It's only been in the last few years that I've became an Exodus fan. This started in 2002 when I got both their first album 'Bonded By Blood' and second album 'Pleasures Of The Flesh' as part of a two-for-one offer at an indie music shop in Newcastle. BBB is an awesome record but POTF was lacking something. Namely a decent vocalist. See, between albums, the original vocalist (Paul Baloff - RIP, fella) left/got sacked so they replaced him with Steve 'Zetro' Souza, who was from the band Legacy - who would go on to become Testament. Souza would go on to record the next few albums with Exodus before leaving after 2004's 'Tempo Of The Damned'. So although he's perhaps their most long serving and well known vocalist, he's by no means the best. His style was very reminiscent of the late Bon Scott from AC/DC and it doesn't suit this style of music at all (Although he did a very good job on 'Tempo...'). Dirty rock 'n' roll, without a doubt but not thrash metal.
So after Souza left in 2004, Exodus would go on to hire Rob Dukes. Now his style is more punk-orientated and it's not too bad. However, the band would release some of their best material during his tenure behind the mic. The re-recording of BBB doesn't count. Sure, the songs were becoming longer and more progressive but they were still heavy and brutal as fuck. In fact, I will happily go on record to say that Exodus released more good stuff this side of the 2000's than any of the Big Four of thrash (Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax).
During the recording of this album, Rob Dukes left/got sacked and...
Souza returned. Why? Who knows. Methinks it was a business decision designed to boost the bands profile in order to lead to more high-profile slots at festivals or something but don't quote me on that. However, it does mean that the band have lost/released their best vocalist and replaced him with his predecessor who is vastly inferior. The situation is like Anthrax when they rehired Joey Belladonna (He was inferior compared to John Bush, although he did play on the best Anthrax albums. Except 'Sound Of White Noise' but I digress...). The point I'm trying to make is that in all honesty, I'm NOT looking forward to hearing this album. I never liked Souza's vocal style at all so the prospect of hearing his Bon Scott impression appeals as much as a root canal without anasthetic. I'll warn you now, there will more than likely be a lot of focus on the vocals during this blog. I'll try and keep it to the though. Anyway, I'd best get this show on the road. Here goes...
Black 13 - Starts off with an industrial-esque intro done by someone called Dan The Automator. Sounds like a trainee mechanic. All processed drum loops and beeps - it goes on for a minute or so before launching into the kind of thrash Exodus specialise in. Frantic rhythms and riffs. Then Souza starts singing. It sounds like Bon Scott having a fight with the Tazmanian Devil from the Warner Bros cartoons, or even Donald Duck on a crack binge. I guess they wanted him to sound 'angry' but it sounds...odd. It's a decent song but the vocals seem out of context. Hopefully, things will improve.
Blood In Blood Out - The title track which tackles a common subject in thrash - the mosh pit! This is a fuckton better than the first track. The vocals aren't quite as annoying on this one and even - dare I say it - suit the song. Nice gang back-ups during the chorus and the line about starting the type of pit to "make Paul Baloff proud" is a nice touch as well. This is the song that should've opened the album IMO.
Collateral Damage - Yes. Fucking yes. An absolute stormer of a track! This should get a decent pit going at the live show. Vocals are good on this as well. Fast, tight, gang vocal harmonies aplenty. So far, the music on these three tracks is top notch and pretty much what we've come to expect from Exodus since they did "Shovel Headed Kill Machine". It's also about now I think I'm getting used to the vocals. It seems that they've requested that Souza sings 'angry' which is fair enough but I cannnot help but think Rob Dukes could have also done a good job. Mind, he'd have been more of a growl as opposed to a squawk.
Salt The Wound - Keeping the metal flowing, albeit at a slightly slower pace than usual, it deals with the topic of fucking people up. Nice. It's official - I'm liking the vocals on this. Souza is really sounding angry on this and is emitting high-pitched screams in the chorus! It sounds funny but at least he's giving his all. We're also treated to a solo by - Kirk Hammet! See, he used to be the guitarist in Exodus until he joined Metallica. Not having officially recorded anything with Exodus - and not having played on a decent record since 1991 - this changes here with a solo which is very good.
Body Harvest - It's canny. Dealing with the story of that guy who wakes up in a motel room minus a couple of kidneys, it's a ferocious song for a ferocious tale. Nice chorus riff and solo.
BTK - Featuring Chuck Billy from Testament making an apprearence (As well as an intro that's similar to the Testament song "Into The Pit"), it's another mid-paced heavy number. Chuck does the choruses. You can tell as the vocals tend to shift down a pitch by then. A sterling job he does too. Outro is good, nice and grindy.
Wrapped In The Arms Of Rage - opens with fret-wankery before launching into an atypical thrash format. Again, it's a good song but it's not as good as what's come before. I get the feeling this was written towards the end of the writing sessions when the band were tired and looking for something to make the numbers up.
My Last Nerve - Again, while it's all good, it comes across like filler. It's the type of the thing the band could knock out in their sleep. Mind, the twin-guitar harmonies were nice.
Numb - At last, we're back on track! Thrashing like it's 1985 but with modern production values, we're bombing round the dancefloor trying to smash into each other! Or we're on the fringes headbanging like absolute motherfuckers. Nice breakdown in the middle too. Get a bit of pogoing going. the pace of the album has picked up again. Souza has dropped the Bon Scott impression during the mid-section. It was like listening to Tom Araya with a sore throat after a night on the Jack Daniels and Marlboro Reds.
Honor Killings - We're only on the intro and I've already got a feeling of dread. Nothing to do with anything creating an atmosphere, but look at the title of the song. 'Honor Killings'. The first verse leaves no room for doubt as to what the subject matter is. The problem is the song generalises. It doesn't make it clear that whilst there may a small radical fringe who follow these practices, they are ony a small fringe. The song essentially tars with the same brush and demonises a people. Yes, there is a lot of shit going down right now but for fucks sake, the likes of Al Quaeda, ISIS etc represent Islam as much as the Klu Klux Klan and Westboro Baptists represent Christianity. By all means, attack those who give a bad name but NOT EVERYONE! The music is great, very fast and heavy but the lyrics take a VERY meat-headed approach. Sounds like the band got their info from Fox News. Moving on...
The next song is a Spotify ad talking about ponies. Cool (Normally I wouldn't mention the ads but after the last song, we need something light-hearted)! Onto the last song...
Food For The Worms - It's the final song, let's hope it isn't as meat-headed as the last one. It's certainly a fast fucker. Despite being 6 min 23 secs, it seems like it's over quite quickly. Mind, it comes across like a typical blazer, designed to burn up on re-entry while the band hurdle towards the finish line. A decent enough finish.
Bonus track is a cover of 'Angel Of Death' - by British metallers Angel Witch. It's not too good.
So, the first album in ten years with Souza has been and gone - and it's not a disappointment. The production is excellent, the musicianship tight and one gets used to the vocals after a couple of songs. The only three criticisms I have are the middle of the album tends to the lull due to having a couple of filler side by side; despite having great music, 'Honor Killings' is a very meat-headed song; and as mentioned before - Rob Dukes would have been able to do these songs no problem so it seems immaterial to ask an inferoir vocalist back and then tell him to try and put his own slant on his predecessors style! Still, you cannot go wrong with this, although there have been better albums of this nature released this year.
7/10 - This is good and well worth a check.
Top track: Blood In Blood Out.
This album is available on iTunes.