Overkill were arguably the first thrash band, so it is not out of the question to assume they would sound rawer and more primitive than their successors. It is, however, less likely to think they would keep that sound through later albums in their career. To be fair, if the band decided to basically stick with the same formula throughout their entire lifespan, many in the fanbase would still go for it, but the majority would grow tired.
Judging by many reviews, Overkill is one of the most consistent metal bands around. What is bothersome is that for an album from 1989, The Years of Decay sounds unusually dated. It has the air of an album released before the heyday of thrash in the mid-80s, before better production values started being used. Almost every aspect of the recording sounds like it could have been pushed up higher or with greater clarity. It could have been the case that they hired a shitty producer, or perhaps the outrageous idea that the band intentionally chose a rawer sound to go along with their status as progenitors of the thrash movement. However, it is more in line with black metal ideology to purport minimalism. Thrash is supposed to jump off the page with brawn and loudness.
Still, some things about The Years of Decay could be called bold or daring. Upon listening to this, one can tell that this is not a straight thrash album. There are many elements that appear indicative of other genres. Most notably, the entire record is infused with primordial punk flavor, and this is not because thrash partly came from the womb of punk. No, it is more involved than that. Bobby Ellsworth's yelping vocals, the 'to hell with you/ I hate the world lyrics (though not limited to punk), some of the guitar work...This is far from the ornate, grandiose doom-thrash Metallica were doing around the same time. Also, you'll hear a smidgen of fusion guitar the likes of which you might hear of Cynic's Focus album, a funky attack of slap bass, and a bonafide doom metal song in "Playing with Spiders/Skullkrusher". That is, Black Sabbath-inspired doom metal. It's an okay song by itself, but it has no place on what's supposed to be a thrash album. It's just much too slow and ruins the momentum that was building up after the lackluster first track, "Time to Kill".
Two of the best tracks, "Elimination" and "I Hate", follow this in addition to the decent "Nothing to Die For", but once "Playing With Spiders" hits, it's like suddenly stopping a car that was going 200 mph. It screws up the equilibrium, and it hurts. It is easy to lose interest in the album at this point, yet still the audacity of this move almost warrants applause.
The next real highlight doesn't come until the strangely punctuated "E.VIL N.EVER D.IES". Maybe the heaviest song on here, it has a devious chorus with an anticlimactic string of acoustic guitar notes leading to "EVIL NEVER DIES!" The fact that you hear acoustic guitar right before words so monolithically metal seems unusual, but such is the spirit of the anticlimax. It's all about throwing a curveball in the face of anticipation, and if you can pull it off, it's marvelous. It really is a shame that other songs on this record couldn't rock as hard, though "Elimination" and "I Hate" are close. The strength of those tracks lies in their repetition of the words 'eliminate' and 'hate' (two badass words) and their inflammatory lyrics. Real rabble-rousers there.
Basically, The Years of Decay is like the clichι pull-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick. At first glance, it's innovative and intriguing, but it's tepid in comparison to the more advanced magic tricks coming out. Some other thrash bands and albums at this time were closer to David Copperfield. This is closer to your average street magician. Buy it, but don't expect to be blown away.
1. Time to Kill
3. I Hate
4. Nothing to Die For
5. Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher
6. Birth of Tension
7. Who Tends the Fire
8. The Years of Decay
9. E.VIL N.EVER D.IES