like I did), just for the hilarious cover artwork!
© 2019 Keith Abt