April 10, 2010 at the Rave, Milwaukee, WI

by Dr. Abner Mality

Nobody can accuse Overkill of doing things half-ass when it comes to a party. For their 25th anniversary tour, the bat-winged brethern from the East Coast reached deep into their underground credentials to put together one of the deepest and strongest line-ups of bands to hit the road in my memory. Almost all of the bands can be said to be technically "heavier" or "faster" than Overkill itself, but such is the amazing confidence the band has in its own stagecraft that there was absolutely no chance of anybody stealing the show. Full props to Overkill for putting together a line-up of REAL metal bands instead of loading up with stuff like Skindred, Bullet For My Valentine, Atreyu, ad nauseum.

Killfest got the "cozy" basement stage at The Rave tonight, as hundreds of Winona Ryder lookalikes cruised the bigger upstairs Eagles Club to watch Finnish faux-metal band H.I.M. croon their insipid hymns. That worked out just fine. At one point, Bobby Blitz from Overkill told the crowd: "You motherfuckers get uglier every year. No wonder they put us in the basement!" That got a big laugh and a roar of defiance from us ugly MF's. Like Overkill, we take pride in being on the outside!

Got to the Rave about two songs into opening band Woe of Tyrant's brief set. Now it's no secret that their "Kingdom of Might" disc is a huge favorite of mine and in fact was my favorite album of 2009. Their second disc "Threnody" is somewhat disappointing but I still looked forward to seeing them. "First band of the evening" syndrome hit these guys pretty hard. The intricate and highly technical guitar work displayed on their albums was muddied live and it was obvious the sound men were using them to "get the kinks out". They played an energetic set to a polite response from the crowd still filing in, but I actually think their music is better suited to listening at home so all the amazing musicianship stands out instead of getting lost in a high volume blast.

It was sure weird being in a smoke-filled venue where customers were walking by with lit cigarettes and blowing vapor into the air. I hail from Illinois, where smoking inside is virtually a capital crime and sidewalks are crowded with smokers exiled to outdoors. Wisconsin has yet to reach this level of smoke-a-phobia and tonight's show was the first indoor set I've seen in the land of beer and cheese in a while. Though I don't smoke myself, it was oddly comforting to be in a room full of tobacco fumes. Just an odd observation I thought I'd make...

Whereas Woe of Tyrants got things rolling, England's rising Evile really got the party started with a bang. These guys have a bright future ahead of them for sure. They connected with the crowd even before they played the first real note, clowning around and talking during sound check. When the actual music kicked in, the first pits of the evening got going. Evile is straight up thrash in the great early Metallica tradition and their all too brief set was composed almost 50/50 of songs from both their debut "Enter The Grave" and newie "Infected Nations".  Already the song "Thrasher" is an anthem on the level of "Whiplash". I also really enjoyed "For Those Who Are About To Die" and "Time No More". Evile seemed genuinely thrilled with the crowd response and after their set, they signed merch and gladly chatted to anybody who bothered to visit them at their table. That's a class act. Check out my interview with Olli Drake for more from these guys.

Nice to see fellow Worm-fiends Joe Who?, Sgt. Deth and Mrs. Deth also at the show...WC was in full force in Milwaukee tonight. Even ran into my old friend Biker John, the doorman at Beloit's Bare Chest, who got me in without a cover charge in my wild youth!

Does Warbringer EVER get off touring? These maniacs are on the road constantly, not only because that seems to be the only way to make a buck in metal these days, but also because I sense that's where they're at their best. If anything, they were even more intense than the last time I saw them. They've got an all-time loon as their lead singer, Mr. John Kevill. John could barely croak out a word between songs, but while the bad was in action, he could still scream "TOTAL WARRRRR!" at top volume. I love seeing these guys live and you can never go wrong with pit-making battle hymans like "Prey For Death", "Combat Shock"  and "Senseless Life". The band didn't get time for encore but the great response they got from the crowd surely warranted one.

I was really looking forward to Holland's God Dethroned, who I've never seen live before. They were always kind of
destined to be a bit of an "odd man out" on the tour and that's the reaction they got. Although the crowd responded well to them, there was none of the wild pit action that Warbringer or Vader got. That's likely because they totally have their own style, a mixture of extreme thrash, slower ultra-heavy parts and actual melody. It requires some concentration to absorb it correctly and I for one love what they bring to the table. Mainman Henri Satler was grim and efficient...none of the clowing of Warbringer's John Kevill or the friendliness of Evile. But he commanded the stage along with excellent bassist Henk Zinger (whose bass sound was one of the HEAVIEST I have ever heard in a live environment) with grit and determination as the band laid into new tunes like "Poison Fog" and "Drowning In Mud" from latest album "Passiondale" as well as some old favorites such as "Villa Vampiria" and "The Warcult". God Dethroned is a band many take for granted, but I give full points to Overkill for bringing them on the tour...a great addition.

Vader's set was inexplicably cut very short, lasting probably only about 20 minutes or so. There were a LOT of disappointed Vader fans in the audience...the Polish warmongers have a very loyal audience. There are four members of Vader, but it is really a one man band. Original member Peter has kept this group going through blood, sweat and sheer force of will. Every other member of the band is different from the last time I saw them in 2006 and they are utilizing a guitarist named Marco for the American tour. No matter, they delivered the same pounding assault that Vader can always be counted on to deliver. Peter is visually the most ideal death metal frontman you can think of...his body language and gestures are perfectly matched to the music. He was visibly unhappy at having to play such a short set, but threw that anger into the music. The atomic whirlwind of "The Crucified Ones" brought the set to a premature close and "Vader" chants rang through the hall to no avail.

Then it was time for the ringmasters of this metal circus to arrive. If you gotta see just one metal band live in a year, try and make it Overkill. There are none better at the trade. Many crowds would be tired and jaded after thrashing through the five bands that hit the stage previously. All it took tonight was a barrage of eerie green lights to cast its glow on the audience and re-ignite the metal frenzy. The boys opened with "The Green And Black" from their sensational new album "Ironbound" and there was no looking back for the rest of the night.

If Rob Halford weren't still around, I'd have no trouble proclaiming Bobby Ellsworth as the best frontman in metal today. The guy has such a unique look and stage presence and connects with his fans like few others. Keeping in mind that we had a horde of H.I.M. fans upstairs, Blitz told us "I truly believe you can make more noise than them because I truly believe in you." His facial expressions and almost kabuki-like body movements are priceless. Plus the dude can still scream like a motherfucker! All the other members have their own cool stage personalities but Blitz is the captain of the H.M.S. Overkill.

It's gotta be hard as hell to pick songs when you have 16 albums full of classics but the guys did a pretty good job, leaning heavily on early stuff like "Rotten To the Core", "Wrecking Crew" and "Bare Bones". But they threw a couple of cool curves in there, such as "Battle" and "Gasoline Dream". I would have loved to hear "Fatal If Swallowed" and "Cold Hard Fact" myself, but again, how can you play ALL the faves when your career is as wide and deep as Overkill's? The new stuff from "Ironbound" such as the title track and "Bring Me The Night" nestled alongside the older tunes with no problem...obvious, considering this is their most oldschool album in a long time.

The wrap up was predictable..."Elimination", leading to an encore of "Necroshine", the fun and punky "Old School" (complete with OOOO-HOOOO's from Blitz) and the expected "Fuck You/Overkill" medley. It's a great mixture of crowd pleasers that get the fans involved. Never has hundreds of voice yelling "FUCK YOU!" sounded so friendly and welcoming!

Only complaint anybody could have possibly had was the shortness of Vader's set. It was a happy but drained crowd that filed out of the Rave past the sad-eyed teenyboppers from the upstairs show (most of whom cringed away from us freaks). You can count on being exhausted but elated every time you leave Overkill and friends.