Overkill/Death Angel - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Overkill / Death Angel

Live in Grand Rapids (2019)

live show

Middle aged headbangers were out in force to see first wave thrash titans Overkill and Death Angel at Elevation in downtown Grand Rapids on Wednesday, May 1st. I was impressed by the turnout, especially on a weeknight for the mostly working class crowd. It was my first time at Elevation, which is a new venue within a venue at the long running Intersection. The room has a cool, multi-level layout and state of the art light system. That’s the good news. The bad news is that its low ceiling and concrete construction aren’t that conducive to crisp sound. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. The room is still relatively new, so I’m willing to give them some time to work out the kinks.

I showed up around 7:15, about midway through opener Mothership’s half hour set. Since they’re a stoner metal band, that basically means I got to see two songs. The first one I really liked, the second one I was fairly indifferent to. Overall, I heard enough to want to hear more. Originally, Act of Defiance was supposed to open this tour. Act of Defiance is a band formed by former members of Megadeth, and seemed like a good fit. I never did hear why they dropped off, but honestly, Mothership provided some much needed musical variety.

Death Angel might be the most underrated of the OG Bay Area thrash bands. Originally formed in ‘82, they put out three (two legendary) albums before acrimoniously splitting in ‘91. They begrudgingly reformed in 2001 for a one off benefit show for Testament singer Chuck Billy, who was fighting cancer at the time. They’re still at it 18 years later, and the post breakup version of Death Angel has released twice as many albums as the ‘classic’ lineup. The current quintet has been together for the last four records. DA still includes founding guitarist Rob Cavestany and vocalist Mark Osegueda, who joined in ‘84 and has been the singer on all nine albums.

I was pretty excited to see Death Angel, as I had somehow only managed to catch them once or twice before. They hit the stage with a lot of energy, and the aging crowd did their very best to give it right back. Death Angel were very young when they started out, and are still pretty young by ‘80s thrash standards. Most of the setlist was post reunion songs, including the title track from the soon to be released (May 31st) Humanicide. They did save an oldie for last, and their extended version of “Kill As One” from their 1987 debut The Ultra-Violence induced plenty of sing alongs and drew huge roars of approvals.

Osegueda made a couple of interesting observations during their set. First, he mentioned that despite their 35 plus years of common history, this is the first time that Overkill and Death Angel have toured together. Second, he said that this was Death Angel’s first time in Grand Rapids. It’s with that point that I take issue. Death Angel played with Anthrax and Testament at the Orbit Room on Friday, October 14th, 2011. I was there and have the ticket stub to prove it. I was happy to let that slight inaccuracy slide after their thoroughly entertaining 45 minutes.

Overkill came on about 9:05, a comfortably early time for us old geezers. They kicked things off with “Last Man Standing”, the opening track from their excellent new LP, The Wings of War. Later they would add “Head of a Pin”, “Batshitcrazy”, and eventually “Welcome to the Garden State” from that same album. Of course, it was the old songs that drove the audience wild. “Elimination” early, and “Feel the Fire” and “Rotten to the Core” later were favorites. Frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth was his normal energetic self, cracking jokes about his home state of New Jersey and constantly flipping the bird to the adoring masses. Bassist DD Verni led the fierce musical charge, bouncing around like a man half his age.

The inspired encore started with “Ironbound”, followed by fan favorite “Fuck You”. Overkill has been playing that (Canadian) Subhumans cover for more than 30 years now, and it never seems to get old. The crowd screamed until they were nearly hoarse. Next was “Welcome to the Garden State”, which is probably the punkest song that Overkill has done since “Fuck You”. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they briefly reprised “Fuck You”. It was an awesome end to an awesome 85 minutes of music. Beyond the great music, the other cool thing about the show was that I got to hang out with a group of guys. I’ve gotten used to going to shows with one other person, or even solo. It was fun to run in a pack, even if the pack was made up of paunchy, balding, middle aged guys.