OVERKILL caused a tiny bit of controversy amongst their fans with the release of this album, mostly because they appeared to be reverting back to the Half-Thrash style that they briefly took on during their “I Hear Black” days. Truth be told, this does have some similarities to that album. The riff set has been pretty well simplified, there is a fair share of 2 chord grooves that come in and out, and things have been slowed down a bit. A good analogy might be to compare this to the style that MACHINE HEAD exhibited on “The Blackening”, though I’d argue this comes off less half assed and boring than that actual album.
Truth be told, of all the various Thrash bands who took on this style, OVERKILL handles it better than most and manages to keep things thrashing enough to actually live up to the Half-Thrash label. The music changes up fairly frequently, lead guitar work has not been ejected in favor of making the scene, and the overall atmosphere of rotten evil remains mostly intact. Likewise, Blitz doesn’t bother with any Anselmo/Flynn pseudo-tough guy bullshit, he sticks to what he knows, and that is singing gravely and sleazy the way a vile psycho would, rather than some homeboy off the streets who thinks SLIPKNOT ist krieg.
Naturally this isn’t anywhere near the same caliber as most of what these guys have delivered to us on the silver, winged skull’s platter, but there is very little going on here that’s really terrible. Songs like “Love” and “Keeper” really hang on to some of those 3 and 4 note mini-riffs and chugging, upper tempo grooves just a little too long before they start cooking, but this comes off as more of a faster version of Heavy Metal than an actual crossover into “Far Beyond Driven” land. Others like “Loaded Rack” sound a bit like something you’d hear off “The Black Album” with maybe a tad bit of later MACHINE HEAD dissonance and higher end noise, but a superior vocal performance basically keeps everything together.
In fact, almost the entire album takes the route of being catchy; sing along ANTHRAX brand Thrash of the later 80s with a good amount of Groove incorporated in. In this capacity, Blitz is really given an opportunity to shine as a vocalist, something which he’s always done, but here it’s just a bit more noticeable because the riffs aren’t as impressive. Some songs like “Wheelz” and “Play The Ace” get a little repetitive and boring, but a competent vocal delivery and a quality guitar tone can make the difference between a “Volume 8 – The Threat Is Real” and a “ReliXIV”, and there is a big difference if you listen to both albums all the way through.
There are a couple of songs on here that could be measured against the older OVERKILL standard, which is one of ugly, stinking Thrash Metal done in the most masterful way possible. “A Pound Of Flesh” has a main riff that’s basically a hyper-speed version of the verse riff to “Fear His Name”, while the entire song just cooks like nobody’s business. “Bats In The Belfry” starts out a bit groovy, but stays solid and catchy throughout and really takes off at the end, particularly Blitz’s wicked witch vocal wails. The best song on here “Within Your Eyes” has a pretty elaborate structure that actually rivals “Overkill III (Under The Influence)” in terms of memorable ideas, tension buildup, and all out riff assault.
I’d argue that this is OVERKILL’s 2nd weakest album, being perhaps just a tiny bit better than “I Hear Black”, which was still moderately good. It’s not something that I’d call an essential pickup, especially if you are just introducing yourself to the band, but it is a fun listen if you’ve got the time to spend and if you wonder if there is such a thing as a good album that mixes Thrash and Groove. Unlike most of their contemporaries, this outfit has yet to make any sort of ultimate plunge into mediocrity or all out sucking. They just don’t seem to know the meaning of the word failure.
(Online March 17, 2009)