I consider the climax of Overkill's career to be their first four albums (Feel the Fire through The Years of Decay), each a solid effort with more than its share of classic live staples; and Taking Over being the very best of those. However, the band has continued for 20 years past that period, producing a large body of work, most of which is average and acceptable to fans. Many of their albums tend to have 2-3 catchy tracks and then a lot of filler which is easy to forget in favor of the early records. In the case of 1997's From the Underground and Below, their 9th, the material starts off with a bang, and then slowly fizzles out, leaving only a few moments of excitement for the later tracks.
In order to keep themselves relevant to the era, Overkill injected a lot heavier groove into their sound during the 90s, and also (wisely) upped the ante on the production standards of their albums. From the Underground and Below is massive sounding, though it successfully retains that raw, gutter crunch that made albums like Taking Over and Under the Influence legendary. "It Lives" is an intense opening track: after the percussion builds and the thrashing guitars blaze into a big ol' groove, they inject the perfect sample: Looks like you've been up to the devil's business!
And thus the thrashing commences, huge neck breaking grooves as Bobby Blitz spews infectious layered vocals (I like it when he uses this style). The song is quite tight throughout, with some nice further grooves and breakdowns to open up the pit. "Save Me" repeats a vocal sample of miracle man, you're a miracle man over a big Prong-like thrash groove, and the song's thick bass, chugging guitars and wild multi-tiered vocals kick some more ass, as does the murky, bluesy bridge where Blitz busts out a quiet, brief falsetto.
After these two tracks...the album more or less staggers. "Long Time Dyin'" is ballsy and bluesy, imagine Black Label Society fronted by Blitz and you'll get the idea. This isn't a bad song, but the bruising "Genocya" and the mellow "Half Past Dead" are not quite catchy, nor are the punky "F.U.C.T." and the rock & roll anthems "I'm Alright" and "The Rip'n Tear", the last of which is like Southern bar metal with a part for the ladies to dosado:
Everybody movin from the right to the left
Everybody movin from the life to the death
Everybody movin from the good to the bad
Everybody movin from the happy to the sad
Everybody churnin and life ain't fair
Everybody movin to the rip n' tear
This is followed by "Promises", which is Overkill's father awful attempt at a cheesy ballad. It succeeds in breaking up the momentum of the album for a breather, and then things end on a decent note with the rager, "Little Bit O'Murder", which is the best song since the first two, with some nice grooves and great thick bass playing courtesy of D.D. Verni.
From the Underground and Below is not a total waste...and if I were to make a sampler of the band's career I would probably include "It Lives" and "Save Me", more than I can say for a few of the band's previous 90s albums. But the band was capable of far better in the past, and have even produced some superior work since this.
Highlights: It Lives, Save Me, Little Bit O'Murder
Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10] (from the mouth of the gone)