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OVERKILL – Fighting Fire With Fire
Bernard Doe
Metal Forces, Issue 20 (1986)

Overkill (l-r): Bobby Gustafson, D.D. Verni, Rat Skates and Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth

One of the first bands to benefit from Megaforce Records’ recent affiliation with Atlantic Records will be New Jersey’s Overkill, who release their new album, entitled Taking Over, in February.

Overkill have been in existence for around five years now and were formed by drummer Rat Skates and bassist D.D. Verni after they split from a hardcore band called the Lubricunts. They quickly hooked up with vocalist Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth together with two guitarists and started out playing the local clubs. Back then Overkill’s live set consisted of mainly Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath covers, but in 1983, after a number of guitarists had come and gone, the band recruited axeman Bobby Gustafson and recorded a demo entitled Power In Black, which gained the band a strong underground following and a lot of interest from heavy metal independent labels.

In 1984 Overkill had tracks featured on the Metal Massacre V and New York Metal ’84 compilation albums, followed by the release of a four-track self-titled EP on Azra Records. Overkill were then snapped up by Megaforce Records for whom they released their debut full-length album, Feel The Fire, in 1985. The album was later released in Europe by Noise International.

So with much of the history lesson out of the way, let’s get the views of drummer Rat Skates, who I recently spoke to prior to the band’s US tour supporting Slayer.

First of all Rat, why did the guys from Overkill change their musical direction from punk to metal? “Well, we all grew up listening to the same kind of music. Bands like the Sex Pistols and The Dead Boys were really happening at the time and we were very into it, and also the stuff was easy to play. But then as we learnt to play our instruments better we wanted to progress musically, so we went on to the more metal stuff. That punk attitude though has never left the band.”

How did you get your first record deal with Azra? “At the time we were just hungry to get a record out and we just jumped at the first thing that came along. Dave Richards from Azra rang us up with, what to us, sounded like a good deal, but we didn’t have a lawyer and we ended up signing a terrible contract, and we feel we were ripped off in every way possible. Really it’s something we want to forget about – it was just a very bad experience.”

Well soon after your EP came out you hooked up with Megaforce. How did they get involved? “Well, Jonny Z from Megaforce had known about us for years, even before he started up his record label. We had a demo out, entitled Power In Black, which we sold over 1,500 copies of just through his record store (Rock’n’Roll Heaven), and this demo was selling better than any album in his store. So he had always been keeping an eye on us. Then about two years ago we done a show with Anvil at L’amour in Brooklyn and Jonny came down and that was it; that was the show that convinced him he should sign us. Ever since then it’s been great; Jonny Z is a great guy and Megaforce is a great label, and we’ve only got good things to say about them.”

So you’re happy with your debut album, Feel The Fire? Well we’re happy to a point, seeing as it was our first album, and you always learn a lot when your recording your first album. But we’re not happy with the production. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault, it was more of a learning experience and we had a lot of equipment problems. But for the next album we’ve produced it ourselves and we’ve spent as much time as we needed to get the exact sound we wanted. Also, the songs are a lot better.”

Rat Skates
Pic: Ira Rosenson

Earlier this year you came over and toured Europe with Anthrax. How did that go from your point of view? “Oh, fantastic ! It was a great tour. Anthrax are great guys and all the shows were really great for us. Unfortunately, because of the expense, we couldn’t take our whole stage show to Europe, but we really love it over there and hopefully we’re be going back early next year.”

Were you disappointed that you didn’t get a chance to play any gigs in the UK at all? Especially as Anthrax managed to come over and play the Hammersmith Palais before they returned to the States from that tour. “Yeah we were disappointed, and we all very much wanna play in England, so hopefully we’ll make it over there next time.”

Metal Hammer have just released a compilation video, featuring Overkill along with Anthrax and Agent Steel, filmed during one of the shows in Germany. But I understand there are plans to release a separate video featuring virtually your whole show from that gig. What’s the situation on this? “Yeah, the show we did in Bochum was videotaped and lasts about 50 minutes, and really shows what the band’s all about.”

But wouldn’t it have been better to video a show, maybe in New York, where you had your whole stage set-up to give an even better impression? “I think we’re gonna be doing that as well, but for the time being this is gonna be our first video and it will give people a taster of what we’re like live. Over here, we’re gonna entitle it Escape From Stalag 13. I don’t know whether you’ve seen those Hogan’s Heroes shows? Well, the video has a lot of Hogan’s Heroes-type bits in it and it’s gonna be a kinda goof on that show.”

Now about your upcoming tour with Slayer. Aren’t you worried that Slayer’s crowd might get violent towards you? I’ve heard that a lot of bands have been refusing to play on the same bill as Slayer? “No, we’re not worried about Slayer’s crowd at all – I’m sure they’ll like us. Also, I think we will have our own audience as well; kids who are there just to see Overkill and not Slayer. But I don’t anticipate any problems.”

So what about your new album? “Well, the album’s gonna be entitled Taking Over and the new songs are much stronger and more like ‘Hammerhead’ and ‘Rotten To The Core’, which people seem to like.

“We’re not a thrash band and we don’t play everything at 900mph just for the sake of playing fast, we play at whatever speed is comfortable. Some of the stuff might be a little slower, but sometimes slower stuff can be heavier, like Black Sabbath.”

I’ve notice that a lot of magazines have been labeling you as a ‘thrash’ band, which of course you’re not. Does the ‘thrash’ tag worry you? “Yes, I guess it does, because we’re not a thrash band. We’re Overkill, and what you hear is us. I think we’re a very powerful metal band and, as I said, we don’t play fast for the sake of it; we do what we think is comfortable and play what we want to play, and that’s that. I don’t really like labels, especially this ‘death metal’ thing which is ridiculous – it’s just a bunch of bullshit – the same with the Satanic stuff. I guess when you’re young it’s great to do that because Satan and all that is a heavy subject, but who needs that? Really they’re playing with fire and I think they should just drop that, because there is such a lot of other things they could write lyrics about.”

Well, as I write, the Overkill / Slayer tour is well underway, and by all accounts Overkill are being very well-received. As I said earlier, the Taking Over album is due to hit the record stores in late February, after which we’ll hopefully see the band return to Europe for some live shows. If you got burnt by Feel The Fire then believe me you’ll have your face totally melted by Overkill the second time around!

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 20 (1986)