Saturday, January 3, 2009

Overkill (LA): "Triumph of the Will"


In 1985, SST Records was flying high. With albums and tours coming on strong by label luminaries Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Saccharine Trust, and Husker-Du, the indie was beginning to attract major critical and even commercial attention; just around the corner they would go on to sign big names like Sonic Youth, Bad Brains, and Dinosaur Jr. However, label owners Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski, Mugger, and Joe Carducci weren't content to let indie rock and hardcore rule the label. They took profits from many of their bigger selling acts and funded a number of records which stood in total opposition to the current trends dominating underground music in the 80s. In 1985, the label released low-key releases by such bands as DC3 (featuring Dez of Black Flag), SWA (with Chuck Dukowski), Saint Vitus, Wurm, Tom Troccoli's Dog (with Greg Ginn on bass), and Overkill. These bands, "born too late" (to quote the almighty Vitus), were all throwbacks to the classic rock and metal that the band members were into before they got involved in the hardcore scene of the early 80s. Critically reviled at the time (and to this day by many), these records sold poorly to say the least and, save Vitus, all of the bands lasted only a short while. In fact, a number of the releases ended up being posthumous statements of careers that might-have-been. However, on closer inspection and with some hindsight, one can see that these records, with their stripped-down sound and mixing of genres, presaged many of the aspects of today's Stoner Rock and Doom Metal scenes.

Overkill are one of the most forgotten of these bands. Starting out in 1981 as a metal-tinged hardcore band, the band featured drummer and chief songwriter Kurt Markham (who would later be a founding member of psych-rock band DC3), and vocalist Merrill Ward, a Black Flag roadie and original member of Nig Heist, SST's infamous "Porn Rock" collective. Thefirst Overkill single, "Hell's Getting Hotter", released in 1982 on SST, was more hardcore than metal, with all 4 songs under 2 minutes apiece. That year the band also took part in rock history when they opened for San Francisco's Trauma; it was at that gig that James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich approached Trauma's Cliff Burton to join Metallica. Infighting over Merrill's bizarre behavior (he would often light his balls on fire during performances) and participation in Nig Heist led to the vocalist being sacked in late 1982.

The music that would appear on the full-length "Triumph of the Will" was recorded in 1983 at a metal studio in LA, at the height of the thrash metal explosion. Markham, however, refused to follow trends, and while the songs are all pretty fast, they don't have the trademark palm muted riffing, shredding solos, epic song structures, and topical lyrics of the fledgling genre. Instead, what we got was metal-influenced hardcore, with all the fat nicely trimmed. When the music was recorded, their vocalist was Scott Kidd, who was fired in the middle of the session (before any vocals were recorded) for not being able to write decent lyrics, and for being a bonafide glammy cock rocker on stage, which the down and dirty members of the band were definitely not into. The tapes languished on the shelf and the band broke up. Markham started up DC3 with Black Flagger Dez Cadena, Merrill joined up with Flag's Chuck Dukowski in the despised SWA, and bassist Ron Cordy went on to fame (but not fortune) in Metal Blade's sleazy and cheezy Bitch.

In 1984, the band got it together again, realising the tapes were too good to waste, so SST got Merrill to provide lyrics and record vocals with SST producers Spot and Joe Carducci, who also remixed the music with their typical "less is more" philosophy. Released in early 1985, the result is an excellent platter of molten rock/metal/hardcore that is difficult to categorize; it's not thrash or even the "crossover" that was so popular at the time, but rather a stripped down, metallic biker rock. Most importantly the songs are catchy as all hell, with great guitar playing throughout (the riffs may be punkish, but the tone is definitely metal), and vocals that are like a less raspy (and more on-key) cross between Iggy and Lemmy. "Victimized", "Ladies in Leather", "Head On" (dig the Stooges reference), and "American Dream" (co-written by Greg Ginn) are the highlights, and "No Holds Barred" was even inexplicably released on Metal Blade's Metal Massacre 2 compilation. With its distictly untrendy sound and lyrics, and SST's typically offensive cover art and title, the album was a total bomb and the band didn't even reform to promote it.
"Triumph of the Will" (never originally released on CD) was out of print till 1992, when SST released a CD version under the moniker "Overkill LA", to avoid confusion with the immensely popular and immensely lame NYC thrash band Overkill (who had a trademark on the name). I found my copy, natch, in a bargain bin at my local store for about 4 bucks. It's definitely worth tracking down, perhaps on EBay, as SSTs Superstore no longer carries it. Like the other outre SST bands of the mid-80s, Overkill flew their freak flag high. I paid attention, even if nobody else did.

84 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

This is Felice, the former guitarist of the band. Thanx for the kind comments. The record was a total fluke. Actually the album was recorded in April 1982, and was originally set for a June 1982 release, but we booted Merrill out of the band. We reformed in 2005 for some reunion shows, but split up again later that year. We did record some more songs, and put them on myspace at

http://www.myspace.com/sstoverkill

Or you can also check out some of the vids at http://www.youtube.com/rip2shred

It's just a shame I don't have any of the video from 1982 when we played in Goleta CA with Black Flag

Felice said...

A little more on the story of Merrill, and Scott.

Merrill was NOT fired for lighting his balls on fire.

Heck that balls on fire incident at Godzillas was awesome! He was sacked because of comments he was making to groupies at a San Francisco gig we played in 1982. We heard him through holes in the wall of the club, calling us "his backup band" and claiming he was going to "quit us anyway." So that made it easier to get rid of him.

Scott on the other hand was never fired, we all told Kurt in July 1983 we quit, and that brought the band to the end. Kurt was going through girlfriend issues at the time, and she was influencing him to the point it was hurting the band, so we ended it.

Yeah we had issues with Scott writing lyrics, but he had a great attitude, and we could not find anybody with a better attitude than him.

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Anonymous said...

Awesome Album. Still got my Vinyl Lp of "Triumph of the will" bought in 1985 ^^

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