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An integral part of the early-'80s thrash metal movement that spawned acts like Metallica and Anthrax, New Jersey's Overkill garnered a reputation for brutal, pounding speed and technique. Emerging in 1985 with the punishing Feel the Fire, the band built up a strong following in the metal underground with subsequent outings like Under the Influence (1988) and Years of Decay (1989). Despite enduring myriad label and lineup changes -- bassist D. D. Verni and lead vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth have been the group's sole constant members -- Overkill have remained one of the East Coast's most successful and versatile metal outfits, dabbling in doom, industrial, and stoner metal, while releasing an abundance of critically acclaimed albums like Ironbound (2010), White Devil Armory (2014), and The Wings of War (2019).
Taking their moniker from the 1979 Motörhead album of the same name, Overkill went through numerous personnel changes -- and spent some time playing sped-up punk covers under the name Virgin Killer -- before settling on a lineup consisting of Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth (vocals), Bobby Gustafson (guitar), Rat Skates (drums), and D. D. Verni (bass). An early demo, Power in Black, made waves in the underground tape-trading circuit, which was starting to catch fire as West Coast thrash artists like Testament and Exodus began gaining some traction. The demo caught the attention of Megaforce Records, which issued the band's full-length studio debut, Feel the Fire, in 1985. High-profile shows alongside luminaries like Slayer and Anthrax followed, and with the American thrash scene in full tilt, Overkill inked a major-label deal with Atlantic, which put out their sophomore effort, 1987's uncompromising Taking Over. That year also saw the departure of Skates, who was replaced by Bob "Sid" Falck, formerly of Paul Di'Anno's Battlezone. Falck made his studio debut on 1988's Under the Influence, which marked the group's highest-charting LP to date.
Continuing their breakneck pace, the band issued the Terry Date-produced Years of Decay the following year, which saw them pushing their sound in a more epic direction, while maintaining the neck-snapping attack of their debut. A dispute over royalties and the group's general direction led to the departure of Gustafson in 1990, making way for two new guitarists, Rob Cannavino and Merritt Gant, the latter of whom previously served as Gustafson's guitar tech. The newly minted quintet issued their fifth studio long-player, the brooding and relentlessly heavy Horrorscope, the following year, which introduced elements of doom into the mix and would go on to become a defining release and fan favorite. Overkill continued to move toward a more Sabbathy stoner rock style on 1993's I Hear Black, which saw M.O.D. drummer Tim Mallare taking over drum duties from Falck, who left to explore other musical avenues. The album was divisive, with some fans bemoaning the group's new direction, but it also arrived in the midst of a huge shakeup in the mainstream, with grunge putting heavy metal on the backburner. 1994's W.F.O. marked a return to the whiplash-inducing thrash of the past, but it would be the last outing for guitarists Cannavino and Grant, as well as the last Overkill release for Atlantic Records.
More than happy to leave the major label, which had long since turned its attention elsewhere, the group signed with CMC International, an independent destination that served as a safe haven for hard rock and heavy metal groups during the alternative rock and grunge boom of the '90s. With a new guitar team of Joe Comeau and Sebastian Marino, Overkill spent the remainder of the decade issuing a string of high-octane and generally well-received releases, including The Killing Kind (1996), From the Underground and Below (1997), Necroshine (1999), and the all-covers LP Coverkill (1999), the latter of which saw the group paying homage to influences like Black Sabbath, Kiss, Motörhead, Manowar, and even the Ramones. In early 2000 Comeau left the fold to join Annihilator, and the band decided to soldier on as a four-piece, releasing their 11th full-length outing, Bloodletting, later that October. While on tour for the album, Ellsworth collapsed on-stage in Germany after suffering a mild stroke. It would prove to be a minor setback, however, as the band inked a deal with New York-based indie Spitfire Records and continued not only to put out albums, but to tour vigorously in support of 2003's Killbox 13, 2005's ReliXIV, and 2007's Immortalis, the latter of which was issued via Bodog Records.
In 2010, Overkill experienced a new resurgence with the release of Ironbound. Their first outing for Nuclear Blast, the album was the band's first release to chart on the Billboard 200 in 17 years, with some critics citing it as a "thrash-terpiece". They followed up with another album of classic thrash in 2012 with The Electric Age, which performed even better. Ellsworth suffered another health-related setback the following year, having to cancel some tour dates after contracting mild pneumonia. He soon bounced back, however, and, riding their new wave of success, the group plunged back into the studio to record 2014's White Devil Armory, which would become their highest-charting LP to date. The following year saw the arrival of the mid-career retrospective Historikill: 19952007, and in 2018 they released their 18th studio album, Grinding Wheel. 2018's Live in Overhausen captured an April 2016 concert in Oberhausen, Germany during which the band celebrated the 30th anniversary of their debut, Feel the Fire, and the 25th anniversary of career standout Horrorscope. 2019's Wings of War introduced new drummer Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall), and garnered acclaim both at home and abroad. ~ James Christopher Monger
- Old Bridge Township, NJ
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