OVERKILL, The Years of Decay (1989, Atlantic)
Although Overkill has a number of Big Dumb Skull covers (all of them depicting their mascot, Charlie), this one is obviously the finest for a number of reasons. First, the skull is bigger than any of the others (excepting, maybe, Bloodletting, which wouldn’t really qualify as a proper BDS anyway). Second, the wings are de-emphasized (here they’re depicted as windows, but if you didn’t know to expect a bat-winged skull on every Overkill album, you probably wouldn’t even make the connection). Third, the Council and we Friars have a soft spot for architectural skulls. And finally, this cover just fucking rules, and if you can’t see that, you’re some kind of idiot.
While I have met perfectly reasonable metalheads with otherwise defensible tastes who don’t care for this album, I secretly believe all those people are mentally deficient and possibly criminal. The Years of Decay, for me, is a foundational thrash album, a unique and almost perfect gem, a desert island disc. I love basically everything about this record: the production (dark and dry), the guitar tone (the ultimate expression of the ADA MP-1), the playing (Sid Falck’s drumming is a highlight, and Bobby Gustafson’s solos are absolutely unhinged), and of course the songs and lyrics. The riffing is insanely great (just the intro to “Elimination” is worth a million bucks) and Bobby Blitz’s lyrics are peerlessly pissed off, while still featuring some of the cleverest, funniest turns of phrase ever delivered. I can’t think of any lyrics in the entire corpus of heavy metal that are so believably angry, and Blitz’s career-peak delivery, manic and melodic, perfectly captures that feeling we all have sometimes, asking, “How can the world fucking be this way?” From the explosive buildup of “Time to Kill” to the shreiking blackout that ends the album (with the song “E.vil N.ever D.ies,” the conclusion to the four song “Overkill” song cycle started on the band’s debut), there’s almost nothing to complain about here. Almost. The plodding dirge of “Skullkrusher” goes on way too long (although the frantic middle section largely makes up for this), and the title track is perhaps a bit too mopey for its own good, but while these songs have their individual shortcomings, they nevertheless work perfectly in the context of the full album. This is a thrash album that sounds like nothing that came before and nothing that’s come since, a classic for the ages, and anyone who disagrees with me can go fuck themselves until they come to their senses!
— Friar Johnsen