When Overkill ditched their guitarist Bobby Gustafson in 1990, many predicted the end for Thrash’s most enduring band. Few guitarists in the genre have ever been able to match his chops and technique, and for many fans, his playing provided much of the band’s personality. Fans were concerned Overkill without Gustafson would have been like Black Sabbath without Tony Iommi.
They needn’t have worried. `Horrorscope’ turned out to be Overkill’s most mature and most consistent release of their career to that point. The new guitar duo of Merritt Gant and Rob Cannavino proved to be a match even for a guitarist as good as Gustafson, and helped revitalise the band.
“Coma” starts with a haunting acoustic intro, before letting loose with a full on double kick drum and power chord typhoon. Immediately obvious- two guitars are heavier than one. Where DD Verni had often had to sacrifice a little of the bottom end to fill the vacant mid ranges now sat a second guitar. While studio trickery meant the rhythm guitar never dropped out during solos on previous Overkill albums, two guitars proved to be far more versatile, flexible and heavier.
Overkill’s unique character remained intact through the vocals of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. While Blitz is not the best vocalist ever, he’s one of the most distinctive, and probably the most versatile to ever front a Thrash Metal band. From soaring pseudo-Operatics on “Coma” to the pessimistic wailing of “Soulitude”, Blitz covers a whole range of emotions, from rage to frustration, to bare faced aggression, sometimes within the space of a few lines.
Gustafson was hardly missed in the song writing department either. The band wrote riffs by the bucketload, with songs like “Blood Money” and “Thanx For Nothin’” featuring some of the best ever. There are a few slower, brooding songs with a feel similar to “Playing With Spiders/Skullcrusher” from previous album `The Years Of Decay’, although the focus is more on an atmosphere of despair and hopelessness than just playing slow to hit low frequencies. The grinding bass-led intro to the title track is an unstoppable juggernaut, creating a theme the rest of the song to build off without ever lifting the tempo above lumbering. “New Machine” features a closing passage which creates robotic, automaton imagery like a scene from the movie “Metropolis”.
While Overkill had always dealt with dark themes, the lyrics here had none of the camp silliness of older songs like “Hello From The Gutter”, “Brainfade” and “Hammerhead”. Instead, the lyrics on `Horrorscope’ pertain to living with a sense of hopelessness or helplessness, and the inevitability and finality of death. The closing couplet of “Nice Day… For A Funeral” and “Soulitude” reach the depths of sombre introspection. The songs deal in turn with death (“Yeah, the last of sunshine/Oh, ya know, for what it’s worth/Nice day for a funeral”) and it’s aftermath (“I remember here/Thought it was a dream/I never thought I’d come to this). While it may seem like a depressing way to finish an album, it is highly thought provoking.
Showing a maturity which only comes through self-confidence, `Horrorscope’ wasn’t exactly what fans were expecting, but few were disappointed by it. Overkill showed up more famous peers like Metallica, Megadeth and even Exodus, by shifting their focus without compromising their principles.