Exodus have had a lot of line-up changes over the years. Not as many as say Cradle Of Filth or Annihilator but certainly not as stable as the likes of Rush or Clutch. They’ve had three lead singers on record; firstly Paul Baloff on their immortal debut album Bonded By Blood, who was replaced by former Legacy (the band who would go on to be Testament) vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza. Zetro saw them through the rest of the ’80s and early nineties (on, in my opinion, their most important and seminal work and some of the best Thrash Metal by any band at all). He himself was then replaced by Baloff again in the late ’90s until Baloff passed away.
The band got back together with Zetro and released one of the best albums of their (or anyone’s) career in 2004’s Tempo Of The Damned. (Incidentally; If you don’t love ‘War Is My Sheppard’ then I just don’t know what to do with you). Then, just a year later Zetro was out and replaced by the then little-known Rob Dukes, who we were all very skeptical about but who fit the band monstrously well and eventually won a lot of people over, during the course of his tenure, lasting three studio albums, a live album and a remake compilation of Bonded By Blood. After two singers zig-zagging there was finally vocal stability and the modernized band was the going concern that would see them through to retirement.
[Before the angry comments flow in I know I mentioned line up changes and then just discussed the singers. It wasn’t only the singers. Guitarists have changed, bassists have changed. Drummer Tom Hunting has left and returned a few times (although that’s more understandable as he has a health condition). But for the last few years things had been nice and stable within the group more or less.]
Where was I? Yes… to see them through to retirement. ….Aaaaaaaaand then Dukes was out and Zetro was back again. What the hell? Do you know how hard it is to get fans to accept a third singer!? And to do so this late into their career. Imagine if Blaze Bailey actually won over Maiden fans. Do you know how rare that is? And then they go start over again. I didn’t buy this album for a full two years after I wanted it just out of sheer mourning for Dukes.
Oh well, at least it wasn’t a new singer again. As much as I love Dukes’ vocals on that run of albums its hard to deny that Zetro is an absolute legend and the definitive voice of Exodus for me. He’s who I’d want to see live and my dream setlist by the band is 80% Zetro era songs. It just makes sense. In fact, it took me catching the band live to get over the shock and realize things weren’t just reunion for reunions sake. Yes it is mentally untidy that their current singer is on their was their singer, then not, then he was again, then he wasn’t again and then he was again, and that his time in the band was ’86-94 and then not until ’02 and out again in ’04 and then not on the superb trilogy of albums between then and 2014. Its untidy, but that’s Steve fucking Souza! That’s the guy who sang ‘Accelerating faster, devastating plaster, fabulous disaster.’ How can you deny him?
Anyway. That’s all a very long-winded bit of background to Exodus’ tenth studio album, 2014’s Blood In, Blood Out. The name presumably a cheeky wink to their history with line-up changes. The only reason to even mention all this background is that it sits there swirling away in your mind as you listen to this album. Can it live up to the monster of Tempo Of The Damned? Can it live up to their ’80s glory period? How will it affect their absolute top run of form on those previous Rob Dukes albums, are they just going to throw away all that good work?
Well the good news for all of us is that this album absolutely kills. After a strange industrial intro courtesy of guest star Dan The Automator (which if you didn’t know about beforehand would make you fearful Exodus have taken a funny turn and decided this album is going to go a bit Static X) the band burst into an absolutely ferocious and concise hour of blistering, up tempo Bay Area Thrash.
The songs are very catchy and memorable without letting up on the intensity. Its very restless, aggressive and pounding. Yet somehow there are tonnes of hooks to grab on to. The chanting gang vocals on some songs are undeniable. On some songs the razor sharp guitar solos get stuck in your head. Some songs have that one riff that is just irresistible and breaks a huge smile across your face. I mean just listen to the chorus to ‘Collateral Damage.’ You aint forgetting that any time soon! Hell; listen to its guitar solo. That’s not just any other guitar solo, its really rather unique. And that’s just one song. I can’t emphasize this enough: each and every one of the songs on the album, all of them, are catchy and memorable. There’s nothing that needs removing from the album. Nothing that should’ve been trimmed to make it more punchy.
The songs are generally less long and feature less repetition than on the previous few albums, and what is left is really just all the best parts. It may be less ambitious and less adventurous but it makes up for it in snarling, barking, high speed uuumph. It really is the pure essence of Thrash Metal writ large in modern production, triumphantly performed by absolutely bad asses who have only gotten better with age.
An interesting point here is the guest appearance from Metallica’s Kirk Hammet who we all remember was in Exodus before he joined Metallica (Tempo Of The Damed featured a song he’d written on). Kirk adds some guest guitar to ‘Salt The Wound.’ Its a nice touch. Speaking of guest appearances, Testament’s Chuck Billy also comes in and does guest vocals on ‘BTK’ and the title track. He is always a great guest. I loved it when he showed up on Forbidden’s reunion album Omega Wave and I love him showing up here (just as Zetro guested on Testament’s First Strike Still Deadly). I love the whole Bay Area Thrash camaraderie thing.
Side note: Does anyone else remember that fun, weird, N64 game ‘Body Harvest’ ? I can’t forget it now. Exodus have a song by that name here and now all I can think of is giant blocky praying mantis-looking aliens. Every time I spin this album all I can think of is those aliens, Chuck Billy’s smile, and how weird it is that Rob Dukes is out of the band and yet they totally make their discography make sense with this album. Oh, and while we’re at it; Best guitar solo on the album? Body Harvest!
After a brilliantly strong opening, the guest appearances, the great stomping ‘Body Harvest’ and its great solo and ‘BTK’ and all that stuff, you’d think the album may start to lag towards the end. That is a remarkably good first half, and by anyone’s standards they could dump a bunch of filler at the end and most people would still go away thinking it was a great record. Well, that is exactly what they do not do. The second half arguably mirrors the first for quality, for ferocity, for catchiness and for interesting memorable moments: ‘Wrapped In The Arms Of Rage,’ ‘Honor Killings,’ ‘Food For The Worms’ …these are all raging tunes.
Overall; despite line up drama, this is an absolutely ripping album from the Bay Area legends, and people like me were wrong to doubt them. The band are arguably in much better shape than three quarters of the rest of ’80s Thrash bands are at the minute, arguably stronger than ninety percent of new Thrash revival bands, and this album is arguably in the top half in not top quarter of their entire discography (and those are damn big words, but I genuinely mean it). If like me you are skeptical of yet further line up changes or just plain sad to see Rob go, don’t hesitate like I did. Blood goes in, Blood goes out, but Exodus are always bloody brilliant.