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Overkill - Taking Over
"Taking Over" is the 2nd studio album by American thrash metal band, Overkill. It was released in 1987 on Atlantic Records and produced by the band with Alex Perialas. The line-up for the album was Bobby Ellsworth (vocals), Bobby Gustafson (guitar), D.D. Verni (bass) and Rat Skates (drums).
If your debut album is the most important, then your second album is the one that has to keep up with what you've previously done or even beat it for quality, because if you can't keep your fan base then you're quickly out of the public eye. Overkill was able to enjoy the same line-up that recorded their 1985 "Feel the Fire" album and enjoyed tours supporting Anthrax and Megadeth inbetween recording this. It was the last album to feature Rat Skates on the drums, who was replaced by Sid Falck. Is it any good? Let's find out!
Deny the Cross
This is the opening track, and instantly you can feel the energy that Overkill brings to the thrash metal table. It has a patchy groove-laden beginning which is quickly forgotten once the full-on assault begins of pure riffage and pounding drums. But what stands out the most is the incredible vocals from Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth. He's hitting all the right notes and is almost in Rob Halford territory with some of his harmonies - something which was largely unknown in the world of thrash in those days and hasn't been used much in the present, either. I also love opening part of the bridge which carries another very different riff and slows the track down a little before unleashing a very fast solo. It's a great start to the album, but can Overkill keep it up?
As soon as "Wrecking Crew" starts, my doubts of consistency are quickly dispelled, as another barrage of thrash hurtles towards my ears. This is one of Overkill's most popular songs, and one that has probably always features on every set list since it was first played. It's a song about the band - how they will take on any gig, nothing is too big or too small. Blitz is telling us that once they're on-stage, be prepared to be blasted off your feet because you're going to be bowled over with what Overkill has prepared for your listening pleasure. If I'm critical, the main riff does sound a little like the main riff from Metallica's "Phantom Lord", which was written by Megadeth's Dave Mustaine. Confused yet?
Fear His Name
This is more of a traditional heavy metal song than a full-out thrash number but that doesn't mean it isn't a good song. In fact, I think it's a very good song and I love the hook at the end of the main riff. There's a lot of Iron Maiden about this song and it's pretty plain to hear Blitz's Bruce Dickinson influence when delivering the vocals, but there's also a hint of Messiah Marcolin, once of Candlemass, the Swedish doom metal merchants. The song does sound a little like "Where Eagles Dare" in structure from Iron Maiden's 1983 album "Piece of Mind", but I'm sure that's coincidental and I can hear it because I want to hear it, if that makes any sense. I do like the song but the quality is not as good as the previous two.
Use Your Head
The song begins with a near minute long intro but the thrash roots shine through as it moves into the main part. It's a song I like, but it has too many influences from other thrash bands like Forbidden, Nuclear Assault and Kreator. This is probably where the album slips a little but not every record is perfect and even those that are you often hear parts where you think "well yeah, that could have been better." It's standard thrash metal and at the time of release, fans of the genre were hoping for something that would blow them away. Sadly, this track doesn't do that.
Fatal if Swallowed
This track fades in with a decent drum beat which is quickly joined by the guitars. Once the introduction is over, it's a killer song that I can't help but like and Blitz Ellsworth is having fun when singing the cheeky lyrics. The thrash riffs are in abundance on this song and it's all credit to Overkill for sticking to their roots when so many bands changed their ways. The only problem I have with this track is when Blitz sings the line "Another believer is sealed with a kiss", I know I've heard that delivery before and it takes me awhile to get there, but I finally work out it's exactly the same style as Johnny Rotten when he's singing "New York" and the line "You're sealed with a kiss". It's still a great song, though, with some intense solo work that I really enjoy.
There are very few songs on which the title reflects the song, and with "Powersurge", Overkill has that recipe, because powersurge is exactly what this track is. Blitz's vocals are slightly different here but that still doesn't stop the song from being a true monster. It's your typical thrash metal riffing done with venom and the bridge is phenomenal. If it wasn't for the opening song, I'd say that this would be my favourite on the album and I just can't get enough of the face-melting solo which takes the track out of the bridge and into the final minute or so. Just listening to this song makes me realise that back then people must have felt that Overkill had a bright future ahead of them.
In Union We Stand
This takes us into the final third of the album with anthemic proportions. Fast thrashing riffs are par for the course on the guitars and Blitz hits all the right notes, but the problem is it's all been done before, especially with Judas Priest and "Take on the World" from their 1978 album, "Killing Machine". It's a shame really, but there's nothing on the song which makes me think it's original. There is some nice double bass drumming and a pretty decent solo but because I've heard it all before, it's something that doesn't strike me as good. It's a blip on an album which, until now, didn't have many problems.
This brings about the shortest song on the album and a Dave Mustaine-like solo to kick off the proceedings. It's a pure thrasher of a track all the way through until the very last couple of seconds in the bridge when it goes acoustic, which is quickly over and the thrash resumes, and you find yourself wondering what just happened, because it definitely throws you a curve ball. As with the previous song, this is Overkill's attempt at making an anthem for the masses. Unfortunately, even though the song is very good, Exodus topped it in 1989 with "The Toxic Waltz" which is the quintessential mosh pit anthem which gets the crowd going. Both songs invite the audience to have fun in the pit, and by fun they mean violence.
Overkill II (the Nightmare Continues
The last track on the album is the longest, but some of that is taken up by the beginning which is, in my view, probably too long and drawn out. The acoustic guitars are soon replaced by thrashing power chords and some great riffs are thrown in for good measure. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Blitz's vocal range is something else, and it's on this, the last song, where they truly shine through more than any other. I'm not keen on the chorus with its gang vocals, but that's probably because I think it ruins the lead and it's been done to death by the likes of Exodus. Having said that, it's still a solid end to the album but I wish they would have put it in the middle of the running order.
1987 was a great year for the genre of thrash metal. Anthrax had released "Among the Living", Sepultura had released their second album with "Schizophrenia" and Exodus put out "Pleasures of the Flesh", while the likes of Suicidal Tendencies were changing the face of hard-edged metal by introducing a bit of rap in their songs. Overkill had to be on their toes and for the most part, the album does its job. There are one or two nervous moments but the fans are the most important factor, and it's clear that the thrash metal fan loved this record, as I do.
1. Deny the Cross
2. Wrecking Crew
3. Fear His Name
4. Use Your Head
5. Fatal if Swallowed
7. In Union We Stand
9. Overkill II (the Nightmare Continues)
My rating: 8/10