Wednesday, August 13, 2003 @ 11:49 AM
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Overkill has always been one of those thrash bands that has had to play second fiddle to the Big Four, along with the likes of Exodus, Testament, Metal Church and many other great ones. While Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax have, to varying degrees, lapped up mainstream success—or at least name recognition—Overkill has remained largely untouched by fame and fortune. This is a shame, because while those other bands have been noticeably inconsistent in their material, Overkill have yet to really deviate from their original formula, yet have never sounded stale or dated. And yet, they continue to reside in the underground, where the casual metal fan (“Oh yeah, I’m into metal! I love Metallica! And have you ever heard of Slayer? They’re really heavy!”) fears, or is too lazy to tread.
So be it, then. Overkill seem perfectly happy where they are, with no need to make a disgrace of themselves just to get some notice. Not that we’re naming names, are we, Lars? In any case, nearly 20 years after their inception, Overkill is still churning out the angry, riff-laden music they helped launch. KillBox 13, their 13th album (could you guess?) seethes with the same aggression as Feel the Fire, or even the little-known debut EP for that matter. The riffs of once and current guitarist Dave Linsk are huge and crunching (if somewhat simplistic in places), DD Verdi’s bass is the loudest you’ll find in any thrash band, and Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth can still do that phlegm-rattling screech some say he copied from Metal Church’s David Wayne, way back at the beginning of thrash-time. Did he? Who knows, but you hear a hell of a lot more about Ellsworth than Wayne these days.
The album opens with a distorted grunt of “Incoming!” Or perhaps it’s “I’m coming!” It works either way; the next fifty-or-so minutes are both an incendiary stereo grenade and an aural orgasm. But rather than get caught up in reviewerspeak, I’ll just talk about the fucking songs. Poke me if I say anything else stupid.
After the ambiguous croak, we’re launched into the gurgling opening bass-line of “Devil By The Tail.” And then the guitars and drums come crashing in, and we’re off. A fine opening track this is, too. The hook here is the groove, rather than any particular line or vocal melody (such as they are). There are a couple of subtle shifts in the riff, but the song stays pretty well on track for its entirety. Next up comes one of my personal favorites, “Damned,” with a chunky riff and vitriolic lyrics. Ellsworth sometimes combines words in ways that don’t make a whole lot of sense, and other times can border on an almost Lemmy-like snideness. “Fuck your finger in my face,” he rages near the songs end, “this time I’m gonna bite!” Listen for the brief, stomping chant before the solo.
Other highlights include “The One,” with its infectious chorus and pounding rhythm, and “The Sound of Dying,” with a vicious chug and one of those mid-song time-changes Overkill are so good at. The sound of dying? Shit no, it’s the sound of asses being kicked! The beat of “Struck Down” would be considered “slinky” if it were any other band, but Overkill turns it into a relentless, militaristic march. Of special note here is the stop-start midsection, during which we can clearly hear the freakish playing of DD Verdi. Now we know why he’s the only original member besides Ellsworth. Listen to that sonofabitch play. Linsk’s guitar solo, also in the same section, shreds in much the same fashion, as though he were continuing Verdi’s bass assault on his six-string. Ellsworth channels Lemmy again (at least in the lyrical department) on “Unholy”: “Gimme some candy, baby! Lend me some money, maybe,” he snarls. “Who’s that face? You know me!” The band managed to slow down the attack for a bit on “Until I Die,” which seems to be about one of those damned relationships that Just Don’t Work Out. Blitz demonstrates that he can actually sing here, in case anybody was forgetting. Look out for the middle part, when they pull off another of those sucker-punch shifts. This time, however, they speed it up. Way up.
In an interview, Blitz has remarked upon how many feel the band’s style hasn’t changed, and begs to differ, pointing out that there are no longer any grueling ten-minute exercises in sludge and trudge. “It’s about impact,” he said. Good point. All of the songs on KillBox 13 are between four and six minutes long, so there’s hardly time to get bored, except possibly on the Sabbath-y “Crystal Clear.” Production is excellent, and all the band members are in top form. I find it mighty comforting to know that in this day and age when our old standbys and favorites from yesteryear just can’t seem to get their shit together rock out like they used to, we have Overkill. They may have “evolved,” but, to put it in a Darwinian perspective, they’re still carving spearheads. Which is as it should be. Don’t miss this woolly mammoth of a record!
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