Before Killswitch Engage became a household name in the world of heavy music, before “that dude with the dreadlocks” was the singer in Shadows Fall, there was Overcast, and they were the heaviest of all. Why they ever broke up to splinter into these other bands is a mystery to me, similar to why white guys with dreadlocks get mentioned in almost everything I write for Svbterranean. If you keep reading though, all is revealed in chapter 12.
Overcast was a staple of the New England area metal and hardcore scene of the mid-late 1990’s. Based in Boston, the band was a totally atypical and captivating act during their lifespan, leveling most other bands of that era in terms of musical heaviness and live intensity. Their final full length record Fight Ambition to Kill, released about a year before their 1998 breakup, still holds up as a landmark album for the nascent metalcore style of the time period, having influenced the mega-huge bands that some members moved onto afterward, as well as most of the luminaries of that subgenre.
I was first introduced to Overcast via their Begging for Indifference three song 7” record from 1996. I remember that right away, two things made a big impression on me. First, the unique vocal style of Brian Fair. His voice would seamlessly shift from raspy clean singing that was reminiscent of the harsher vocal moments of a lot of 80’s style metal bands into an absolutely deranged sounding apocalyptic roar. I have never heard another vocalist successfully emulate this sound, and even Fair’s Shadows Fall era vocals feel somehow less intense in execution to me.
Second, bassist Mike D’Antonio’s bass tone. Even on the first few Killswitch Engage records, this same bass sound is instantly recognizable – gritty, thick, and chunky, it is frequently the lynchpin of his bands’ songwriting and the foundation on which the heaviest parts are laid. Overcast was no exception, but at the time nearly all of the hardcore and metalcore bands I listened to seemed to have little idea of what to do with the bass sound. Most of the time, it was either too warm and floppy to feel present in the mix on any given record, or it was clanky to the point that the low end disappeared entirely. Overcast knew how to ram that low end down your throat, and their songs were 1,000 times heavier because of it.
So, in early 1998 when I found Fight Ambition to Kill for sale in some distro at a Bane show I immediately bought it because I knew it was going to crush me. I put it on in the car on the way home from the show and from the opening bass notes of Apocalypse Upon Us, I was blown away.
The aforementioned opening track, which steamrolls along at a mid-tempo pace, slamming and chugging until it reaches a frantic and fevered crescendo toward the end, is one of several high points of Fight Ambition to Kill. It leads directly into the second track, Spun – one of the hands down heaviest pieces of music produced by any band during this time period, with the last 45 seconds of it being the kind of riff written specifically to invoke images of people gutting each other in a blood orgy straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
In addition to overt brutality, Overcast was able to pull off a bit more musical complexity than many of their contemporaries, as showcased in tracks like Styrofoam Death Machine; an instrumental that retains much the same structure as many of their other compositions, but incorporates more melody and some loud/soft dynamics not always present in the rest of the record. Also, its an instrumental track on a metalcore record that I somehow don’t skip every single time it starts playing, which is more than I can say for almost every other instrumental track on every other metalcore record I’ve ever owned.
Other bright spots in Fight Ambition to Kill include the absolutely monstrous Seven Ft. Grin and closing track Forecast, which was re-recorded from the Begging For Indifference 7” and given a grosser, beefier treatment here.
Really though, this record is one of those rare gems that I listen to back to front most of the time I put it on. There’s no filler in there, nothing to skip over to get to the meat of the joint. Its a classic album that left an indelible mark on the metalcore landscape that came afterward. Overcast has reunited a couple of times for shows in the past decade, and has released two records post-breakup, including 2008’s Reborn to Kill again, which contains re-recorded versions of songs from Fight Ambition to Kill, Begging for Indifference, and their first full length Expectational Dilution and two unreleased “new” tracks. In my opinion though, the songs from Fight Ambition to Kill are better in their original versions. In 2015, Overcast issued an album called Only Death is Smiling, which is a comprehensive collection of their recorded output and serves as a perfect guide to one of the best and heaviest bands of the 90’s early metalcore scene. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with these dudes, dive in to Fight Ambition to Kill, and find out why it has been so hard for me to really ever care about KsE and Shadows Fall.