Thursday 21 November 2019

Exhorder - Mourn the Southern Skies (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Thrash/Groove Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 Sep 2019
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I have no interest in stirring up the controversy over whether Pantera stole their power groove sound from Exhorder and promptly succeeded greatly while the latter languished in unjust obscurity. I'll just mention that I've been struggling with Pantera for years, far more than any other major metal band and for a host of reasons, but I like this album a whole heck of a lot.

This is only the third studio album from Exhorder, though they were founded as far back as 1985, when Pantera were still a glam band. This is the first in 27 years, adding them to the growing list of important bands crawling out of the woodwork in 2019 with new material. And, like a surprising number of these bands, this particular material is really good.

It's also a lot deeper than I expected it to be and I mean in substance not in pitch. It's mid-tempo thrash for the most part, with some songs a little slower, but the groove element is less overt than on the prior album, 1992's The Law. Sure, there's still the highly prominent bass and many songs have the groove bounce that moves them away from pure thrash. However, everything works. The songwriting and the performance are both more mature by a massive degree. This is accomplished stuff and I clearly need to look into what the core band members have been doing elsewhere for the last few decades.

These are songs catchy enough to hook us in on a first listen but not catchy enough to sell us singles. However, they grow on further listens to become old friends. If we invest a little time into it, it pays back dividends. And that goes for every single song here. It doesn't matter if it's a faster one like Beware the Wolf, which is akin to Metal Church mixed with Exodus, or a slower one like Asunder, which exchanges immediacy for elegant power. There isn't a bad song among the ten here and there isn't a merely OK one either.

While the tone is consistent, each track has its own identity. Some of them blister, some stalk and some get under our skin. I've only listened a couple of times through thus far, but I'll be playing this a lot this weekend and I look forward to seeing what grows the most. For instance, Yesterday's Bones didn't grab me first time through but it may be the most impressive track of a second listen. It's a long song, running just over seven minutes, but it doesn't waste any of that time. The solo is great and the ending is too.

Initially, the most overt variety comes at the end of the album. The Arms of Man slows down enough that it's almost a lively doom song. Then it's Ripping Flesh, a re-recording of a song from their 1986 demo, Get Rude, which is the purest thrash on offer. It's at least twice the speed of anything else here, with Beware the Wolf the only other track even in competition. Guest drummer Chris Nail, who played on the original, is a whirlwind. Finally, there's the title track, a lush nine minute epic that benefits from a long, slow build. This trio couldn't be much more different but there's still a common thread.

Going along with the newfound maturity to be found everywhere on this album, the delivery of vocalist Kyle Thomas is a huge improvement. Yeah, there's a hint of hardcore shout in there, but he's using a clean thrash delivery with real power behind it. It's warm and rich and notably well served by a 21st century production job from Duane Simoneaux. We can't fail to pay attention to what he's singing because there's command in his tone.

Exhorder released this album exactly a week before the new Opeth and the two are worthy of mention in the same breath. This isn't as varied but it's more accessible without losing depth. It's a real treat and it's not helping with my task of picking my albums of the month in a week or so. October was tough and it looks like November is going to be hard too. This or Insomnium as the runner up to Opeth? Or Alcest? I'm going to need to start tossing coins.

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