As sure as the sun will rise, OVERKILL will deliver the goods with well-ordered, ass kicking precision, making sure that the number of dislocated necks in the audience is maximized. Dave Mustaine may have told the masses to “Rattle their fucking heads” in 1985, but the almighty wrecking crew has been making it happen non-stop since 1979, albeit through a different musical medium. That’s basically the magic that has kept the band at its core while the various members of the fictitious media phenomenon known as the big 4 all went through varying periods of abject sucking, keeping the heads banging and keeping the focus where all members of the Metal cult demand it stay, at the altar of the almighty riff.
Their twelfth studio offering, “Bloodletting”, is no exception, as it oozes heaviness like a river of blood streaming from an army of dead posers on the battlefields of Metal. It carries a fair amount of remnants from the band’s previous few albums and is a bit slower and heavier than their 80s classics, but unlike “Necroshine” or “From The Underground And Below”, there’s also a very healthy dose of “The Years Of Decay” thrown in to up the Thrash ante considerably. This change may have been due to a recent resurgence in interest in old school Thrash Metal at the time, or just the odd coincidence that this was the first studio album OVERKILL had done with one guitarist since 1989, but regardless the results are an interesting blend of two solid eras of the band.
Whether the band decides to kick things into overdrive or hang out in down tempo land, each chord thuds the ears like a ton of tempered steel. “Thunderhead” just lays down the law, banging the gavel like a bolt of lightning with its colossal sounding muted riffs, yet never really needing to sail into the stratosphere tempo wise. In some respects it reminds me of “Time To Kill”, but a little slower and with a chorus that marries audience fanfare with aggression rather than simply acting as an extension to the verses. It’s no surprise that this song has remained a live staple for this band since; as I’m sure its being played could inspire the sky to conjure up a storm in the name of all things metal. “Bleed Me” delivers a similar punch but in more of an “Elimination” kind of feel, going at a faster tempo and pumping out some really wicked riff breaks in between the verse and chorus sections.
The way that entire album just cooks regardless of tempo is enough to carry it along, but newcomer guitarist Dave Linsk takes it a step further. Naturally he takes care of all the essentials as far as bone crushing riffs are concerned, but his approach to playing the various guitar tracks off of each other is sheer brilliance, creating an atmosphere that is heavily comparable to what Gustafson pulled off on “The Years Of Decay”. A few pick scratch noises here, a broken chord line going on in the center of a break section, and a few harmonic fills as detailing between riff transitions and you have an arrangement big enough to make “And Justice For All” sound tame. Add to that an impressive collection of crazy fast guitar solos like the one heard on the catchy Thrash anthem “What I’m Missing” with a smooth as hell tone and you’ve got a worthy successor to the OVERKILL brand name that upstages most of his predecessors. I still prefer Gustafson when all is said and done, but Linsk runs a very close second, largely because of his work on here and on “Killbox 13”.
But regardless of the heightened sense of technical flair and aesthetic differentiation at work here, the main draw is the textbook yet amazing Thrash going on here. “Death Comes Out To Play” is classic fast paced goodness straight from the formula established by “Nothing To Die For” and “Birth Of Tension”. There’s also a gut stomping breakdown section screams “Darkness Descends” with perhaps a hint of “Persistence Of Time”. In classic OVERKILL fashion, at least for their high Thrash era of the late 80s, there are a couple of haunting ballads presented in the usual gloomy and dissonant fashion, of which “Blown Away” is the most intense, bringing back memories of those creepy harmonized volume swelled guitar choirs that kicked off “Evil Never Dies“. Blitz’s vocal delivery is as sick as they come, rendering the most vile of warlocks to ever shout incantations at the blackened night sky sound gimp-like in comparison.
For any fan of OVERKILL’S pre-1993 material, this is the album of their later catalog to pick up. It’s not a perfect carbon copy of their late 80s style, but it is close enough to inspire the same desire to wreck the neck of everyone around you. I’d personally put this up on equal footing with both “Under The Influence” and “Horrorscope” and just a tad bit behind “Taking Over”. The only thing this album is missing is a 5th installment of the “Overkill” saga to put it into official classic status along with the Gustafson era albums. This is the sound of a Thrash band that is casting aside the gloomy days of worshipping darkness at slower speeds and is once more on the hunt like a hungry wolf chasing its prey.
(Online April 14, 2009)