It's hard to believe that OVERKILL has entered its 20th year of existence and just released its 14th long player, "ReliXIV". And the best part about it is that the true-blue, old-school thrashers among us can still be proud of the product and the fact that OVERKILL still doesn't give two shits about trends. I enjoyed 2003's "Killbox 13" a great deal and didn't have a problem with the few twists of modernity that characterized the tunes, as well as the somewhat slicker production (although I know a few of you do). Come on, it was still unabashedly OVERKILL. But "ReliXIV" is classic OVERKILL, no two ways about it. We're talking 10 tracks of American blue-collar thrash, characterized by those choppy and muscular rhythms, gigantic chunks of crushing riffage, crisp drumming (including those all-important thunderous double-bass blasts), D.D. Verni's thick bass lines, and Blitz's snarling and snotty vocals. The band's stab at self-production is a success, resulting in a rough-hewn sound that still allows the arrangements to breathe.
If you're like me, it takes a second listen to get into the groove of an OVERKILL album, especially nowadays when much of what passes as thrash has a rather clean, even antiseptic quality. Once that ball gets rolling though, there's no stopping it. It becomes immediately clear that this is vintage OVERKILL when the introductory slow build of "Within Your Eyes" tops off and the claws sink in on the verse, ripping flesh during the trashy, blues-inflected chorus. "Bats in the Belfry" is of the quintessential variety — the backing shouts of "Bats!" on the chorus, the fat groove, and the pace changes from speedy rumble to a slower, jagged rhythm. "A Pound of Flesh" kicks the buzzsaw riffing into up-tempo thrash overdrive, while "Keeper" follows a similar path, though a tad slower with a pronounced gallop and some chest-thumping kick drum action.
True to form, OVERKILL mixes up the pace a bit, offering up slow to mid-paced tempos, grease-stained riffs, and bluesy vibe on both "Wheelz" and "The Mark". The album closer, "Old School", is not about the Will Ferrell movie, but does bring one back to the roots and thrusts middle fingers in every direction. A catchy chorus that sounds like a bunch of drunken Oi! punkers singing along (right down to the shouts of "Hey! Hey! Hey!") is one big "Fuck You" to the non-believers. An appropriate ending for a band that should make you grateful that this style of music is still being performed in 2005. It's nothin' fancy or original; just predictable, balls-out OVERKILL thrash metal.