Early years (1980–1983)
Verni (right) gave Ellsworth (left) the nickname "Blitz" due to his over the top lifestyle.
Overkill was formed in 1980 from the ashes of the punk band "the Lubricunts", featuring bassist D. D. Verni and drummer Rat Skates. Verni and Skates placed an ad looking for a guitarist and lead singer which was answered by guitarist Robert Pisarek and singer Bobby Ellsworth and the first incarnation of Overkill was formed. After rejecting several names, including "Virgin Killer," the band finally settled on "Overkill," named after Motörhead's famed album.
Early covers, especially those done under the "Virgin Killer" name, were punk songs by the Ramones, Dead Boys and others. By late 1980, the band's setlist was made up of songs by bands such as Motörhead ("Overkill", half of the Ace of Spades album), Judas Priest ("Tyrant" was their closer), and Riot. Along with the new influx of heavy metal covers, the band still played a smattering of punk covers, with extra distortion, intensity, and speed. In 1981, the band went through a succession of guitarists after Robert Pisarek left, first being replaced by Dan Spitz and Anthony Ammendola, then Rich Conte and Mike Sherry, before settling with Bobby Gustafson in late 1982/early 1983. It was around this time that the band started writing original songs, including "Grave Robbers" (later renamed "Raise the Dead"), "Overkill", and "Unleash the Beast (Within)". More songs would follow, such as "Death Rider" (1981) and "Rotten to the Core" (1982). As the band continued to write songs, they became a staple at New York and New Jersey clubs, such as L'Amours.
Feel the Fire (1983–1986)
In 1983, the lineup of Verni, Skates, Ellsworth, and Gustafson released the Power in Black demo, a recording that made as much impact in the underground tape trading circuit as demos by up-and-coming Bay Area thrash metal bands such as Exodus and Testament. Power in Black gained the band two compilation appearances. "Feel the Fire" was included on New York Metal '84 and "Death Rider" appeared on volume V of Metal Blade Records' Metal Massacre series. The success of Power in Black enabled the band to secure a small recording deal with Azra/Metal Storm Records that resulted in the 1985 four-track EP Overkill, which quickly sold out, instantly pushing the band to the forefront of the fledgling thrash metal movement.
Though it is said that the band never saw any money from the release, the Overkill EP garnered the band massive underground interest, and the attention of Jon Zazula, owner of Megaforce Records, one of the most prominent independent heavy metal record labels at the time. Megaforce signed Overkill to a multi-album record contract and released their full-length debut album Feel the Fire in 1985. Hailed by many critics and fans as a thrash metal masterpiece, the album cemented the band's position as one of the driving forces of the East Coast thrash movement. The band spent the better part of 1985 and 1986 touring in support of Feel the Fire, touring Europe with Anthrax and Agent Steel, and supporting Slayer on their Reign in Blood tour in North America.
Rise to success (1987–1990)
1987 saw the release of Overkill's second album Taking Over, the first to be released by Megaforce in cooperation with the major label Atlantic Records. The album featured longer songs and improved production. The song "In Union We Stand" was chosen to be Overkill's first music video. Another European tour followed, this time opening for Helloween. Overkill also opened for Megadeth on their Peace Sells tour in North America, and toured with the likes of Testament and Nuclear Assault.
In late 1987, the !!!Fuck You!!! EP was released, consisting of a studio recording of the Subhumans' song "Fuck You" as well as a handful of live tracks recorded earlier that year in Cleveland. 1987 also saw the departure of founding drummer Rat Skates. He was replaced by Mark Archibole for a short time, then on a permanent basis by Danish drummer Bob "Sid" Falck, formerly of Paul Di'Anno's Battlezone.
Overkill released their third album, Under the Influence, in 1988. Once again produced by Alex Perialas, who had worked on the band's first two albums, Under the Influence was much more raw and thrashy, lacking most of the epic atmosphere heard on Taking Over. The song "Hello from the Gutter" was released as a single, and the music video gained regular airplay on MTV's Headbangers Ball. Overkill kept up constant touring all over the world, furthering their reputation as one of the most active live metal bands; this included opening for Slayer on their South of Heaven tour in the United States and Europe, and performing with other bands such as Anthrax, Motörhead, Anvil, Nuclear Assault, M.O.D., Testament, Vio-Lence, King's X, Prong, Murphy's Law, Ludichrist and Znowhite.
Overkill released their fourth album The Years of Decay in 1989. Produced by Terry Date (who would later work with Pantera, White Zombie and Soundgarden), the album featured the band's best production value to date, and combined the raw approach of Under the Influence with more complex song structures and epic elements of Taking Over, resulting in a more serious atmosphere and longer songs, including the eight-minute title track and the ten-minute "Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher." The uptempo thrasher "Elimination" was released as a single and the music video again received regular airplay on MTV's Headbangers Ball. The song became a fan favorite and has been played live at almost every show since its release. Overkill toured for almost a year in support of The Years of Decay with several bands, such as Testament, Wolfsbane, Dark Angel, Vio-Lence, Mordred, Death Angel, Whiplash and Excel.
Horrorscope, I Hear Black and W.F.O. (1990–1995)
In 1990, guitarist and songwriter Bobby Gustafson left the band. Verni and Gustafson had long locked horns over the direction of the band, with Ellsworth siding with Verni, and asking Gustafson to leave Overkill. Gustafson has stated that one of the reasons for his split with Overkill was due to disagreements over royalties, which contributed to his feud with Verni and Ellsworth. The remaining members added two new guitarists to the band; Rob Cannavino, who had been Gustafson's guitar technician, and Merritt Gant.
The "new" Overkill recorded their fifth album Horrorscope, again with Terry Date, in 1991. Featuring the furious riffs and trade-off solos of new guitarists Cannavino and Gant, and the refined songwriting of Verni and Ellsworth, Horrorscope quickly silenced fan fears that the loss of a chief songwriter would ruin the band. Today, the album is widely regarded as one of Overkill's defining moments and is arguably their heaviest release. Focusing on a darker, heavier style, the album spawned the doomy single "Horrorscope", a departure from the band's earlier singles, which had traditionally been uptempo songs. To support Horrorscope, Overkill toured North America with Anacrusis and Galactic Cowboys in 1991 and Armored Saint in 1992, fully cementing their reputation as one of the premier live bands of the genre.
In 1992, during the Horrorscope tour, Sid Falck left the band. Admittedly never a big fan of thrash metal music, Falck said that he had initially wanted to push his drumming to the limit by playing the most complex type of music (of the era), and in time he decided to pursue other musical interests.
Falck was replaced by M.O.D. drummer Tim Mallare, with whom the 1993 album I Hear Black was recorded. Produced by Alex Perialas (who previously produced their albums Taking Over and Under the Influence), I Hear Black was the first Overkill album released directly through Atlantic Records. The album once again presented a change in style, from the heavy thrash of Horrorscope to a more stoner/blues rock-oriented style influenced by Black Sabbath. The eclectic nature of the album is often attributed to the fact that many different songwriters were involved. Verni and Ellsworth would handle most of the song writing themselves on subsequent albums, with only minor contributions from the other members. A music video was shot for "Spiritual Void" but failed to receive much airplay. The European leg of the 1993 "World Of Hurt Tour" featured Savatage and Non-Fiction as support acts.
Overkill's self-produced seventh album W.F.O. (which stands for "Wide Fuckin' Open", a common biker term) was released on July 15, 1994 as an answer to the criticism that I Hear Black had received. The album presented a fast, heads-down, old school thrash metal style without any of the experimental elements present on the previous record. The music video for "Fast Junkie" was widely ignored by MTV, due to changing mainstream tastes and limited airplay availability for metal bands. Overkill continued to have bigger success overseas, mounting an extensive European tour in the fall, supported by Jag Panzer and Massacra.
With grunge dominating the airwaves in the United States, many heavy metal radio stations changing formats and Headbangers Ball going off the air, W.F.O. failed to find an audience and in 1995 Overkill left Atlantic Records. Overkill were happy to leave the mainstream label, where they felt they received little or no attention and signed to different record companies around the world (CMC International in the US).
A March 1995 show, once again in Cleveland, Ohio, was recorded for Overkill's first full-length live album, a 100-minute double CD entitled Wrecking Your Neck. The album was released in April 1995, with the first pressing featuring a bonus CD containing the Overkill EP that had been out of print for ten years. A music video for the song "Bastard Nation" taken from Wrecking Your Neck was also released, but again failed to receive airplay in the US.
Post-Atlantic years (1996–2001)
Late in 1995, both Cannavino and Gant decided to leave the band; Rob Cannavino to focus on motorcycle racing, and Merritt Gant to spend more time with his family. To everyone's surprise, Overkill then hired Joe Comeau, former singer of Liege Lord (now playing guitar). Comeau brought along former Anvil guitarist Sebastian Marino, with whom he had worked in the past. The new line up recorded The Killing Kind in 1996, again self-produced and mixed by Chris Tsangarides (Judas Priest). While staying well within the thrash genre, the album was a departure from its predecessor's more traditional thrash metal style and featured different elements such as hardcore, while the vocals showed influences from a broad spectrum of music. As Comeau was also a singer, backing vocals on The Killing Kind and subsequent albums were more elaborate and frequent than before, adding another element to the band's sound. Press response to The Killing Kind was very positive, but the album remains a hotly contested topic among the band's audience, with some longtime fans resistant to the new modern elements, and others hailing The Killing Kind as one of the band's finest moments.
Overkill toured Europe twice in support of The Killing Kind first in February 1996 with Megora and Accu§er, and then again in November with Anvil and Stahlhammer. In the summer of 1996, Overkill appeared on Volume 2 of Century Media's "Legends Of Metal – A Tribute To Judas Priest" compilation, to which they contributed 'Tyrant'.
In summer 1997, the band released !!!Fuck You!!! and Then Some. The album included the !!!Fuck You!!! EP, which had been out of print for some years, along with the classic Overkill EP and two live tracks from a 1990 promo single. October of the same year saw the release of the ninth Overkill studio album, titled From The Underground And Below. This record retained some of the modern influences from The Killing Kind, while also reincorporating elements from the band's earlier efforts. Some songs on From The Underground And Below, including "Save Me", even had a slight industrial metal sound to them. Reportedly a video for the track "Long Time Dyin'" was shot, but received no television exposure. In 1998, once again the band opted to tour only Europe in support of the album, hitting the road with Nevermore, Angel Dust and Nocturnal Rites.
In 1998, Ellsworth was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of nose cancer and underwent immediate surgery, stopping the cancer before it spread.Necroshine was released in February 1999, making Overkill the first thrash metal band ever to release ten full-length studio albums (Other first wave thrash bands, such as Sodom or Kreator would not achieve this milestone until two years later). While once again quite different from the previous records and musically not considered "classic" Overkill, the album was vocally even more experimental than The Killing Kind, and was well received by fans and critics alike.
After his recovery, the band started work on their tenth studio album. The self-produced
Before the release of Necroshine, Sebastian Marino left Overkill to spend more time with his family. He was replaced by Dave Linsk from the New Jersey hardcore/thrash metal band Anger On Anger. A two-week European trip in June was arranged to fill the gap between appearances at the Dynamo and With Full Force festivals.
September 1999 saw the release of Coverkill, an album consisting entirely of cover versions from bands that were especially influential to Overkill, such as Black Sabbath (featured three times), Kiss, Motörhead, Manowar, and The Ramones. Some of the tracks had been previously available on compilations or as bonus tracks, but others had been shelved for years (the earliest recording was from the Under the Influence sessions) or were recorded immediately prior to the album's release. A full European tour in support of both Necroshine and Coverkill took place in February 2000, as Overkill co-headlined with Canadian thrash metal band Annihilator, with the German band Dew-Scented in the opening slot.
During the European tour, Annihilator fired their lead singer Randy Rampage due to his disruptive behavior. A few months later, Joe Comeau was confirmed as his replacement, effectively ending his tenure with Overkill. The band returned to the studio, this time as a four-piece, and in the fall of 2000, released Bloodletting. Once again produced by the band, and mixed by Colin Richardson.
November of the same year saw the band again touring Europe as a special guest of Halford's "Resurrection" world tour. Since Overkill had not found a new rhythm guitarist yet, Comeau joined on a temporary basis for the tour. For the last couple of shows, the band also utilized another session musician. With D. D. Verni's wife about to give birth to their second child, Verni was to miss a week or two of shows and needed a fill-in. Derek Tailer of Dee Snider's band S.M.F was asked to do the job. In 2002, Tailer was announced as a permanent member of Overkill, although not on bass, but filling the vacant rhythm guitarist position.
Switching labels and drummers (2002–2008)
After taking a break, Overkill resurfaced in 2002 with Wrecking Everything, their second full-length live album, recorded at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The album contained only songs that had not been on Wrecking Your Neck, some simply because they were released on later albums, but also a few early songs from albums such as Taking Over and Under the Influence. The same show was used for Overkill's first ever DVD, Wrecking Everything – An Evening in Asbury Park, also released in 2002.
The European tour in June 2002, supporting both Bloodletting and Wrecking Everything saw Blaze and Wicked Mystic opening up for Overkill. During the second to last show of the tour in Nuremberg, Germany, Blitz suffered a stroke on stage and collapsed. For nearly three days, rumors ran rampant, reporting everything from Blitz being in a coma, permanently paralyzed, or even that Blitz had died. Finally, three days later, the band announced that the stroke was very minor and had no lasting consequences, as well as no cause that could be determined by the doctors.
Overkill signed to Spitfire Records and entered the studio in late 2002 to record their next studio album, Killbox 13. Produced by the band and Colin Richardson and released in March 2003, the album was actually only their twelfth regular studio album, but the Overkill EP was also counted to achieve the number 13. The album received critical acclaim, combining the "new" Overkill with their raw early style as presented on the debut album Feel the Fire. Touring for the album included a number of European festivals during the summer, and a full European tour followed in November with Seven Witches and After All. The band played without Derek Tailer, who was absent for undisclosed reasons. Nobody was hired to fill in for him, so Overkill toured as a four-piece for the first time since 1990. Tailer was still considered a full member of the band.
In late 2004, after a Japanese tour with Death Angel and Flotsam and Jetsam, the band started work on another record in D. D. Verni's own recording studio. The album, ReliXIV, was produced and mixed by the band themselves and released in March 2005.
Overkill toured the eastern US in April 2005, and just before they went on a European tour in May, it was announced that Tim Mallare would not take part in this tour. Replacing him for the tour was former Hades drummer Ron Lipnicki. A few weeks later, the band announced that Mallare had left permanently and Lipnicki was his replacement. In the summer of 2005, Overkill organized their first US west coast tour in more than ten years, playing Western Canada to Southern California. The tour was such a success that the band was added to the 2006 Gigantour bill, as second stage headliners, marking Overkill's first nationwide US tour since 1994.
Now with the Bodog Music label, the band rejoined forces with Jonny and Marsha Zazula, previous owners of Megaforce Records, who are now part of the Bodog Team in the United States. Overkill released its 15th studio album, Immortalis, on October 9, 2007. The album featured the lineup of founders Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and D. D. Verni, guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer, and new drummer Ron Lipnicki. Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe contributed vocals on the song "Skull and Bones".
Return to popularity and departure of Lipnicki (2009–2017)
On October 30, 2009, it was reported that Overkill had inked a multi-album deal with Nuclear Blast Records. The band's 15th album, Ironbound—which is described as a true "thrashter-piece"—was released on February 9, 2010. It was Overkill's first album to appear on the Billboard 200 chart since 1993's I Hear Black, peaking at number 192. The band happened to be playing at Times Square in New York City on May 1, 2010, as part of their Ironbound tour when someone nearby attempted unsuccessfully to blow a car up using fireworks. The show proceeded without interruption, but some ticket holders arriving late were prevented from entering the theater by police responding to the incident.
In July 2011, Overkill began demoing six songs and were planning to begin recording their 16th album in October for an early 2012 release. The resulting album, The Electric Age, was released on March 27, 2012, and it was the band's first album to enter the top 100 on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 77; this was also Overkill's highest-chart position at the time. In 2013, the band embarked on The Dark Roots of Thrash tour of North America, headlined by labelmates Testament along with Flotsam and Jetsam, and 4Arm. However, they canceled their February 15 show in Huntington at The Paramount Theatre due to singer Bobby "Blitz" being diagnosed with "walking pneumonia". On February 18, it was announced that Overkill was officially dropped out of the Dark Roots of Thrash tour as Blitz's condition had gotten slightly worse after the show in Worcester, Massachusetts.
On August 31, 2013, Overkill entered Gear Recording on to begin recording their seventeenth studio album. The album was going to be released on March 7, 2014. On January 14, however, it was announced that the album was postponed to July. On March 15, it was revealed that the new album was going to be titled White Devil Armory. After some delays, White Devil Armory was finally released on July 22, 2014. The album was their most successful; it peaked at #31 on the Billboard 200, making it Overkill's highest chart position so far.
On November 5, 2015, it was announced that Overkill would play a special show on April 16, 2016 in Oberhausen where they played the Feel the Fire and Horrorscope albums in their entirety. The show was professionally filmed and recorded for the DVD Live in Overhausen, which was released on May 18, 2018.
Overkill released a box set, titled Historikill: 1995–2007, on October 16, 2015. To support the box set, Overkill embarked on a North American tour with Symphony X in September–October 2015, and a UK tour in April 2016. In a September 2015 interview, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth revealed that Overkill had begun writing their eighteenth studio album, and by March 2016, they had "fully demoed" eleven songs for it. Ellsworth said in a March 2016 interview that Overkill would begin recording the album in early May for an October release. On April 16, 2017, the band announced that their drummer Ron Lipnicki would miss the European tour due to a family emergency, and that he would be replace by Eddy Garcia, which was later confirmed to be a "personal issue" from Lipnicki. On August 13, 2016, The Grinding Wheel was announced as the name of the album, and Ellsworth said that the band was "looking for a first-week-of-November release"; however, the album's release date was pushed back to February 10, 2017. The Grinding Wheel was another successful album for Overkill; it reached at number 69 on the Billboard 200, making it the band's second-highest chart position behind White Devil Armory. To support the album, Overkill toured North America with Nile, and supported former Sepultura members Max and Igor Cavalera in Europe on the Return to Roots tour. They also headlined the 2017 edition of the Metal Alliance Tour, supported by Crowbar, Havok, Black Fast and Invidia.
Jason Bittner-era (2017–present)
On May 4, 2017, Overkill announced that Jason Bittner (formerly of Shadows Fall and Flotsam and Jetsam) had replaced Lipnicki as the drummer of the band.
On February 9, 2018, Overkill announced that they were in the studio working on demos for their nineteenth studio album. Pre-production of the album began that April, and Ellsworth announced that it would be released in February 2019. On June 1, 2018, the band announced that they had begun recording the album. During an interview with Eddie Trunk on Trunk Nation on October 10, 2018, bassist D. D. Verni announced that the album was finished; he was quoted as saying, "I just got the final sequencing and all that, so that's all buttoned up. We're working on the cover now. We still don't have a title — we're gonna have to come up with that soon — but we have a lot of things floating around. And the new release will probably be in February." On November 28, 2018, Overkill announced that the album was titled The Wings of War and would be released on February 22, 2019. The band promoted the album by headlining the 2019 edition of the Killfest Tour, supported by Destruction, Flotsam and Jetsam and Meshiaak. They also toured North America in the spring with Death Angel and Mothership, and will take part in Megadeth's first-ever MegaCruise, which will take place in the Pacific Ocean in October 2019.
Overkill is expected to start writing new material for their 20th studio album by the beginning of 2020.