Album of the Week 20-2014: OverKill – The Years Of Decay

In a way, ‘The Years Of Decay’ and its direct follow-up ‘Horrorscope’ are the most complete records that New Jersey’s – and if I’m brutally honest, the world’s – finest Thrash Metal band OverKill has ever released. Calling them their magnum opus would be disrespectful towards the rest of the ever developing band’s repertoire, but it’s certainly understandable why these albums are generally the band’s most beloved to date. It’s were the band started exploring and stretching the boundaries of their aggressive Thrash Metal roots with excellent results. Many of these tracks are justified live staples to this day in OverKill’s set.

With original guitarist Bobby Gustafson – technically he was preceded by a few guitarists, but he was the first to appear on a recording – departing after the tour supporting the album, ‘The Years Of Decay’ is also something of the end of an era for OverKill. From the early nineties on, the band would be working with two guitarists, generally technically more skilled than Gustafson and as such, ‘The Years Of Decay’ in all its variation and experimentation is the last one to feature the unbridled, at times juvenile aggression of Gustafson, which is a large part of the charm of the band’s early work.

Those of you who made it this far are probably well aware of live classic ‘Elimination’. Having seen the band live over a dozen and a half times, I have yet to see a show without this shot of adrenalin. ‘I Hate’ and the downright amazing, warp speed closing track ‘E.vil N.ever D.ies’ appeared on sets quite regularly as well, but the brilliance of this album lies beyond that. The title track is the band’s first attempt at an epic ballad and it’s simply spine chilling – though I have a preference for ‘Soulitude’ from its follow-up – and songs like ‘Nothing To Die For’, ‘Birth Of Tension’ opening track ‘Time To Kill’ are amazing slabs of a more progessive approach to Thrash.

After a few careful steps into slower territories on previous albums, this is where OverKill really takes their first leap into full-on Doom Metal tempos. Those who know the band well shouldn’t be surprised, given how obvious of an influence Black Sabbath has always been on the band – if the approach of changing the song into something completely different halfway through didn’t give that away already, the inclusion of three Sabbath songs on ‘Coverkill’ did – but the experiments work well here. ‘Who Tends The Fire’ is an acquired taste, but really turns into a fantastic atmospheric song when it clicks and ‘Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher’ consists of ten minutes of crushing Doom, save for the faster middle part. The brilliant practice of recording two simultaneous guitar solos works amazing as well here. It is still quite likely my favorite song of the band.

Even Terry Date’s production of the record is perfect. Some people have called it muffled, but I find it irresistible. It’s quite friendly towards DD Verni’s trebly bass sound and ‘Sid’ Falck’s drums – and his bass drums in particular – but he can carry it. In fact, he would remain OverKill’s best drummer until Ron Lipnicki joined the band about a decade ago. As for personal performances, we can’t review an OverKill album without pointing out the vocal prowess of Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth. Sure, his screeching qualities may be off-putting to some people, but not one singer in the Thrash genre has remained this consistently powerful and in tune as Ellsworth.

While OverKill would explore other – and sometimes even more interesting – territories within the Thrash genre later on, effectively making them one of the most experimental bands whilst still operating within the boundaries of the genre, ‘The Years Of Decay’ is rightfully heralded as a Thrash classic. This is the ambition of Metallica’s ‘Master Of Puppets’ without actually castrating the primal energy of the genre. With one of the best singers of the entire Metal genre. For those of you who consider Thrash untalented noise based on the early Teutonic work, this may offer some perspective. For those into the genre, this is an obligated entry into your collection.

Recommended tracks: ‘Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher’, ‘E.vil N.ever D.ies’, ‘Birth Of Tension’

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