...I have to be honest, I had my misgivings about this album even before it was finished being recorded. I was disgusted with the way that Dukes was apparently removed from the band after about nine years in it (although I will concede that there aren't a lot of ways that the band could have fired him without seeming heartless), I felt that bring back Souza was a blatant attempt for the band to try to win back the stubborn "Souza or nothing" crowd (despite the fact that, you know, Souza was doing Hatriot for the last two years, so he wasn't exactly sitting around doing nothing...HINT HINT) and, on top of that, I was confident in saying that Souza simply could not do the Dukes era of the band justice, which is technically what this album is part of (it was written while Dukes was in the band and likely would have been recorded with him on vocals last year had Holt not had to continue doing Slayer). Throw in the fact that I didn't like the Dukes era of Exodus much myself (although I think blaming Dukes for the poor material is ignoring the crucial fact that Gary Holt is Exodus' main songwriter) and I was ready in my heart to hate this with a burning passion. As much as I wanted this to be good, part of me wanted this to fail so badly that the Souza diehards would realise that their determination to hound Dukes for something that wasn't even his fault had ruined the band through their refusal to accept that times had changed and would make them learn that past experience doesn't necessarily mean the future will be anywhere near as good than it was.
...Putting aside my livid fury at the Souza diehards and listening to this song with an open mind, I'm surprised. But why? Well, let me break it down for you guys. If you want to listen to the song to get a measure of what you think of the song before you read my take on it, then follow the link below!
One of the overwhelming things I notice about this song is that it sounds suspiciously like a rewrite of a song from Tempo Of The Damned (the last Exodus album that Souza sang on, for the benefit of those not in the know). I can't quite place it, but I swear it sounds somewhat like "War Is My Shepard"with a bit of "Scar Spangled Banner" thrown in to try to shake you off. Now, I get Exodus have their own distinctive sound post-reunion, so I can't really complain about this too much, but I got this impression literally from the first listen! If your first song that you're releasing with a returning vocalist sounds like a rewrite of a song from your last album with that vocalist, you've already got me unimpressed with you. To be fair, Exodus do have a rather distinctive style within the thrash metal scene, so you could fairly make a case that this is just Exodus being Exodus, but here's the thing: as much as I don't like the Dukes era of the band, I could trace a development musically in the music from that era (compare "Nanking" and "Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer)" to "Impaler" and "Blacklist" and you'll spot it). Here, it feels like that development has completely disappeared. While I do welcome the band going back to their thrash roots more with "Salt The Wound", I feel like the band have gone too far back and have instead regressed their sound by stripping away the stuff that made the Dukes era...not necessarily to my taste, but still rather interesting to listen to.
The second thing I notice is that Souza sounds like he's singing vocal lines which weren't written for him. Now, this is strictly a nitpick, since I know the circumstances behind the making of Blood In, Blood Out and I think he does a great job with what he has to work with, but the guy still doesn't feel completely comfortable singing this song. I think this is partially to do with the VERY different singing styles of Souza and Dukes. See, Dukes grew up with a lot of hardcore punk, so, when he sings, it's raw, pissed off fury that would make every threatening line sound like it's coming from a guy who is going to do it to you in a blind rage, but Souza has a somewhat nasal voice that I always liken to a sadistic killer whenever I've heard the guy sing a threatening line: I always imagine that Souza's singing as if he's a man who knows that he's going to commit a horrible act against someone and loves what he's going to do to them. So, when I heard Souza singing on Tempo Of The Damned, his way worked (for the most part) because he sounded like he wasn't angry at all, but had coldly calculated his every move. Here, however, you hear him having to do what Dukes did and...well, it kind of falls flat due to the fact that Souza's voice simply doesn't work for this kind of thing. His nasal tone is just a bit too strong for his anger to come across as anything except somewhat comical. It is to his credit that he still sounds fairly good, however: his overall performance on the song is fairly strong.
The third thing is the guest guitar solo by Kirk Hammett. Now, I know most people will be going "Oh look, another guy who's going to trash Kirk just because he's part of Metallica", but I'm seriously not in that position: I like Metallica a lot (although I don't listen to them a lot these days due to the sheer amount of other stuff out there that I have to keep up with) and feel that a lot of the hatred Kirk gets is somewhat exaggerated (there are other guitarists out there who do what Kirk does and don't get the same level of criticism that he does). However, I feel that his solo adds next to nothing to the song. It's not necessarily bad, but I think you could be forgiven for not even realising he was on the track. It's cool to see him on a thrash metal album for the first time in over 25 years, though...(that is the only Metallica joke you'll get from me, metal fans who want me to make them. If you want another one, you're reading the wrong blog.)
So, I must hate this song, right? It's unoriginal, has a vocal performance that is clearly not suited for the vocalist performing it and has a pointless guest appearance.
Nope: I actually rather like this track.
...Yeah, THAT'S why I said I was surprised.
If you ignore the unoriginality of the song, it's actually rather enjoyable. The song is a very solid bit of slower thrash metal (which is not the same as groove metal: comparing this to Five Finger Death Punch and Pantera, you'll spot some very noticeable differences in both styles of music), with a few nods towards a simpler style which can have roots traced towards hardcore punk. The lyrics are honestly dark enough that I imagine they'd fit in perfectly in a death metal song, but they aren't graphic enough to be off putting to people who aren't into that kind of music. The overall performance of everyone is very good on a technical level, with particular praise being warranted for drummer Tom Hunting: the guy's nearly 50, but you wouldn't think he was that old if you had to judge his drumming performance! The production, while VERY much an example of modern album recording, is fairly good, although I think the bass guitar is far, FAR too quiet in the mix for most people to hear it without needing to be able to listen into infrasound territories and it could have done with a bit of a quieter mastering job.
So, overall, what do I think of this song? Well, it's a very good track that suffers from a few flaws that drag it down. While I think it might have actually been a better song had Dukes been singing it due to his voice being more suited for the lyrical theme of the song, I still have to say that Souza did a great job. As much as I hate to give the Souza diehards some degree of satisfaction by admitting I made an error by doubting the band, I have to say that this song is actually a rather good song...but it's still nothing special by Exodus standards. If you're already a huge Exodus fan, this song won't offer you much new, but you should find it fairly enjoyable. People not already familiar with Exodus, however, should find this a much better listen.
Bottom line, if you don't mind the issues I highlighted, this should be worth a listen and will probably be a song that you will enjoy, so go check it out if you're a fan of thrash metal.
Final Rating: 8 Out Of 10