Tuesday 26 November 2019

Exmortus - Legions of the Undead (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Technical Death/Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Oct 2019
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Legions of the Undead is a neatly old school EP in that it allows a band to release a couple of new songs and add a bunch of odd stuff that wouldn't fit on a regular album as a bonus. That's what I remember EPs as being for but I don't believe any that EPs I've reviewed this year have done that until now. Thanks, Exmortus!

The new songs are Legions of the Undead and Swallow Your Soul, both of which sound good to me. I see Exmortus usually listed as technical thrash or death metal and this is kind of both together. Jadran Gonzalez uses a harsh voice that's not particularly extreme; it's a death growl but I've heard far more harsh from pure thrash metal singers in the past. While Swallow Your Soul is reasonably fast, it's not crazily so, and the title track is slower. This is far from frantic stuff.

The one word that rings truest from those genres is "technical", especially on the title track. This is a four piece band and they solo as much as they riff, so that there are melodies hurled out from all over. The bass of Cody Nunez is audible and welcome and Adrian Aguilar mixes up the rhythms a lot from behind the drumkit. While these songs aren't as fast as I tend to like my thrash or as evil as I tend to like my death, I thoroughly enjoyed both as heavy metal songs with extreme influences and I should look backwards.

Exmortus have been around since 2002 but didn't release an album until 2008. Last year's The Sound of Steel was their fifth studio full length and I see that they've generally been received well, sometimes very well indeed. They tend to focus more on war than traditional extreme subject matter, with war being from a more fantasy perspective: battles and heroism and glory, rather than the more historical bent of, say a Sabaton. If these two new songs are representative of their past material, I'm on board.

I'm actually even more on board because of the odd stuff that follows. I see that the band have featured at least one instrumental on each album and some of them have names that hint at a classical influence. Moonlight Sonata (Act 3)? Yeah, I think I know what that is. Appassionata? Yeah, I have an idea on that too. Here, Exmortus wrap up proceedings with three more notably varied instrumentals, finishing up with a very metal classical piece.

The first two are skimpy because they always have been, in the form of short movie soundtrack pieces. First up is Beetlejuice, the Danny Elfman theme you expect but rocked up massively with cool soloing over the refrains. Next up is Bernard Herrmann's memorable theme from Psycho, with shrieking guitars a highly appropriate replacement for shrieking strings. What's notable is that these two themes, written by other people for other purposes, fit well both with the original Exmortus songs here and the one classical track to follow.

That's Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, one of the most metal classical pieces of music ever written, both in its sound and its imagery, as it's an attempt to visualise a witches' sabbath. Exmortus aren't the first band to record it as metal but this version feels a lot closer to the original than the Accept version on Symphonic Terror. That's because the guitars of Conan Gonzalez and Chase Backer sound so much like a string section. They really do sound like witches in gleeful and frantic flight. Shenanigans are surely afoot. It's glorious stuff and it's a great way to wrap up a memorable EP.

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