I Hear Black: Is It Overkill’s Most Underrated Album?
We hear gold!
Any thrash fan worth their salt will have experienced a lot of Overkill in their lifetime. Generally considered one of the finest thrash bands in existence – and certainly one of the most consistent – these New Jersey dogs have released a fair few all time classic’s (The Years Of Decay & Horroscope instantly spring to mind) but one album in their formidable back catalogue has often proved the most divisive; that album is I Hear Black, a dark, groove-filled excursion into what was brand new territory for the band.
An album that seemed to take huge risks in dropping the light-speed riffing that made their name, the pared down, grinding grooves of opener “Dreaming in Columbian” and “Weight of the World” were, in hindsight, the perfect mid-tempo answer to grunge and alt rock/metal’s arrival. Predictable? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely. And what’s more, Overkill were surprisingly good at this groove metal lark!
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth always had a distinctive voice – a little shrill and yet perfect for thrash – but the slower tempo’s employed on I Hear Black allowed his vocals to truly come to the fore and he delivered a performace of barely controlled animalistic aggression throughout the entire album, peppered with more melody than ever before.
While the speed of old was obviously missing, I Hear Black was still heavier than the proverbial ‘sack of spanners’ and the likes of “I Hear Black”, “Feed My Head” and the lead-weight riffing of “Spiritual Void” remain thick slices of crusty creativity topped with the kind of monstrous riffs most bands would kill for.
It’s still thrash, just a kind of post-thrash (yuck, can’t believe we dared even say that), a muddy off-road drive through thrash metal’s fundamentals, left spattered with muck, grime and greasy entrails. In fact, ‘black’ sums it up, Overkill had never sounded so dark and so nihilistic, a heady trip through Sabbath-ian riffs that was totally at odds with the punk-infused racket that had made their name in the 80’s.
I Hear Black proved Overkill were no mere one trick pony and were one of the few thrash metal bands (Anthrax achieved a similar level of diversity with Sounds Of White Noise) to adapt and survive the 90’s with their integrity attached.
I Hear Black is definitely Overkill‘s most underrated album and it remains a damn fine album to boot!
After buying Horrorscope in 1991 from the Columbia Record Club (!), the first Overkill album that I bought brand-new was I Hear Black. I absolutely loved its slower, groovier cuts (Flotsam and Jetsam also tried this with great success on 1992’s Cuatro), and to this day it is the only metal album that my father actually enjoyed listening to with me.