Exodus – Force Of Habit Review

The 1990s had a very mixed effect on Thrash Metal bands. Some, like Megadeth and Metallica toned down their sound and became superstars (or bigger stars than they already were). Some, like Sodom and at one point Testament, decided to incorporate some influences from the Death Metal scene and get even harder. Some, like Heathen, Hirax and Death Angel broke up.

One of Thrash’s most important bands, San Fransisco’s Exodus had some line-up trouble, bereavement and a whole lot of confusion. Right before it all went upside down, they released their fifth album, Force Of Habit, in 1992 (the year after Nirvana’s Nevermind album).

Like Anthrax’s Sound Of White Noise, Testament’s Low, Forbidden’s Distortion and so many other Thrash band’s albums between 1992-1999, the album is not the all out speed and violence fans had come to expect. There were new ideas, slower tempos and alternative lyrical themes than just the usual things like blood, war, slaughter and the glory of metal. There was a fatter production sound, and more of a Rock feel than their previous all-Metal all the time material.

If you just want face-melters like ‘Piranha,’ ‘Thrash Under Pressure’ and ‘Faster Than You’ll Ever Live To Be’ from previous records then there is some material here that may come as a bit of a shock. The single ‘A Good Day To Die’ has a southern groove like Pepper Keenan-era C.O.C. The 11-minute ‘Architect Of Pain’ is a dynamic, slow, sludgy number with an almost Alice In Chains feel.  The Rolling Stones cover song ‘Bitch’ has a horn section and ‘Pump It Up’ has sing-along choruses and a punky tom based drumbeat.

There are a few bones thrown to Thrash fans though. Other single ‘Thorn In My Side’ has a crunchy riff and great energy. ‘Feeding Time At The Zoo’ & ‘Count Your Blessings’ pick up the speed. ‘Me, Myself & I’ has razor sharp riffing, gang vocals and a chorus which could fit on any of the previous three albums.

After this album, the band would disband, then later reunite with original singer Paul Baloff and release a live album, before disappearing again, and going through numerous line-up shifts over the years, but releasing some of their best albums to date along the way (Tempo Of The Damned for example is definitely worth looking into).

History has sort of forgotten about (or intentionally overlooked) this album. How do I feel about it, you ask? It’s a bit of a strange record, but interesting. If I was ranking all of Exodus’ albums, this would be dead last. It however, is not bad. Uneven maybe, but still worth your time. It is refreshing to hear them thinking outside the box, but its also good it didn’t last for too long and they got back to doing what they do best later.

Exodus – Blood In, Blood Out Review

220px-ExodusBloodInBloodOut (1)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.

I went to go see Exodus live at the Manchester Academy-2 on 28/10/16.

I went to go see Exodus live at the Manchester Academy-2 on 28/10/16. It was as part of a four part bill, The Battle Of The Bays tour, featuring Florida Death Metal band Obituary (who were actually the headliner but not the band I was most interested in), San Francisco Thrash Metal legends Exodus, New York cross-over thrash turned Groove Metal trio Prong and Australian Grindcore noise makers King Parrot.

I walked in, after having already visiting the merch booth for an Exodus t-shirt, into the first King Parrot track, to join a reasonably revved-up crowd, reacting to the Aussies’ noisy obnoxious music. It was pretty damn entertaining, the singer was like former Jackass celebrity Steve-O in facial expressions and attitude, and kept getting into the crowd, touching people’s face, spitting and throwing liquids at them, screeching in teen girl’s faces, mooning the crowd and generally acting like a 1980s Hardcore Punk front-man, he had that fun obnoxious vibe. The music had blastbeats and grinding guitars, punky moments, and a lot of groove metal sections to balance the two styles out. Not bad at all musically, very good performance wise (from all the band, even though I’ve only bothered to describe the singer) and a very good way to warm up the crowd and start off a fun evening. I’d check em out again. Give em a shot if you like the heavier stuff.

Now, I have a boxset of Prong albums but I hardly ever listen to them. I really love the band when they are playing something that sounds like Fear Factory, Machine Head or Pantera, but I don’t really vibe with their dissonant noisy moments or their hardcore roots the same way. Things that sound like Vulgar era Pantera yes, things that sound like My War era Black Flag, no.

After this concert, I have a lot more interest in Prong. When they played songs I knew, I absolutely loved it. I was singing ‘Another Worldly Device’ at work all the next day. When they played music I didn’t yet know, I was very very impressed. They sound so much heavier and more full live. Maybe it was the production on those albums, or maybe the performances were just that much more firey live, I don’t know, but either way, Prong shot up about 400% in my estimation and I’ll be revisiting them a lot more in the wake of this. Tommy Victor reminds me a lot of Rob Flynn in a lot of good days. He’s a good front man. How in to it he got during closer ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck’ really made me warm to him and I’m totally game to try some new Prong albums in the very near future.

Then came my main event, Thrash Metal legends, number 5 of the Big Four, the best of the Bay Area, the mighty Exodus. This is the reason I was at the gig, I got an email saying they were in town and within a few hours I owned a ticket.

Steve Souza was back in the band, but even at that I was still treated to the amazing gift of having them open with my favourite song from Exhibit B’ ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ …a viscous and scathing documentary style comment on the true story of two Californian serial killers who murdered up to 25 actual humans in real life. The vocal performance on the chorus line ‘Killers of Children, Rapists of Women, Sado-sexual Violence’ really conveys how horrific their crimes were (even more so than the lyrics themselves, its the way its spat out that tells the real story). Zetro did not disappoint doing Rob Duke’s material. Nor did he disappoint doing Ballof’s material. Or indeed his own. I love Zetro the best of all of Exodus’ singers over the years, and to hear absolute gems like ‘War Is My Sheppard’ and ‘Blacklist’ live absolutely set me off. In fact, it set the crowd off. I was happy with how well the crowd reacted to Tempo Of The Damned material. That album was such an important moment from the band for my fandom and I was afraid the crowd would be a load of people who only wanted to hear Bonded By Blood songs (of which there was already a heavy percentage). No, good crowd. They know that ‘War Is My Sheppard’ is an indisputable classic now. Smart people. Any concert with ‘Blacklist’ in it is a pretty damn good concert, I’ll tell you that much!

I couldn’t fault the setlist. I wouldn’t remove anything. The only thing I wish is that there was more time. It would’ve been amazing to hear more of my favourite Zetro-era classics ‘Chemi-Kill,’ ‘Brain Dead,’ ‘Fabulous Disaster,’ ‘Corruption,’ ‘Impact Is Imminent’ or indeed newer stuff from the Dukes era like ‘Altered Boy,’ ‘Class Dismissed’ or the Dukes era’s best ever tune ‘Children Of A Worthless God’ but that would’ve been a headline show. How much time would that all take?

How great was it to hear the famous tracks like ‘Bonded By Blood’ or ‘The Toxic Waltz’ though? Oh my goodness did I enjoy that. The crowd began to bang, there was blood upon the stage, metal took its place, bonded by blood. Hearing stuff of the new album like ‘Blood In. Blood Out.’ and ‘Body Harvest’ kept it all vital and not just nostalgia… I mean there’s been no decline in quality over the years. Either of those tracks would still be one of the best songs on Tempo’ or Impact’

I also loved their performance; they were hungry, rabid thrashers, not slow washed-out old men. I’ve heard it said that millionaires can’t make Thrash Metal, and so in that way its good Exodus never got as famous as Metallica, because Exodus are still unrelenting in their delivery. Its as if they’re still in their twenties. I also love their interaction with the crowd, they were very accommodating and interactive and the dialougue about the value of Heavy Metal itself all chimed very well with me. Overall, an amazing, feel-good performance and excellent setlist. I had myself a great time singing along, and I would go see them again tonight if I could. If you ever get the chance, no matter where they are on a bill and how short a slot they’re given, get yourself down to an Exodus show and you’ll be a happy man (or woman) (…but let’s be honest, man. Do I have any female readers? I doubt it.)(Interesting sidenote: Exodus certainly have a pretty high female audience ratio…. way more than I’ve seen in about my last 7 or 8 concerts. More than C.O.C for sure. Not quite Peirce The Veil levels of equality, but for greasy, brutal ’80s Thrash it was more than you’d expect).

At his point my night was complete, only it turns out that Obituary were headlining, as I’ve mentioned, and so I stayed to check them out. I’m not a fan yet, and have only ever heard one song. I’ve been meaning to try them for ages and have picked up their boxset numerous times in HMV but money shortages stopped me ever actually going through with the purchase. I like the other bands in Death Metal’s big four. I’ve liked Cannibal Corpse and Deicide a medium amount for years. I got into Morbid Angel a bit this year. Just Obituary left of the four. (And Death, Immolation, Incantation and many others still to come from the next tiers).

It was a very good performance. The two standout tracks were ‘Slowly We Rot’ and ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Die’ as well as the Celtic Frost cover as a close third. I was taken aback by how dedicated and into the crowd were. I noticed in the last few years how many morrisound album t-shirts have skyrocketed in popularity both in the streets of Manchester and especially at Metal gigs. It seems to be enjoying a renewed popularity, but man, I never expected an Obituary gig to be so packed of such an invested crowd. Shows what I know.

I was very, very impressed. There was no blasting, nothing unmusical. It was all fat, thick, groovy. There was a mix of doomy intros, speedy mid sections, and cool stop/start staccato moments ala Fear Factory, with surprisingly audible and discernible vocals and great lead guitar. Colour me impressed. Obituary are definitely worth me checking out it seems.

Good night.