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Concert Review: Overkill with Municipal Waste and Prong, Starland Ballroom, NJ 9/27/14
OVERKILL with guests Municipal Waste and Prong
Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, New Jersey - Sept. 27, 2014
"Ride high! Ride tall! OVERKILL WILL NEVER FALL!"
New Jersey Thrash Metal icons Overkill brought their 30th anniversary tour back home on September 27th, when they invaded the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville with fellow thrashers Municipal Waste and Prong in tow. Overkill's first self titled EP was released way back in 1984 (!!) and they've been one of the most reliable and prolific bands on the metal scene ever since, releasing a new album every year and a half to two years like clockwork. Their seventeenth (!) studio effort, White Devil Armory, actually managed to crack the Billboard top 40 upon its release in July of 2014, proving that demand for old school thrash metal is alive and well!
Overkill has been one of my favorite bands for more than a quarter century and though I attended a number of their shows back in their late 80s/early 90s heyday, it had been nearly twenty years (!) since I'd last seen them live. In fact, it had been more than five years since I'd been to a concert by anybody. Therefore, when the opportunity to check out this very special gig presented itself, my response was an enthusiastic "hell YEAH!"
Apathy - "Machine"
My pal Glenn and I made the drive down from Northern Jersey and arrived at the Starland shortly after the club's doors opened. We soon found a cozy spot near the rear bar where we could appreciate the evening's thrashing mayhem from a safe distance - being out of shape middle aged guys, we both agreed that we were far too old for the mosh pit nonsense towards the front. This was my first time at the Starland Ballroom and I was impressed with its clean, spacious interior and clear sight lines to the stage from pretty much anywhere you stood in the venue. If this place were closer to my house I'd be going to shows here every week!
There were a grand total of six bands (!) playing on the night's bill, with three local hopefuls warming up the audience before the bigger names took the stage. The youthful Eye of Anubis were up first, playing a short set of melodic death metal to a slowly filling room. Let's just say I'm not a big fan of this particular style of metal, and leave it at that. I was much more impressed by Clifton, New Jersey's Apathy, an old school thrash metal unit that owed much to Slayer and Exodus, right down to the very Tom Araya-esque vocalist. This show was being held on the anniversary date of original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton's tragic death in a 1986 tour bus crash, so Apathy's bassist showed Cliff some respect by bashing out a few bars of his legendary bass solo "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)." The third and final local opener, Midnite Hellion, also gave Cliff some props with a storming cover of Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which ended their set of power/thrash metal on a high note. The room had filled up nicely by the time New York's Prong took the stage.
The last time I saw Prong was in 1991, when I was a senior in college, at a tiny dump of a club in Staten Island, New York. Guitarist/vocalist Tommy Victor may be the only remaining original member of this cult New York metal act, but from the moment the trio stepped on stage Prong proved they could still pack a serious wallop. Victor looked like he hadn't aged a day since I'd last seen him; both he and bassist Jason Christopher jumped around and ran across the stage throughout the set, occasionally crashing into one another, all the while cranking out some seriously tight and heavy bursts of hardcore-laced metal for the appreciative crowd. I haven't kept up with Prong's recent output so songs from newer offerings like the current Ruining Lives CD were unfamiliar to me, but their way-too-short set was packed with plenty of old school goodies too, like "For Dear LIfe," "Beg To Differ," the crushing "Unconditional" and a vicious "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" (a personal fave). The energy level throughout the Starland had visibly increased by the time Prong left the stage.
Municipal Waste - "Wolves of Chernobyl"
I was unfamiliar with Richmond, Virginia based thrashers Municipal Waste prior to this show, so I gave their stuff a few curious spins on Spotify and liked what I heard. I must be pretty out of the loop, because the now-sizable Starland crowd welcomed them to the stage like they were conquering heroes. From the moment they kicked into their first song, total moshing mayhem ruled in front of the stage. I haven't seen that many crowd surfers and ultra-violent circle pits since...well, since my last Overkill show umpteen years ago! M.W. are one of the standard bearers of the so called "retro thrash" scene, i.e. young guys playing pure old-school 80s style thrash metal. There's an obvious influence from bands like Nuclear Assault, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and S.O.D. in Municipal Waste's songs, but what they may lack in originality they make up for with intensity and their fun party-animal vibe. Frontman Tony Foresta kept up a lighthearted banter with the crowd in between songs, and the audience thrashed furiously to their beer-fueled tracks like "Terror Shark," "Headbanger Face Rip," "The Thrashin' of the Christ," and "Born to Party" (which featured an irrestistible crowd chant of "Municipal Waste is gonna F*CK YOU UP! Municipal Waste is gonna F*CK YOU UP!") By the end of their set I had resolved to check out some of M.W.'s CDs as soon as I am able.
Overkill - "Armorist"
Radio personality/"That Metal Show" host Eddie Trunk came out onstage to introduce the evening's headliners, He rambled for a few minutes about how Overkill has been one of his favorite bands for 30 years, how proud he was to still be playing them on the radio today, that they're making some of the best music of their careers right now, and blah blah blah. I personally find Mr. Trunk irritating as hell, so I couldn't resist yelling, "GET THE @#$% OUTTA HERE, YOU POSER!" at the top of my lungs... he couldn't hear me because I was all the way at the back of the room, of course, but the gesture made me feel better, anyway (haha). The crowd whooped and hollered in approval to make Eddie get out of the way, and then it was time for the main event.
When Overkill commenced blasting with "Armorist" off of their new album, it certainly didn't feel like 20 years had passed since I last saw them... I was immediately yelling, throwing the "horns" and headbanging like a punk kid again! Vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth's banshee wail was in excellent form, and the rest of the band obviously had their musical phasers set to "Pulverize." In other words... Overkill came to SHRED!
With such a massive catalog of songs to choose from, arranging a set list has got to be a nightmare for Overkill nowadays. Naturally there were a few personal favorites that I'd hoped to hear, but didn't (no "Horrorscope," damn it!). However, I have no complaints about the songs that did get aired. Overkill's set was a nice mix of the expected oldies ("Overkill," "Rotten to the Core," "Wrecking Crew," "Hello From The Gutter") and recent vintage goodies ("Bring Me the Night," "Ironbound," "Electric Rattlesnake"), all played at suitably pummeling intensity levels. The current White Devil Armory album was represented by three tracks ("Armorist," "Pig" and "Bitter Pill") and a few left field picks like "End of the Line" from 1988's Under The Influence and "Long Time Dyin'" from 1997's From the Underground And Below (an underrated album that stands as one of my top three Kill discs of all time), were nice unexpected treats. Throughout the show, Ellsworth commented on the loyalty of the band's Jersey audience and thanked us for our years of support. As usual, the set ended with an extended version of the Subhumans' punk rock classic "F**k You," which has become one of Overkill's signature tunes (even though it's a cover). Amazingly, Overkill can STILL play that one about 10,000 MPH faster than their album version, even after all these years. By the time we exited the Starland I was sweaty, hoarse, exhausted and totally satisfied. It was an excellent show and a much needed Metal Night Out for this middle aged former thrash kid!
Summing it up
I had a blast at this show, and would gladly check out gigs by any of these bands again. If you haven't seen Overkill in a while (or have never seen them at all... and if that's the case, SHAME ON YOU!), do yourself a favor and try to catch them the next time they come through your area. They're almost constantly on the road and are a reliably crushing live act. When it comes to pure old school thrash metal, they don't come much purer or older school than Overkill. Prong are still throwing down just like the old days, and Municipal Waste were simply good friendly violent fun. If these bands aren't playing at a venue near you anytime soon, then you can always check out their material via your favorite online music service or even (dare I say it?) at your local record store, if such things still exist (haha). Till next time... Stay Metal!
"Midnight, Dark Sky! OVERKILL WILL NEVER DIE!"
© 2014 Keith Abt