It is a relatively safe bet that if you liked “ReliXIV” that this will also sit well with you, because from a stylistic standpoint they are basically the same album. All of the fan boys who fellated this as some sort of godly return to form from the band’s heyday in the 80s obviously weren’t listening to this album or haven’t heard the early classics, because this clearly has that same characteristic half-Thrash character to it. Perhaps they were focusing only on the first and last song on here, because everything in between is about as far removed from Speed/Thrash as you can get. The riffs are stripped down and presented in a sort of “Black Album” fashion, but without the perpetual slowness and an occasional riff that emulates “Vulgar Display Of Power” or a section that sounds a little like ALICE IN CHAINS.
When dealing with a slower and barer version of Thrash, everything hinges on a superior and versatile vocal performance, which Blitz has always been able to deliver on. He is able to pull of those really vile and sleazy shouts with relative ease despite his aging voice, he can put forth that percussive rapid syllable spew that was a staple of faster 80s Thrash ala DARK ANGEL and VIO-LENCE, and he can tone it down and be melodic without sounding tone deaf. This really comes in handy on highly repetitive Groove songs like “Hellish Pride” and “Head On’, which basically bang out and repeat a very small number of short-lived mid-tempo riffs like a broken record, yet remain interesting because of Blitz’s vocal bombardment. Where PANTERA fails due to sounding vocally ridiculous, OVERKILL enjoys a good level of success for not trying to overdo the tough guy posturing.
Naturally there are some questionable moments on here that were not heard on the last album, most of them localized to the infamous “Skull And Bones”. I wouldn’t quite call this the worst OVERKILL song I’ve ever heard, but it’s down near the bottom with “Shades Of Gray” and “Ignorance And Innocence”. With the exception of a pretty solid verse riff, this song can’t seem to stop borrowing ideas from PANTERA‘S “Mouth For War” and even occasionally from some of the really banal Grunge material heard on ANTHRAX‘S “Sound Of White Noise”. Randall Blythe’s pseudo Death grunts are a pretty powerful annoyance, but this song is basically an all around failure, with or without the vocalist from a band regularly derided by old school Thrash fans as a joke making things worse.
But aside from this and the slight flaw of a riff collection that feels small compared to older classics, this is basically a solid album. “Charlie Get Your Gun” and “Shadow Of A Doubt” are your standard quality Thrash as heard in the early 90s, maybe a bit less riff work and intrigue than those crazy Bay Area bands in the 80s, but still highly enjoyable. “Devils In The Mist” ratchets thing up even further and kicks this into all out 80s Thrash mode, blistering forth at full speed, reliving the spirit of “The Years Of Decay”. Perhaps the album’s chief problem with keeping their core fans happy is that they’ve been starting off their albums with a riveting opener and get their hopes up that a whole album of this awaits them. They finish things off a bit stronger this time around with a surprising revisiting of the “Overkill” saga. The fifth installment seems to go back to the simplicity of the original a bit more, rather than going for the longwinded epic approach heard on parts 2 and 3, let alone the chilling atmospherics and technical lead guitar gymnastics of “Evil Never Dies”. But regardless of lacking a guitar solo or a long duration, it thrashes things up with almost the same intensity as the album’s opener and makes a pretty solid use of creepy atmospherics to make the listener aware that evil still looms despite an 18 year absence.
Essentially all of this album’s detractors, as well as their champions are dead wrong. This is neither a classic return to form nor a fatal plunge, it’s simply an upper mid-grade release with a few classic songs, which seems to be the worst that OVERKILL can do given their track record. It’s a worthy pickup if you aren’t 100% committed to defending the orthodoxy of Thrash as it was established from 1983 to 1991, but unless you’re one of those weird guys who can listen to both crappy Groove/Metalcore and Thrash Metal without hating the former or viewing the latter as an obsolete art form, skip over “Skull And Bones” and enjoy most of the rest of this album. You’ll thank me later for sparing you the pain of hearing a great band of seasoned veterans sound like a bunch of amateurs while giving a real novice the illusion of Metal credibility with a guest slot.
(Online April 12, 2009)