The only Overkill interview you ever need to read
At what felt like a peak in the band’s career, guitarist and songwriter Bobby Gustafson leaves the band and, in an unprecedented move, is replaced by two guitarists. Megaforce Records is skeptical of the line-up change, until hearing what would become one of Overkill’s finest albums.
Bobby left the band, and it wasn’t the most amicable circumstances. There are different stories about what happened, but I wanted to play with D.D. We started the band and I trusted his ethic and songwriting. We knew if we replaced Bobby with one guitarist, we’d get compared to what we were. So, it seemed like to logical thing to bring in two players. We didn’t want anyone to say, “Bobby was better than this new guy.” And we wanted to perform old stuff with two guitars to keep in fresh. We realized that change isn’t a bad thing.
Merritt Grant and Rob Cannavino came in really seamlessly, because the band seemed to carry what we’d done on Years of Decay into Horrorscope. If I attribute that to anything, I attribute it to D.D.’s songwriting. He was the sole riff writer in the band after Bobby Gustafson left. Also, Sid Falck’s drumming. He really reached a new level with Horrorscope. You can talk about Lars and Lombardo, but Sid wasn’t afraid to do other things, to think outside the thrash box. He was really outstanding by that point.
Megaforce Records, however, wasn’t so sure about keeping the band after Bobby Gustafson’s departure. It marked the seriousness of the line-up change, but also the label’s underestimation of the band’s tenacity.
I was so insulted. We were getting the Horrorscope stuff together and Megaforce said, “We’re not sure we want to keep the band.” They wanted us to audition for them. And I said, “You’re kidding.” We had some people in our corner, for sure, but we had to stand in front of fifteen Megaforce people and play the Horrorscope record on a stage in Brooklyn — that’s not well known, but now it is. I was so insulted, but the amount of energy I had for that record…I remember standing next to D.D., who’s always calm and collected, and I said, “I’m gonna shove my fist so far up Johnny Z.’s ass…” (laughs) It worked out pretty well. They were blown away by what we’d achieved with the new guys. But that was what we learned: We’re gonna shove this thing up your ass, we’re gonna make you love it.
The record’s title track features one of metal’s heaviest grooves, a staple not only of the band’s live sets for years, but an essential piece of 1990s metal.
We’d experimented with that low-end groove on “Drunken Wisdom” and then did “Skullkrusher” on Years of Decay, a nine minute monster. By Horrorscope we really understood that groove, and the record at large is a thrash record, but there’s groove in everything. And it’s a cohesive idea as a record. It wasn’t just D.D. writing the songs. It was the band coming together. I’d learned to marry my vocal melodies to those grooves. The Taking Over vocals, for examples, wouldn’t have worked.
Cannavino and Gant were uniquely different unto each other, and together they made that one great entity. Cannavino was a vacuum-tight rhythm player, and when he’d do a lead it had that dirty, almost rock n’ roll vibe. Merritt Gant was a progressive guy, and when he did leads he always wanted to outdo what he’d just done. So he’d play off the top of his head, but he’d prepare to just the right degree — spontaneity and preparation. I remember him coming up with that wailing solo that goes over the bridge on “Horrorscope.” I was impressed right away to hear those two players morph into one great sound.
I Hear Black 
Amidst a rapidly changing metal scene (John Bush was installed in Anthrax to replace Joey Belladonna; The Black Album had gone multi-platinum; Megadeth were MTV darlings), Overkill welcomes new drummer Tim Mallare into the fold for a sludgy, down-tempo record often criticized by fans but containing some of their finest mid-tempo songs.
The times were changing and we were aware of that, but we were also aware that as far back as “Drunken Wisdom,” we’d begun experimenting with groove, and I Hear Black became an extension of that. When I look back on I Hear Black, I don’t think of it as a bad record, I think of it as a record where we didn’t have enough time. The other players wanted to write songs, too, so we deviated from the Overkill formula. The majority of the music was still D.D.’s, but, for example, Merritt Gant wrote the riff for “Dreaming in Columbian” and Cannavino wrote “Just Like You.” For me it became hard to focus, because I finally got a handle on what D.D. was doing, and now I’m hearing riffs from three different guys and I’m thinking, “What the fuck am I gonna do with this stuff?”
The band had brought Alex Perialas in to produce again, as Terry Date’s fees had skyrocketed in the wake of Pantera’s success.
Alex was all about getting the perfect take, timing and performance, but getting a live feel across. I always thought he added something great to the whole scene.
Every once in a while someone will come up to us and say, “I really love the song ‘Shades of Grey,’” and D.D. and I will say, “Now that was a fucking mistake.” (laughs) To try it wasn’t a mistake, but with regard to the result. When I hear that record, I hear so much potential. But we didn’t have time. We never gelled the way D.D. and I did on Horrorscope.
“Spiritual Void” or the song “I Hear Black,” for instance — there are some jewels on that record. But those were songs of D.D.’s. When you put it all together, you don’t get a full record. And when we were kids, we didn’t just like “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden. We wanted the whole record. I don’t think you get that with I Hear Black.
Tim Mallare came from M.O.D. More of a hardcore background, and I think you hear Overkill heading in that direction. Tim didn’t have that perfection Sid Falck had—Sid was more of a drummer’s drummer. But Tim had more of a “start him up and watch him go” kind of an energy that was exciting, something different, and the records began to take on a different persona based on that.
Horrorscope was the height of our commercial recognition, and it leveled off by ’94. But you’d hear people talk about MTV not playing metal videos and the grunge thing, but we never really cared. It didn’t change our thinking as far as mass appeal. I remember years later, D.D. and I were discussing an upcoming record, and he said, “We’ve been done since Horrorscope. What do we have to lose?” And I said, “You’re right. We’re doing what we wanna do.” I love living without consequence. We didn’t have anything to lose — we’re making a few bucks, touring the world, making what we thought were great records. Some people love these records, so who cares if it’s not the most popular genre on the face of the earth—let the other guys have that heat.
The more metal bands quit, the more opportunities we got. One day there were eighty bands in the room, and the next day there were eight. This music was supposed to be dead, but we were making a hell of a lot of noise for being dead. There was an unspoken business plan — tenacity.