Like many headbangers from my generation, the ascension of thrash between 1985 and '87 became an all-encompassing thing. Interestingly enough, it was one of those punker friends (referenced in last week's Black Flag post) I'd made who'd slipped me a taped copy of S.O.D.'s Speak English Or Die. I was instantly turned into a speed freak, my addiction solidified once my main rolling mate, Metal Mark, handed me Metallica's supreme trifecta of velocity. Then I came to Megadeth and it was all over. To this day, I don't think I've played any thrash album with more dedication than Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? and that's speaks miles.
Of all the old school thrash bands, only a few have remained consistent or fairly thus, over the decades, Overkill being one of them. I'll always consider this band one of the best of the best, despite the roster shakeups. Read into the reasons as you will, but Overkill has remained pure to their craft and they've only gained momentum, particularly on their blinding fast recent albums Ironbound and The Electric Age. Overkill is a band I never gave up on throughout the years and in turn, I've had the pleasure of interviewing Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth a few times, Bobby Gustafson once and I'm proud to consider Rat Skates a personal friend.
One story I've shared with each of these men from Overkill's original core, and it's nothing all that special, truth be told, happened the summer of '87 when Taking Over hit the masses. I'd already heard Feel the Fire beforehand and was impressed by Overkill's chunky mix of grind and NWOBHM. By the time the "In Union We Stand" clip hit Headbanger's Ball, I already knew this was going to be one of my all-time favorite metal bands. Such a muscular anthem, it fit my weighlifting regimen in high school and became a song I sang to myself while pumping iron amongst my peers. My lifting partner Jay must've thought my head was in the clouds when I wasn't spotting him, but "In Union We Stand" tallied me higher reps and raised me into a higher weigh class as well.
I pestered the snot out of our local music peddler to order me Taking Over until he called me at home to let me know it was in and I'd "better have the money for this shit," quote verbatim. Small town economics at its best, it was owned by a biker, Ron Curry, who reaped his till off of me and Metal Mark every Friday when we got our part-time paychecks. More on that record store in a future post.
I'd brought my Walkman since Ron had scored me a cassette copy of Taking Over. I walked home from the shopping center to my house on the train tracks as I did nearly every day until I had my own wheels. I was bowled over by the first two songs and remember howling like a werewolf along the rails. "Deny the Cross" and "Wrecking Crew," such punishing rhythms, Rat was a freaking monster. Brutal chugging riffs in front of his double-hammer pounding, Christ, such a heavy tone you can't really get today, not without it being recorded in analog on vintage instruments. Gustafson's shrieking solos? Tailor-made for Chaly the skull-bat. DD Verni's energetic burping bass lines on "Powersurge?" Only Steve Harris, Dave Ellefson or Cliff Burton could outclass that. Blitz's razor-sharp pentameter even through caterwauling? Hard to top, all of it, no matter your skill level.
There may be faster albums in Overkill's repertoire, but for me, "Fatal If Swallowed," "Electro-Violence" and of course, the band's calling card jam "Wrecking Crew" from Taking Over remain some of the most beastly cuts metal has ever been confronted with. Then there's "Overkill II (The Nightmare Continues)," a closing epic to rival many.
My story? Oh yeah. Well, on the 4th of July that summer when Taking Over did just that to my portable stereo, I'd invited Metal Mark to our family picnic stationed at a highly conservative farm museum that we've attended nearly all of my 42 years in the life. That summer, you can imagine us longhaired goofs dressed in sweat-inducing jeans, black concert shirts (Megadeth in my case) and skull rings. I'm sure my family was mortified by us since their Little Ray had morphed into a shaggy headbanging teenager with more than one chip on his shoulder.
I'd brought my boom box with us as Mark and I crashed out on a blanket spinning our metal tapes in combat against the venue's stage acts filled with folk, country and barbershop quartet music. Frankly, we were assholes and we'd set out to be assholes that day. At one point we got up and paraded around the farm museum grounds as I carried my box around. We threw on Taking Over and I will never forget the horrified looks of the grounds staff and other visitors as "Deny the Cross" thundered around us like a shroud of shifting metallic energy, rebuffing anyone who had any thoughts of saying something to us about it.
Now, if you know me, you know I reject Satan as a mere construct mankind has engineered to keep order and to sell heavy metal albums and horror flicks, but I knew damn well I was out of line that day. Me and God had a little one-on-one about it later that night after the fireworks were done and Mark and I were parched from stupidly wearing our metalhead garb in mid-nineties weather. We were so devout to our metal scriptures we'd come out of the farm museum smelling like hogs and we'd left our metal thrashing mad imprint upon the farm museum to the point I'm surprised they still let me in today.
The point to this nonsensical story is that raging teenage hormones make you do crazy things. Overkill, like Testament, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and Metal Church, had the capacity to purge a lot of those ionized balls of angst, but they also empowered us--me, especially. There's not a year that goes by when I'm at the same picnic on the 4th of July where I don't take a ceremonial walk by myself down the same path and headbang inside my head with echoes of "Deny the Cross" wallowing like a ghost. I then rejoin my family and surprise, surprise, I act normal amongst them. I'm a dad now, so I have to set an example. No worries, though, once the little lad's gotten much bigger, maybe he and I will take that ceremonial walk together as I pass him the torch.