CROSSFIRE, Second Attack (1985, Mausoleum)

The skull:
Another fine architectural skull, to go with my personal favorite, Overkill’s The Years of Decay. Really, you can’t go wrong with a mysterious temple for your cover (see also: Borrowed Time by Diamond Head), and if that temple is also a skull, you’re pretty much set. The best thing about this particular temple is, of course, the goofy eyes. I imagine the court architect building this thing and inviting the head priest to a private unveiling, and the priest saying, “Jeez, man, this is pretty scary. This is a place of worship – we don’t want to turn people off. Can you do anything to tone it down a little? I mean, the skull is totally cool, and I love how the stairs go right into the mouth, that’s great, but I think that people are gonna be too scared to even think about coming in.” And because the architect serves at the pleasure of his religious leaders, he accordingly toned down the menace of his work, but in the most passive-aggressive, ‘fuck you’ way possible: with big googly eyes. Had he found a classier solution, maybe he wouldn’t have been the first human sacrifice offered in the new temple.

The music:
This is some fairly awesome Accept-style speed metal from Belgium. I had heard of Crossfire before, and had probably listened to a song or two, but I had never committed to listening to an entire album before now, and I must say, this is excellent stuff. The music is pretty standard mid-80s Belgian fare, played tight and fast, but the songs are very well written and Peter DeWint’s vocals are amazing, reminding me a bit of Perry McCarty (Warrior). This being an album from 1985, there are a couple leaden ballads, but the faster tunes, like “Atomic War,” “Feeling Down,” and the title track are all winners. Honestly, I’ve never been a big Accept fan, mainly because I think Udo’s singing is the pits, but if Restless and Wild were fronted by this guy, it would probably be an all-time favorite of mine. Now I’ve got to find this on CD, along with the other Crossfire albums. I’m sure that won’t be a brutal wallet reaming…
— Friar Johnsen


OVERKILL, The Years of Decay (1989, Atlantic)

The skull:
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.

The music:
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