LIVE PHOTOS: Overkill, Death Angel
Review by Jeff Maki
It was a night of firsts at Baltimore Soundstage. The April 25 show was thrash metal legend, Overkill’s first show of its “Wings Over USA” tour supporting its new studio album, “The Wings of War,” but you wouldn’t have known it. With another legendary thrash band, Death Angel, in support, the bands were firing on all cylinders, circle pits erupted and the sound was fantastic. This was the first time Overkill and Death Angel have toured together; I know this because Death Angel frontman Mark Osegueda said so himself as he addressed the near-capacity crowd. There also was a first for me in here as well—after being a fan of Overkill since the 1988 album “Under the Influence,” this was my first time ever seeing the band live.
We arrived in time to catch opener Mothership, which self proclaims “its goal is to carry on the tradition of the classic rock style of the ’70′s, updated and amped up for the modern day.” Yeah, that sounds about right. These guys were loud, heavy, at times doomy, and they packed some heavy riffs and impressive soloing into their short but powerful set. My first thought was “Black Sabbath with Lemmy on vocals.”
I’ve been a fan of Death Angel since it released “Act III” in 1990, and I’ve had the chance to talk with Osegueda a couple times now. Always enthusiastic, this guy loves his metal and especially his band’s recent output, and he has good reason to. After a hiatus between “Act III” and 2004’s “The Art of Dying,” Death Angel has made up for lost time in a big way, with the new thrash classics “Relentless Retribution” (2010), “The Dream Calls for Blood” (2013) and “The Evil Divide” (2016). And there’s another one on the way: “Humanicide” (May 31, 2019).
The only bummer about Death Angel’s set was it was only about 35 minutes long. But in this precious little time, the band got the pit and crowd engaged at Soundstage, playing the title track from “Humanicide,” “The Moth” from “The Evil Divide,” and it even broke out the classic “Seemingly Endless Time” from “Act III.”
You don’t often hear the name Death Angel mentioned in the “best thrash bands/Big Four” conversations, I thought it belonged then and maybe even more so in 2019.
Death Angel Setlist:
“Thrown to the Wolves”
“Claws in So Deep”
“Seemingly Endless Time”
“The Dream Calls for Blood”
“The Ultra-Violence/Kill as One”
We “felt the fire” when New Jersey thrashers Overkill “took over” and had us all “Under the Influence” back in the early ’80s. Throughout the ’90s and “The Years of Decay,” not even the band itself could look into its “Horrorscope” and see itself becoming “Immortalis” all the way through to “The Electric Age.” But “The Grinding Wheel” kept thrashing all the way to present day, now prepared to ride on “The Wings of War.”
I wrote that in my recent interview with Overkill vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth (read here), and it was just too fucking good to not post again. Blitz described the band to me in the early days as just “some snot-nosed, punk kids from Jersey.” Well, those kids (with the addition of a few new ones) have made Overkill last for nearly four decades, and 2019’s “The Wings of War” is studio album number 19! The “Motorhead of thrash metal” is how it’s often referred to. The band followed some trends in the early years of thrash metal, and “The Black Album” obviously had an influence, as it did for many other bands. But through it all, “The Wrecking Crew” has remained a constant in metal and hasn’t released a bad album to my recollection. Before writing this, I listened to “The Years of Decay” and “Horrorscope” again, just to remind myself how great those albums are and how important they were to my “metal youth.”
Overkill’s greatness continued with 2017’s “The Grinding Wheel” and this year’s “The Wings of War,” which plays kind of like a continuation of the previous album, and also welcomes former Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner for his first recording with the band. The 2019 version of Overkill is rounded out by bassist and only other original member D. D. Verni, lead guitarist Dave Linsk and rhythm guitarist Derek Tailer. Before I go on, let’s all wish Blitz a happy 60th birthday!
The main takeaway in my first time seeing Overkill live was just how high a pitch Blitz hits with his vocals. This always has been his signature style, and largely it’s what has carried Overkill and made it stand out. It no doubt stands out live, reaching Halfordian levels. I’m not complaining; in fact, I love it. D.D.’s bass is the other signature sound of Overkill, and he is even more noticeable live. When a lot of other thrash bands of the era were almost ignoring the bass guitar, Overkill made it its own and still does in 2019. As for the rest of the band, they sounded flawless and precise, but if my eyes were closed, it wouldn’t matter who was onstage as long as the classics were played in their original form as they were meant to be—and they were.
After opening with “Last Man Standing,” a new track from “The Wings of War,” “Hello from the Gutter” was a surprise entry three songs into the set and was the song that first got me into Overkill (see, another “first”). “Elimination,” from 1989’s “The Years of Decay,” also was featured early on in the set. This was an album that was released about a year after Metallica’s “… And Justice For All.” While you could tell at the time the band was following suit and taking a similar, darker direction, songs on this album like “Elimination” and “Time To Kill” were even faster and deadlier.
Classics “Feel the Fire” and “Rotten to the Core” brought me back to the early days and transcend time. Hearing songs like these live brings you back to the heyday of thrash metal, when we didn’t have to give a fuck about anything.
Overkill obviously does give a fuck—about the music, the fans, and kickass live shows like this one, going on now for 40 years. Here’s to hoping I can be “first” in line to see these metal legends live again for a second time.
“Last Man Standing”
“Hello From the Gutter”
“Deny the Cross”
“Head of a Pin”
“Mean, Green, Killing Machine”
“Feel the Fire”
“Rotten to the Core”
“Welcome to the Garden State”