DB HOF NO. 85
The making of Overkill’s “The Years of Decay”
No strangers to the north east thrash metal scene—then dominated by Hall of Famers Anthrax—New Jerseyans Overkill famously peeked out from the underground on ‘88’s Under the Influence. Having spent much of the year riding high on single “Hello From the Gutter” and on tour in support of Under the Influence, Overkill knew their next full-length had to continue the album-to-album upward momentum. In six months, the songwriting principals—guitarist Bobby Gustafson and bassist D.D. Verni—had readied eight songs, with another soon-to-be-legendary song waiting unfinished in Chaly’s boney wings.
No longer spendthrift now that Atlantic Records was backing main label Megaforce, Overkill decided to forgo another trip to Pyramid Studios, where the group’s first three full-lengths were committed to (actual) tape with producers Carl Canedy and Alex Perialas. They landed not on the West Coast—to, say, Fantasy Studios or Hit City West—but in Stamford, Connecticut at Carriage House Studios. Tapping then-nascent producer Terry Date (Metal Church, Pantera and, uh, Sir Mix-A-Lot), Overkill recorded what eventually turned out to be The Years of Decay.
The Years of Decay opens with “Time to Kill”’s chest-pounding rhythms and closes with the angry gallop of “E.vil N.ever D.ies.” But it’s the second track—a speedy, hook-laden number called “Elimination”—that put Overkill on turntables, in tape decks and, for the upper middle, in CD players of America’s disenfranchised youth. That “Elimination” would turn into Overkill’s most famous song to date thanks to heavy rotation on MTV’sHeadbangers Ball is just as curious as the story that it almost never happened. “Elimination” was, as you’ll read later, The Years of Decay’s in-parts ninth track, completed at Carriage House Studios with the song’s much-discussed first verse intact.
The Years of Decay was an entirely enthralling effort. Whether it was the mid-groove of “I Hate,” the prog tendencies of “Nothing to Die For,” the doom epic “Skullkrusher” or the macabre air of “Who Tends the Fire,” there are few albums as complete then (and now) as Overkill’s fourth. The guitar playing of Gustafson is unrivaled, and his counterpart in Verni showed that thrash metal bass work could be more art than noise. Of course, the X Factor is vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. Love or hate him, Ellsworth’s ability to snarl and soar with equal brilliance (not to mention conviction) landed him as a frontrunner in a scene full of competent singers.
The Hall currently features some of thrash metal’s most celebrated records—go look them up!—but it wouldn’t be as spectacularly mosh-like without including New Jersey’s hardworking, fucked-as-piss Overkill. Sure, many debates raged over which Overkill full-length to induct—debut Feel the Fire or the super-visible Horrorscope—but in the end all were, of course, e-liminated by The Year’s of Decay’s omnipresence. Welcome Overkill. Welcome, Chaly.
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