New Jersey Thrash Legends Overkill

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Overkill is an American thrash metal band formed in New Jersey in the early 1980s. Behind Anthrax, Overkill is considered the most important extreme metal act to hail from the East Coast, and both are also considered among the most important acts in thrash history, along with Bay Area heavyweights like Metallica, Slayer and Exodus. Overkill is also one of the most hard-working bands the thrash movement produced, releasing seventeen studio albums in the last 30 years while never going more than three years between. The band has undergone numerous lineup changes throughout the years, but the core of frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni has remained intact from the beginning. Overkill did not achieve the same commercial success as their fellow thrash pioneers, but is often included in the pantheon of thrash metal founders by writers that discuss such things. The band are also often mentioned as an influence by musicians of thrash and all the sub-genres that came in its wake. And Overkill's iconic mascot "Chaly" is as recognizable to thrash purists as Exodus's classic Bonded By Blood cover or the familiar Anthrax logo.

The story of Overkill begins in 1980 with the breakup of a New Jersey punk outfit called the Lubricunts. Bassist Carlos "D.D." Verni and drummer Rat Skates (real name Lee Kundrat) decided to form a new band and placed an ad in the local paper. The ad was answered by vocalist Bobby Ellsworth and guitarist Robert Pisarek, and the first Overkill lineup was in place. The quartet tossed around a number of names including Virgin Killer, eventually deciding on Overkill, taken from the title of a classic album from Motorhead. The band began rehearsing covers of older punk songs by The Ramones and The Dead Boys and others, eventually mixing in metal classics from Motorhead and Judas Priest. Guitarist Pisarek left the band in 1981, and was replaced briefly by Dan Spitz, who would later become a member of Anthrax. A second guitarist was brought in in Anthony Amendola, then that duo was replaced by Mike Sherry and Rich Conte. Stability would finally be found for Overkill's guitarist slot in late '82, when the band hired Bobby Gustafson, the only guitarist in the band until 1990.

With Gustafson in the band, Overkill turned its attention to writing new material, issuing their first demo in late 1983. Entitled Power in Black, the demo caught on quickly in the New york underground tape trading network, landing the band gigs at popular clubs like L'Amours. The demo also earned the band a apot on a compilation entitled New York Metal '84 and the track "Death Rider" was included on Metal Massacre V. The band landed a deal with a small independent record label called Metal Storm, who produced the band's first self-titled EP in 1984. The EP quickly sold out, drawing interest from famous New York record store owner Johnny Zazula, who had formed Megaforce Records just two years earlier as a platform to launch Metallica. Johnny Z signed the New Jersey thrash outfit to a multi-album deal in 1984 and released their debut LP, Feel the Fire, in '85, cementing Overkill's place in thrash history.

Feel the Fire, 1985

Feel the Fire garnered a favorable reception from critics, at the least the few in those days paying any attention to thrash metal, and made Overkill a force to be reckoned with in the eyes of the growing legions of thrash fans. While the album never charted, it has become one of the band's biggest-selling albums over the years, surpassing one million copies sold worldwide before the turn of the century. The album is revered by Overkill's die-hard army of fans, and the tracks "Rotten to the Core" and "Hammerhead" have been staples of the band's infamous onstage performances since 1984. The band spent the rest of '85 and most of '86 on the road with fellow Jersey thrashers Anthrax and Megadeth, taking the band's live set to Europe for the first time. European fans were just as receptive as the US crowds, and Atlantic Records took notice, signing the band to its first major label deal. Megaforce refused to be bought out of its contract with the band, however, and would share publishing honors on the band's next four records.

With a major label in place, Overkill began recording a sophomore full-length at Pyramid Studios in Ithaca NY in September of '86. Taking Over took a little under 3 months to record, and arrived in stores in March of '87 to an even more positive reception than its predecessor. The album became Overkill's first release to chart, reaching position 191 on the Billboard 200, and introduced classics like "Wrecking Crew" and "In Union We Stand" that have been played at nearly every Overkill show since. Taking Over also marked the band's first foray into music videos, as one was produced for "In Union We Stand" and became a staple on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" show. The band headed for Europe again for a tour with Helloween, then hit the studio again to record the title track for their next EP. Titled "!!!Fuck You!!!", the song was a cover of a classic punk anthem by the Subhumans. The other five tracks on the !!!Fuck You!!! EP were live tracks recorded at a show in Cleveland in June, during a US tour with Megadeth. Then they spent July and August '87 on the road with Testament.

Following the Testament tour, drummer Skates decided to leave the band, citing a number of creative differences. He would never return to Overkill, but would become a notable screenwriter and music documentary filmmaker, producing and directing the 2008 film Get Thrashed. Skates would later decline offers to join Megadeth, M.O.D. And Mind Funk. Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine also approached Bobby Gustafson in 1987 about joining his band, but Gustafson felt Overkill were on the verge of big things and remained with the band. Skates was replaced briefly with Mark Achabal, who filled in on a few gigs until a permanent replacement was found in Bob "Sid" Falck, a former member of Iron Maiden frontman Paul Dianno's band, Battlezone. The remainder of '87 and first few months of '88 were spent writing new material and playing clubs around New York to tighten the new lineup's chemistry.

With the songs written, Overkill returned to Pyramid Studios in March 1988, emerging about two months later with their third studio album. Titled Under the Influence, the album arrived in stores just a few months later and quickly became the band's highest charting effort yet. The set peaked at No. 142 on the Billboard 200, and remained on the chart for an impressive 13 weeks, making it the band's longest-charting record, though a pair of subsequent releases have reached higher positions. The band also released its second video to promote their third record, for the single "Hello from the Gutter." The video was heavily played on Headbangers Ball, but critical reception was harsh, and longtime fans view Under the Influence as a step backwards for the New Jersey thrashers before producing their breakthrough album. The band decided to make a switch at producer then, enlisting the services of Terry Date, whose work could be found on best-selling albums from Pantera, Soundgarden and White Zombie. This ended the band's relationship with Alex Perialas for the time being, though they would reunite with the producer for the '93 album I Hear Black.

With Date in tow, Overkill entered Carriage House Studios in Stamford, Connecticut in the summer of '89, needing just under two months to record their fourth studio album. Released October 13, 1989, The Years of Decay is seen by many as Overkill's finest album. A video was produced for the single "Elimination," again receiving favorable attention from MTV. The song has also become a fan favorite over the years, and the band has performed it at nearly every show since. The Years of Decay often makes lists of the top 500 metal albums of all time, and considered the pinnacle of the band's recording career. It would be the last to feature Bobby Gustafson on guitar, however, as he either left or was fired, depending on whose side of the story you go with. Gustafson joined the Cycle Sluts from Hell upon leaving Overkill, and later formed a short-lived project called I4NI with Exodus drummer Tom Hunting. The decision to become a five-piece was made and Gustafson's spot was filled with Faith or Fear's Merritt Gant and Gustafson's guitar tech, Rob Cannavino.

Through The Years of Decay, songwriting credits on all Overkill albums had been split amongst all band members. With Gustafson gone, DD Verni and Blitz Ellsworth took over the songwriting duties exclusively, and are credited for composing all future Overkill material. The band embarked on a lengthy tour with Testament to introduce the new lineup, with Verni and Ellsworth compiling material for the next album along the way. At the tour's conclusion, the band gathered up producer Terry Date again and went back to Carriage House Studios in March 1991, wrapping the sessions at the end of April. Horrorscope hit stores on September 3, 1991. While the album failed to make the Billboard 200, it did climb to No. 29 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart. The band produced a pair of videos, for the title track and "Thanx for Nothin," which both received heavy MTV attention. Die-hard Overkill fans, who had been apprehensive about music written without Gustafson, were pleasantly surprised by the heavier, darker sound on Horrorscope, and continued to flock to the band's live shows. Drummer Sid Falck left the band in 1992, and was replaced by former M.O.D. drummer Tim Mallare.

The end of the Horrorscope tour in 1992 also brought about the end of Overkill's relationship with Megaforce. The band decided to go back to the future in more ways than one, bringing back producer Alex Perialas, who had helmed their first four releases, including the !!!Fuck You!!! EP. While Overkill was working with Date, Perialas was making his own name in thrash with the Testament classics The New Order and Practice What You Preach and Anthrax's State of Euphoria. The band also recorded album number 6 at Pyramid in Ithaca, the same studio where albums 1 through 3 were laid down. The result was I Hear Black, released on March 9th of '93. The band's first Atlantic-only release brought about a significant change in Overkill's sound, which featured slower, darker songs than previous Overkill sets. Despite being released at a time when all thrash metal bands were dieing, I Hear Black debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 122, their highest position yet. It also achieved the band's highest position on the Heatseekers chart, reaching No. 3. A video was released for the single "Spiritual Void," but failed to garner much airplay as MTV was seemingly over thrash and gave preferential treatment to grunge and other emerging alternative metal sub-genres. Nonetheless, the band continued wreaking its live havoc on the world, launching the 1993 "World of Hurt" tour with opening act Savatage.

While I Hear Black sold well, by Overkill standards, the band's longtime fans were upset about the slower tempos, preferring the hard-driving, breakneck tempos that characterized earlier Overkill records. The band responded, recording their seventh full-length at Ambient Studios in Stamford, CT in April and May of 1994. Wanting more control over the sound of the record, the band decided to self-produce the effort, which arrived in stores July 15, 1994. Titled W.F.O. (Short for Wide Fu**ing Open), the album included an instrumental entitled "R.I.P. (Undone)" that was written as a tribute to longtime Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva, who had died when the album was being written. Though the album failed to chart on the Billboard 200, it reached No. 9 on the Heatseekers chart and was the band's first effort to chart in Germany. A video was done for the track "Fast Junkie," but was again largely ignored by MTV in favor of Nu Metal and grunge acts. The band's popularity was on the rise overseas, however, and another European tour was launched, with support from the Colorado Springs speed metal outfit Jag Panzer.

R.I.P. Criss Oliva (4/3/63 - 10/17/93)

While critical reception of W.F.O. was mostly favorable, sales were disappointing, and Atlantic decided to end their relationship with Overkill. The band were relieved, however, because they felt that the label no longer offered any kind of promotional support. Determined to retain creative control, the band found separate deals in a number of countries and regions with CMC International handling US distribution. The band continued their global live assault, recording a March 15, 1995 set in Cleveland for their first full length live album. Titled Wrecking Your Neck, the album hit stores just a few weeks later and contained 22 tracks across 108 minutes of bone-crunching, brain-piercing, live Overkill. The double-disc set included classics such as "Rotten to the Core","Wrecking Crew", "Elimination" and "Powersurge," along with newer favorites like "Hello from the Gutter" and "Horrorscope." The first pressing of the CD included a bonus disc containing a reissue of the Overkill EP, out of print for a decade. A video was released for the track "Bastard Nation," but it was like kicking a dead horse at that point as MTV continued to largely ignore the band.

Wrecking Your Neck would be Overkill's last release with Cannavino and Gant on guitar, as the pair decided to leave to pursue a motorcycle racing career, and to spend more time with family, respectively. Replacements were found in former Liege Lord (and later Annihilator)frontman Joe Comeau, who switched to guitar, and former Anvil guitarist Sebastian Marino. The new members learned material for Overkill's next record, and the band went back to Carriage House in Stamford in September of '95. Again self-produced, the band's eighth album took just under two months to record, and hit stores on March 5, 1995. Titled The Killing Kind, the record was generally well received by critics, but some old-school thrash fans saw the effort as a sell-out, as the band adopted elements associated with modern alternative metal. The band's sound was also fundamentally changed with the addition of Comeau, whose background vocals were used more heavily in the mix and more prominent than backing tracks on previous sets. The album failed to chart in the US, but reached No. 60 in Germany. The band toured Europe twice in support, with Accuser and Anvil.

Overkill - 2014

September 30, 1997 brought the release of Overkill's 9th studio album, From the Underground and Below. The effort was a continuation of the sound developed on The Killing Kind, with the addition of some industrial elements on songs such as "Save Me." Overkill frontman Bobby Blitz has often said that this album is one of his favorites, and the single "Long Time Dyin" has become one of his favorite tracks to perform in concert. A video was produced for the single, though MTV's interest in thrash bands had deteriorated so much at that point that it's not certain the video was ever played on the network. The repeated snubs from MTV prompted the band to reconsider wasting time with music videos, and they wouldn't produce another for a decade. As with its predecessor, From the Underground... failed to chart on the Billboard 200, but peaked at No. 34 on the Heatseekers chart. The album was also well received in Germany, where it peaked at No. 80. Again, the band decided to forgo a lengthy US tour in favor of more dates in Europe, where they toured extensively with support from Nevermore and Angel Dust.

In the fall of 1998, Overkill had the first of a series of health scares when Bobby Blitz was diagnosed with an aggressive form of nose cancer. The diagnosis was made early, however, and the singer underwent surgery and has been in remission ever since. Following his recovery, the band hit the studio again to begin working on album number 10, recorded in November and December of '98 at Carriage House in Stamford. Released on February 23, 1999, Necroshine followed the pattern established by the two previous Overkill releases, failing to hit the big chart in the US but reaching No. 37 on the Heatseekers chart. Once again, the set sold well in Germany, reaching No. 82 on that country's chart. Necroshine marked a significant milestone for Overkill, making them the first thrash band to release ten studio albums. Other early thrash acts such as Sodom, Kreator, Anthrax and Slayer wouldn't achieve that feat for several more years, while Metallica and Exodus still haven't notched ten full-lengths as of the summer of 2014. (Exodus is scheduled to release their 10th effort in October, 2014).

With 10 studio albums in the books, Overkill turned its attention to compiling a covers album to pay tribute to the bands that influenced them, including Motorhead, Black Sabbath, KISS, Judas Priest and The Ramones. Some of the songs had already been recorded and released as bonus tracks or on other albums, while the rest were recorded that summer. Entitled Coverkill, the covers set hit stores in October of '99, garnering only mild interest from fans and critics. The band set out on a European tour again , this time from Canadian thrash legends Annihilator. During the tour, Annihilator grew weary of the unprofessional behavior of their frontman Randy Rampage, and offered Overkill guitarist Joe Comeau the role. Comeau accepted, ending his stint in Overkill. The decision was made to move forward as a four-piece, so Comeau was not replaced. Overkill's only guitarist for the remainder of the tour was Dave Linsk, who had replaced Sebastian Marino when he left just prior to the tour.

Now a four-piece, Overkill entered the studio again in June 2000, spending about two months laying down their tenth full-length record. Titled Bloodletting, the album was issued on October 24, 2000 on Metal-Is records, their only release on the small indie label. A throwback to Overkill's earlier days, the album was a classic thrash record, void of the industrial and Nu Metal elements the band experimented with on the 3 albums that came before it. Critics and longtime fans of the band relish Bloodletting, but sales were dismal, and the set failed to chart anywhere, selling fewer than 2,500 copies in the US in its first week after release. Undeterred, the band set its sights on another European tour, this one a supporting tour for one of Ellsworth's heroes, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. The legendary singer was touring in support of the debut effort of his second solo project, aptly named Halford. During the tour, DD Verni was forced to take a leave of absence when his wife gave birth to their second child, prompting the band to hire a fill-in in Derek "The Skull" Tailer, formerly of Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider's S.M.F. band. The band enjoyed working with Tailer, later asking him to fill the second guitarist slot in the band.

After the guest spot on Halford's Resurrection tour, Overkill returned to the States and continued to play sporadic shows across the Northeast US. The band recorded and filmed a performance at the Paramount in Asbury Park, New Jersey, using the recordings for their second live album and first DVD. The album was titled Wrecking Everything, and released in June of 2002, while the DVD was called Wrecking Everything - An Evening in Asbury Park and released in September. Even as the live album hit stores, the band was on the road in Europe again, headlining a bill that included Blaze and Wicked Mystic. During the tour, Overkill got another major health scare when Ellsworth suffered a stroke during a performance in Nuremberg, Germany. Doctors were unable to find a cause for the stroke, but predicted no lasting effects, so the band decided to carry on. They signed a new record deal with Spitfire Records and hit the studio in September 2002 to begin work on a 12th album. Titled Killbox 13, the album continued the course set by Bloodletting, and was hailed by hardcore fans of the band as its rawest thrash effort since Taking Over. The album failed to chart on the Billboard 200, but reached the No. 93 spot on the German chart and became the band's first effort to chart in Japan. The band spent most of 2003 playing major festivals around the world, before embarking on an extensive tour of Japan with Death Angel and Flotsam and Jetsam.

Back in the US, Overkill spent October and November of 2004 in DD Verni's recording studio, Gear, laying down a 13th studio album. Titled ReliXIV (pronounced like Relics), the album hit stores on March 22, 2005, garnering a lukewarm reception at best. The album failed to chart in the US or Germany, or on any other European chart. The set did improve on its predecessor's performance in Japan, however, landing 13 spots higher on the Japanese albums chart. The band played a handful of clubs in the Northeast in April before embarking on a lengthy Japanese tour in May. Mallare left the band for undisclosed reasons as the tour kicked off and was replaced by Ron Lipnicki, the former drummer for Hades. Upon their return, Overkill launched their first extensive tour of West Coast, selling out shows from San Diego to Seattle as fans jumped at the rare opportunity to see the band live. The show was so successful that Gigantour festival promoter, Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, took notice, and booked the band to headline the second stage in 2006. The summer-long Gigantour festival would be Overkill's first nationwide tour of the US since 1994.

2006 brought about another label change for Overkill, as they split with Spitfire and rejoined old friends Johnny Z and Marsha Zazula, the founders of Megaforce Records that were now in charge of American talent for Bodog Music. The band went back to work at Verni's Gear Studio in October 2006, working through December, then finished up in May and June of 2007. Titled Immortalis, the band's 14th full length hit stores on October 9, 2007. Critical reception was hushed for the album, and fans were disappointed, as well. The album failed to chart anywhere in the US or Europe, and failed to chart in Japan also. Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe made a guest appearance on the effort handling lead vocals on the track "Skull and Bones." That track was also used for Overkill's first video in a decade, but the clip was largely ignored by MTV and failed to generate much radio airplay. The band spent the next two years touring, announcing in October of 2009 they had signed a multi-record deal with Nuclear Blast.

Overkill's 15th album, Ironbound, was released January 29, 2010, quickly becoming the band's most successful release in years. The effort was the band's first release to make the Billboard 200 since 1993's I Hear Black, and reached No. 20 on Billboard's Top Hard Rock Albums chart. The release also reached No. 31 in Germany, and marked the band's first appearance on charts in Greece, Austria, France and Switzerland. The release thrilled longtime Overkill fans, while also bringing in new fans. The album got stellar reviews from every publication that tracked the thrash metal genre at the time, and is still considered a favorite by many loyal fans. Never a band to rest on its laurels, the band again headed out on the road, performing almost non-stop until July 2011, when they began finalizing the tracks for a follow-up. The band returned to the studio in September 2011, emerging three months later with album number 16. Titled The Electric Age, the effort hit stores on March 27, 2012 and quickly became the band's biggest commercial success ever.


The Electric Age is Overkill's only record ever to crack the Top 100 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, peaking at No. 77. The effort also earned the band's highest-ever chart positions in several European markets and Japan. Critics and fans alike were pleased with the effort, and even MTV warmed up to the band it had largely ignored for so long. A video was released for the track "Electric Rattlesnake", and received the most airplay an Overkill video had seen since 1988's "Hello from the Gutter". As in the past, the band headed out to support the album, launching the "Dark Roots of Thrash" tour with Testament and Flotsam and Jetsam in early 2013. The band were forced to cancel several dates, however, when Ellsworth was stricken with pneumonia. Ellsworth has since recovered, however, and the band spent late 2013 and the early part of 2014 in the studio laying down their impressive seventeenth studio album. A video was produced for the album track "Armorist", and has received positive reviews since it debuted. The album is set for a July 18th release internationally and will hit US stores on July 22nd.

Be sure to check out our
Overkill Discography