Friday 3 December 2021

Exodus - Persona Non Grata (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 19 Nov 2021
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I started the week with a thrash metal album from a band I'd never heard of, Algeria's Jugulator, but I'm ending it with another from a band I absolutely have, the San Francisco Bay Area pioneers known as Exodus. I'd be all over this album anyway, because I've loved Exodus ever since I heard A Lesson in Violence on the first Speed Kills compilation, my bible as a young thrash fan. However, I can't help but notice that this one's been received really well by the thrash metal groups I'm in on Facebook and, right now, it holds the highest rating at Metal Archives of any Exodus album since their killer debut, Bonded by Blood. Could it really be that good?

Well, maybe it is. Certainly I couldn't help but acknowledge that the band are really feeling it at the moment, aided by their particular approach. This is technical thrash metal at its tightest, as evidenced immediately in the intro to the seven and a half minute title track, an absolute gem right off the bat. It erupts out of the gate and rampages for a while. Sure, it slows a little at points into a neat groove for the guitars to solo over, but it ratchets effortlessly back into high gear with some fantastic changes. But it's also punky thrash with attitude, as highlighted in the raucous vocals of Steve "Zetro" Souza, most effectively on R.E.M.F., the second track.

This is quintessential Bay Area thrash, up tempo thrash that gets faster for emphasis, with wicked duelling solos from Gary Holt and Lee Altus, as talented a guitar line as any thrash band can boast in 2021, and attitude fuelled vocals belted out by Souza like he's spitting jet fuel. It's even of older school lyrical content, being an anti-war song that talks about how the regular folks bleed and die on the front lines while the Rear Echelon Motherfuckers (the R.E.M.F. of the title) just watch it all on TV. It's as angry as in your face thrash metal lyrics ought to be.

As the album ran on, I realised how solid this is, not that it wasn't pretty obvious from the outset. The riffing is impeccable. The solos are top notch. The vocals are vicious. The beat is incessant. And the songwriting knits it all together with panache, mostly courtesy of Gary Holt. This is Exodus on top form and I couldn't be happier.

Now, not everything is done at varying degrees of frantic. Prescribing Horror is a mid-tempo chug fest, not my favourite thrash style. Cosa del Pantano is a superb acoustic guitar intro to the other epic here, Lunatic-Liar-Lord, which runs a second shy of eight minutes. It's a lot more patient than the title track, spending a lot of time chugging, not only at mid-tempo but also in an experimental fashion. This one's as notable for what isn't happening as what is. It't not my favourite track here, but I adore the tribal drumming that becomes gradually more obvious as the song ends.

I shouldn't skip over the rhythm section, as drummer Tom Hunting, the only founding member left in the band, and bass player Jack Gibson do excellent work here, but Souza's voice surely has to be the most obvious takeaway and the most abiding is the guitarwork. I relished these guitars, which could just keep on playing forever for me.

Of course, these guitarists are thrash metal royalty, pure and simple. Holt's time in Exodus dates back to 1982, so far back that Kirk Hammett was still in the band at that point, but he also played live for Slayer for most of the last decade, ably filling Jeff Hannemann's boots. Meanwhile, Altus is still the main man in Heathen, though he's also been with Exodus since 2005. I absolutely adore their guitar duels here and the album highlights for me aren't really songs but the midsections of songs like the title track, The Years of Death and Dying and closer Antiseed.

And now I'm going to start this album over again, for the nth time, because, yes indeed folks, it's that good. I'll also have to pull out Flotsam and Jetsam's Blood in the Water from June, because I have no doubt that it's the only thrash metal I've heard this year that might top this and I should listen to them next to each other to judge that properly. This was an 8/10 immediately but I think I have to up that to a 9/10. If you're a thrash fan, you should have bought this already.

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