Know what? It’s time. Time to thrash it up once more for Classic Albums, folks! I really had a hankerin’ (and I’m conscious of the fact that I used the word “hankerin’”) for this one. No disrespect to the “Big 4”, but as I get older, I find myself listening to Overkill records more than the ones by the other four bands combined. So, with that in mind, let’s have a look at one of my favorites, and the one that many people consider to be THE quintessential Overkill album…The Years of Decay. After the debacle that was Under the Influence, this thing gave us renewed hope, that’s for sure. Released in 1989, it would be the first to feature renowned producer Terry Date, and sadly, the last to feature guitarist Bobby Gustafson, who is now a plumber somewhere in Florida. Alright, here we go!
The mood on this album is angry and dark from the opening strains of “Time to Kill”. Overkill were on a mission to bust some heads, and it shows. Vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is going full-bore on this, and every other cut, it seems. The breakdown at the three minute mark is really the best part of the song, and drummer Sid Falck and bassist D.D. Verni are locked in a minute and 20 seconds later before bringing us back to speed and hitting us with an ending that pummels. Up next is “Elimination”, one of the all-time Overkill greats, and Blitz sounded better than ever on it at the show in Dallas last year. THIS is what they do best: neck-breaking riffs and rhythms!! The Anger Brigade doesn’t stop there, though, as “I Hate” stokes the fires, and has some of the most memorable riffs from Gustafson.
“Nothing to Die For” shows that the band isn’t afraid to experiment just a bit, borrowing from Iron Maiden on the main intro riff of this song before delving into a hybrid of NWOBHM and punk on the verses. It works, and it works well. Vocally, Blitz is at the top of his game, especially when compared to some parts of the previous album, and D.D. really has some fun with his bass on this one. It’s one of my favorite cuts, no question. It’s funny because the next song, “Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher” is arguably THE most divisive Overkill tune I’ve ever heard or had discussions about. It’s a slow, sloooow doom and sludge number that rides along a simple, effective riff for the better part of ten minutes, save for a sped up section in the middle, and it has an ominous tone that I love. They did it live at Sundance on June 8, 1990, and my buddy Steve and I went bonkers when they busted that one out. Side one…over.
“Birth of Tension” opens up side two, and Sid’s double bass is relentless. I’m telling you, everyone always looks to the obvious songs on this record, but these are every bit as good as the first few. Bobby’s solo here is also one of his finest, and I can’t help but wonder what could have been had he stayed sometimes. So after all the MMA-style punches and kicks to the head, things slow down a bit for “Who Tends the Fire”, but by no means is this any less dark or ominous. The riffs still chug along, and there are a number of tempo changes to keep you guessing, plus Blitz plays with some vocal effects.
Oh boy. We knew it would happen. By this time, ALL the thrash bands had done it in an attempt to broaden their audience. The ballad. The dreaded ballad. Overkill succumbing to the trend should have given us cause to worry, but worriest thou not, metal fans! “The Years of Decay” stands head and shoulders above what those guys in the Bay Area were doing, and when it takes flight at the three minute mark, it truly soars. Also, the tribal beat ending coupled with Blitz unleashing the beast within make for something truly epic that they can be proud of. Closing things out is “E.vil N.ever D.ies”, a monster of a song designed to give us one last beating before we limp home. All four members go completely off the fucking rails and you WILL remember this one long after the record is finished.
It was 1989, and thrash was at that point a dying animal. Albums by Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth released the year before were met with varying degrees of success, but most true metalheads knew that all four of those records were pretty bad, especially …And Justice For All, which is hailed as a classic, but is over an hour of self-indulgence utterly devoid of bass. At least Overkill gave us a thrash masterpiece the following fall, even if they were coming apart at the seams during its recordings. And quite frankly, none of the other bands’ output has measured up to Overkill’s in the ensuing years, either. This is truly a defining moment in the band’s history, and if there’s a Heavy Metal Time Capsule being buried anytime soon, this damn sure better be in it! ~dc