For the final week in 2021 I’m going all the way back to 1988. I’m also going back to last month, as this album was one of a series of sorely-needed reissues finally offered in box set form on vinyl. While Skid Row’s “Atlantic Years” box snagged a lot of attention, another in the Atlantic series with six full-length records grabbed my attention and my money.
Overkill – Under The Influence
Released July 5, 1988 via Atlantic Records/Megaforce Records
My Favorite Tracks – Drunken Wisdom, Hello From The Gutter, Brainfade
Overkill were one of the earlier thrash bands to sign a major label record deal. Their demos and debut full-length had brought a ton of hype to the band and labels began arming up with thrash acts as a way to counterbalance the glut of hair metal flowing from their assembly lines. And while thrash is often hailed as a Bay Area invention, Overkill were one of a few pioneering East Coast acts to take the reigns and build thrash into a truly worldwide phenomenon.
Under The Influence marked the band’s third full-length release after two acclaimed records. While this album does not bear the same weight as those two in the thrash lexicon, it does somewhat quietly sit on the upper end of the band’s more appreciated works.
Of course there is nothing quiet about the record. Proceedings open with Shred, which does simply state its point, just as the chorus says. The songs roll hot and heavy on the album’s first side, with everything kept under the five minute mark through songs like Never Say Never and Mad Gone World.
The first side closes with Brainfade – a banger that gets on someone’s case for being a mouth-running know-it-all who honestly doesn’t know a damn thing. I have an inside joke with a friend of mine about a former mutual acquaintance, we’ve decided that this is the guy’s theme song. I’m sure everyone knows someone like this. If a person doesn’t, then that person might be that guy.
While many thrash acts were incorporating other influences around this time, Overkill stayed on a more true thrash path. If anything, this record showcases an early example of groove metal – something that would start massive arguments years later between fans of pioneers Exhorder and the explosively popular Pantera. Whoever deserves credit or blame for the sound that made Pantera famous, there is a blueprint towards that groove on Under The Influence.
The album’s second side sees a turn to longer songs, with the tracks running over six minutes each. Drunken Wisdom enters with a somber acoustic intro but then gets into a pummeling attack that highlights the group’s contribution to the coming groove metal phenomenon.
It’s hard to tell who Bobby Blitz is bitching about in the song – I’ve heard it was a music journalist. That does track with lyrics like “defining our performance” and “just get the fuck out.” Either way, I’m sure most of us have been around someone imbued with drunken wisdom before, and have also possibly been that person a time or two. (Not me, of course…)
End Of The Lines picks up the speed again and hits hard with an apocalyptic message. This song has a lot of guitar in it, at times feeling Maiden-esque inbetween the thrash beatings of the verses and chorus. Head First continues in the much the same fashion, slamming toward the album’s conclusion.
The record ends on the third of a self-named series, this one subtitled Under The Influence. The song adds a layer of creepiness while still retaining the thrashing groove found through the rest of the album. It seems this Overkill song series ends here, with one future sequel found years later. Having one on every album would have been a nice bit of trivia, but I guess “Overkill Part 19” might be dragging things out a bit.
This album was my introduction to Overkill. I was a bit too young for the first albums and I got into thrash just as the movement was swinging into uncharted waters in 1990. This was among several tapes I was able to get my hands on in my podunk Midwest hometown without a vast music selection. Thankfully I was able to round out the catalog soon after. This one will always stand out for me, it was an album with an attitude and snarl that wasn’t found in a lot of other easy-to-come-by places.
Under The Influence checks all the boxes for a great thrash record. Overkill might not have seen the same success as thrash’s top acts but the band has endured and become a symbol of sticking to roots and longevity as they now prepare to release their 20th studio album in the coming months. The group has straddled lines between the mainstream and underground and have persevered as one of thrash’s enduring legends.