When discussing classic thrash metal albums, there’s one that often gets neglected but, really, could be considered to be right up there with anything the Big Four did back in the mid-to-late-’80s. That album is Game Over by New York thrash/crossover titans Nuclear Assault.
Game Over was the band’s debut, and what a debut it was, Nuclear melding a frantic crossover spirit with incredible thrash riffs, a unique and passionate vocal performance, and a bassist in the one and only Dan Lilker keeping things extreme. It was the beginning of a great three-album run for the band, and it still sounds incredible today.
We inducted the album into our Hall of Fame in our September 2017 issue (which you can buy here or digitally here) and today we’re taking a look at the album, ranking the songs from worst to best. But, of course, there’s not really a “worst” when dealing with an album forged with classic thrash steel like Game Over is.
12. My America
Sort of a joke but sort of NYHC, “My America” is a short burst of humour placed late in the album, and one that is sort of hard to not love, even if it’s just kinda… there. I don’t think anyone has ever said, “My favorite song on Game Over is ‘My America,’” but I wouldn’t hold that against them if they did, and I’d probably suspect that they were actually pretty cool.
11. Brain Death
The album’s last song—which also had its own 12” EP—starts off slow with an acoustic part, and when listening to that and eyeing down the 7:14 runtime, you start getting the idea that this is the epic closer, the band taking a moment of reflection after bringing the listener on a manic, scrappy tour through thrash, crossover, and NYHC. Love that first post-acoustic riff: it’s got a very unique feel to it that sets it apart from other thrashers of the time. What follows for the song’s final five minutes is not unique, which is perfect: it’s more of the same manic, scrappy thrash, with a knock-down perfect chorus and an expansive final third that provides a bit more air to breathe than most of this fast-faster-fastest album does. Love the abrupt ending, too.
A solid, sturdy, and brisk deep cut that flirts with both crossover and thrash, and features a surprising amount of guitar solos, “Vengeance” is almost forgettable until that chorus comes along, at which point you think, “Shit! This song! I love this song!” It rules. It all rules. Game Over rules.
9. After the Holocaust
The song titles on this album paint such a perfect picture of ’80s despair, this one clearly being no exception, the song creating a sober atmosphere with its quiet introduction before going to more familiar, frantic, Nuclear places. A classic chorus rounds out a great cut, one that pulled in the tempos a bit to give the listener some reprieve here as the album winds down its first side.
8. Stranded In Hell
Side two kicks off with “Stranded In Hell,” and it’s a good choice. I mean, talk about a chorus: dollars to donuts says this one just ended up in your head from seeing those three words together on your screen. The lyrics take a break from ’80s paranoia about nuclear death to ’80s paranoia about Satan, and the band members almost seem to be attempting to outrace each other. In other words, another winner. The song’s a 10 out of 10, and we’re only at number eight here, which just proves how incredible this album really is.
7. Nuclear War
These song titles ain’t fucking around. “Nuclear War” delivers a great mid-tempo riff-fest, the band taking a break from their frantic, breakneck pace for this excellent song, which has a super vocal performance in the chorus, John Connelly once again showing that while his voice is polarizing, his knack for placing it in the catchiest parts of every riff is spot-on. Love the riffing, too. Another winner on an album full of them.
6. Live, Suffer, Die
Man, this instrumental opener is barely over a minute, but what a way to get the album started: the frantic thrash riffing complements the crossover vibe, and I start frantically playing air drums every single time. This song rules, and I can’t believe that any band can make what is essentially a prelude work as well—and be as raging—as this. What a great way to start the album off; in some regards and depending on the metrics and how many beers I’ve had, this one places higher.
5. Hang the Pope
Sure, it’s a silly toss-off but it’s survived the ages, and it’s also early grindcore, so, there’s that. “Hang the Pope” is probably the song this band is most remembered by, and that’s not entirely a bad thing, the incomparable Dan Lilker taking the mic here to deliver what has, amazingly, become a bit of a classic song in extreme metal.
4. Radiation Sickness
The song title alone summed up the paranoia of the era well (and, of course, the cover art slams it all home), “Radiation Sickness”’ ending refrain of “Die! Slow! Death!” making us all nervous back in ’86 because, well, damned if we didn’t think this was going to be our fate soon enough. Looks like we made it through the ’80s after all, but that doesn’t mean this song doesn’t still rule just as hard, because it does. Number four with a bullet. Like a lot of these songs, “this is the best song on the album!” while it’s playing, but then an even better one comes along.
Always loved this one. Connelly’s vocal performance is particularly intense, and I always thought the band taking a break from talking about nuclear annihilation to talk about bad friends was charming. The riffs are timeless crossover/thrash, the performances manic, the vocal lines ready to be memorialized for the ages.
2. Cold Steel
Side one of Game Over is pretty bonkers as far as high-energy, classic material goes, and third song in, “Cold Steel,” has my back in that regard, the rhythm section laying down and knocking it out, Connelly delivering a passionate performance behind the mic, with tons of memorable vocal lines to boot. This song is as good a representation of thrash ’86 as almost anything that doesn’t have “puppets” in its title.
The first song that isn’t “Live, Suffer, Die” on this drop-dead thrash classic is “Sin,” which showed immediately the songwriting chops (this is catchy stuff) and Connelly’s insane vocal style. It’s a killer way to get things started, and the half-time breakdown that comes mid-song is not only era-appropriate, it nods to the band’s ‘thraxian connections. Stare at the album cover when listening to this song and a portal to the best parts of 1986 opens, be warned.