Overkill – Live in Overhausen (Live Album Review)

Tucked in the far western reaches of Germany is the town of Oberhausen. The name was lifted from the nearby train station, which itself borrowed the moniker from nearby Oberhausen Castle. As the nineteenth century neared a close, the population grew as coal mines and steel mills attracted workers and their families. Industrial conglomerate GHH maintained a significant presence here until the 1980s, when portions of the once-prominent company were sold to successors, and the company’s real estate was divided and sold. Once such parcel was refurbished and rebuilt into Turbinenhalle 2, a dance hall and concert venue.

On April 16, 2016, the legendary New Jersey Thrash outfit Overkill took the stage at Turbinenhalle to pay tribute to not one but two immortal albums: 1985’s Feel the Fire, their crushing debut, here turning 30 years old, and 1991’s Horrorscope, reaching the 25 year mark. Fittingly, the city took the honorary moniker “Overhausen,” and the two sets were recorded with the intent of being released as a live DVD and double album. Live in Overhausen is the result, slated for release on Friday, May 18, 2018 through Nuclear Blast records.

Also celebrating thirty years that night was the first overseas date played by the band, and fitting played in this same land: on May 7, 1986, the band took the stage at Alabamahalle in Munich, then part of West Germany, and then played seven of their next eight shows took the band throughout the free half of Germany. Blitz takes every opportunity to remind and thank the attendees that it was German crowds who first welcomed the band outside the United States. 

Overkill has heard its share of lineup chatter in those three decades, but the twin spires of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth on vocals and D. D. Verni on bass and backing vocals stand tall flying the oxidized green flag, flanked by longtime Guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer, all of whom are backed ably by drum tech-turned-skinsman Eddy Garcia. (Jason Bittner was recently named the new permanent drummer for Overkill, but here, Garcia – who doubles as the drummer for Pissing Razors – was filling in for then-drummer Ron Lipnicki.)

Live albums are typically a balancing act between shrewd selection, technical execution, and clean recording. Overkill, however, are not a typical band, and they have long made a tradition of sharing the oldest material in their 18 album catalog amidst the latest strong offering being supported on tour. As such, the decision to reach into the depths and honor 2 full-length albums in a single evening was not terribly out of character, and the only challenge would be capturing the controlled madness that is an Overkill concert. 

Practically every track on these two albums is a classic, recorded, live, or otherwise, and the opener from Horrorscope, “Coma,” lets the crowd know that something legendary is indeed about to happen. Blitz and Verni sound as if their tones have not aged, and the alternating riffs from Linsk and Tailer take their rightful place in Overkill lore. The entire band sounds properly wired here, as if nothing can possibly slow their trajectory, either during the recording or any point in the future, immediate or otherwise.  

Later tracks such as “Infectious,” “Bare Bones,” “Nice Day … for a Funeral,” and the title-track sound particularly strong, but it is hard to pick any true standouts amongst the generally strong output. As usual, Blitz is perpetually at ease talking to and with the crowd, and adds colorful commentary, such as lamenting the band’s advanced age, a fact that is not at all apparent outside of the banter. In a joking moment during the beginning of “Feel the Fire,” he takes the time to appoint D. D. the “Governor of New Jersey.”  

The second half of the album resurrects the entirety of Feel the Fire, celebrating its 30th anniversary (give or take a few months). While the two albums are definitely Overkill through and through, the raw Thrash of this debut album. listeners can hear the beginnings of the distinct bass tone of Verni, which he artfully manages to recreate despite having 30 years of improvement and improvisation at his fingertips. Live staple “Hammerhead,” released as a teaser video for Live in Overhausen, is especially tight here, as is “Rotten to the Core,” the title-track, and “Blood and Iron.”  Rarest of the rare, “Kill at Command” makes a live appearance as well, and the band’s namesake “Overkill” brings the Feel the Fire tracks to a wrap. To close the night entirely, taking the place of “Sonic Reducer” – the cover which closes Feel the Fire – is “Fuck You!” itself technically a cover song, but one which practically belongs to Overkill after thirty years of live performances.

Hearing tracks from these two albums interspersed with present-day live sets helps keep the band rooted in its history, and newer tracks fit alongside these old favorites without much effort. Hearing these 2 albums alone, in their entirety, held up only by each other, gives an even stronger idea of the strength of the band’s core, and how every record, even those that may have wandered off the path a bit, are still Overkill records.  

Overkill have long been considered one of “fifth” members of the Big Four of Thrash, often juggling the cursed invitation with Testament and Exodus. With the pending retirement of Slayer, fans have to wonder if Overkill would be an organic replacement. Live in Oberhausen is a clean, powerful dive into the band’s impressive past while also reiterating their relevance today.  

In the words of Blitz, “Good old Thrash in Germany … nothin’ fuckin’ better.” That said, CrypticRock give Live in Oberhausen a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase Live in Overhausen:

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