Saturday, 1 November 2014

Exodus "Blood In Blood Out" Review

...I know I normally try to say stuff as fairly as I can and save hinting towards my thoughts on the album before I actually get to talking about it, but I have to say this right now: I called the problem with this album back when Dukes was fired (I still have the article I wrote (but didn't publish) on the same day Zetro returned to prove it) and I'm not ashamed to gloat a bit by saying "Told you so!" Zetro does a good job with what he has to work with, but let's face it: this album showcases why firing a singer and then getting your new (...OK, old in this case, but you get the point, I'm sure!) one to record the material the previous singer left behind without any real changes to help them get material that suits their voice better is just a flat out TERRIBLE idea, and I feel vindicated by seeing so many people (critics, fans of the band...heck, some of them even people who hadn't liked Dukes in the band!) going "This album would have been better with Dukes singing it"! And the Zetro fans who demanded his return have nobody to blame except for themselves that the band are now weaker than they would have been had they kept Dukes for at least this album. Maybe that's proof that even a stopped watch is right twice a day, but still, vindi-fucking-cation!

...OK, now I've had my little moment of smug satisfaction, back to pretending to be a professional.

As my somewhat emotional outburst would have no doubt told you (or my review of "Salt The Wound", which you can read here), Exodus brought back their most iconic lead vocalist Steve Souza for this album after firing their former lead vocalist of nine years Rob Dukes (and did it about four months before this album came out (specifically, Souza was announced as being back in the band on June the 8th of this year), so you can imagine that Souza had to record the vocals VERY quickly to ensure this album didn't miss the deadline it had for it!). This album has been in the works since at least the summer of 2012, as the band started writing material for the album back then, and the band even entered the studio to record the album in March of this year, so you can imagine that this album has been taking a while to get done thanks to Gary Holt's commitments with Slayer.

And that is honestly why I have always said that this album, despite Souza being on vocals for it, is a Dukes-era Exodus album: had Hanneman not passed away and, as such, kept Holt busy for long enough that Dukes ended up being fired during the recording of this album, this album would have almost certainly been released with Dukes on vocals and it would not be pretending to be a reunion album for Exodus with Souza. I do not intend to sound like I'm blaming Hanneman for the fact that this album is the way it is, as that is completely unreasonable and clutching at straws which simply do not deserve to be tugged at for ANY reason, only that the knock on effects of Holt remaining with Slayer in the aftermath of Hanneman's passing delayed the release of this album significantly (although, to be fair, Hanneman's illness did also delay work on Slayer's upcoming album, which has been in development (in terms of writing material) since November 2011) and that, had these delays not happened, it is incredibly likely that this album would have had the vocalist the material was written for singing on it.

But you guys don't want to hear me ranting about this kind of thing constantly, I imagine. You want me to review this album and back up the bit of gloating I made at the start of this article.

Well, your wish is my command! So let's just to the cover art analysis!

Well, it's...I like the real dark vibe the artwork goes for, but I have to be honest, it just doesn't do much for me. It feels like the cover for a death metal album that accidentally got given to Exodus, as it doesn't completely fit in with what the band's previous cover arts were like, but they liked it enough to keep it. It's not necessarily bad, but I wouldn't have expected a cover like this on a thrash metal album, as it's just a bit too dark in terms of what the contents of the cover displays. The colour combination is also a bit weird for a thrash metal album: it seems a bit too brightly coloured overall and it doesn't quite work because of it. I'm not saying you can't have a brightly coloured cover art with really dark contents on it for a thrash metal album, but it rarely works well and I highly doubt it's ever been done to the extent that this album has been done.

Also, zombies on the cover of a metal album. How original, not like I've haven't seen that, in fairness, I've never seen zombies eating themselves before now, but still, can we stop putting zombies on everything, they're not scary any more!

Well, let's get the material looked at.

Well...the material on this album is certainly competent, I have to give the band that, but I cannot shake off the whole feeling that the album is lacking something. It's very much like a typical thrash album by an old guard member of the thrash scene: it doesn't have the speed of the band's 80's material (although, in fairness, Exodus have been like this since Tempo Of The Damned, so this is hardly a new development) and it tries to get by through sheer intensity. While Overkill can manage that AND get some good speed up as well ("Ironbound", anyone?), Exodus...don't. More than half of the songs on the album feel like they're longer than they need to be, with the end result that there is a strong feeling that the whole album has a long of great songs on it...and the band forgot that it had to end them. This is a rather annoying trend which has carried over from the Atrocity Exhibition duo and is something which hurts this album more than it really should do, as most of the songs COULD have been really good had the band trimmed them down a bit. Even the complete snoozefest (to me) "Body Harvest" (which is, interestingly, one of only two tracks on the album NOT written by Gary Holt, being written by Lee Atlas with Steve Souza and Jack Gibson co-writing the lyrics with Atlas: the other song is "Honor Killings", written exclusively by Atlas) could have been passable had it been cut down a bit, but, at six and a half minutes where it just plods along for far longer than it should have done, it becomes nearly unbearable in how boring it becomes!

That's the word which needs to be remembered for this album: boring. Because, for me, that's what sums this album up. It's just intensity with nothing to back it up and make it worth actually listening to. Some songs get it right, but most of them are the fast short tracks (most of which, coincidentally, were the album's singles), which at least indicates that Gary Holt can write old school thrash songs very well, but the band's new style...not so much. I'll be fair, most of the songs have interesting moments, so it's not like they're complete throwaways, but good luck trying to remember which song has the good part you really like if it's not the chorus of the song, as most of the songs feel somewhat interchangeable! Now, in fairness, a lot of thrash can feel like this, but this is not a retro band trying to play thrash just like it's the 80's: this is Exodus trying to play thrash metal in their style of it, and I'm still struggling to tell the difference between each song when it's not "Salt The Wound" or the title track! This doesn't feel exciting like Nervosa did at all, and I could forgive that if it felt like I was really enjoying listening to it...but I'm not. It's perfectly fine as background music, but as a proper listening experience which I focus upon...I'm just bored stiff by it. And that's really not a phrase that should be thrown around in relation to thrash metal!

On a performance level, everyone certainly does themselves justice. Tom Hunting is a great drummer and he certainly proves that multiple times across the course of this album while everyone else puts out at least respectable performances. Steve Souza is very much an acquired taste when it comes to his vocals, as he can come across as having a REALLY nasal singing voice which can grate on you if you're not used to them (and, even when you are, you might need to be in the right mood to really like his voice), but I can't say he does a bad job on this album. The problem is...well, I'm going to have to get very boring with this bit, so bear with me: whenever I think of Steve Souza as a vocalist, the mental image that comes to mind is of a sadistic villain who is in control of every situation: he has the kind of voice that has a more subtle bite to it than more thrash metal vocalists, but is no less menacing than most thrash metal vocaists can do. By contrast, Rob Dukes had a lower, more angry yell due to his roots in hardcore punk which made him sound like he was pissed off at you and liable to kill you if he got his hands on a suitable tool to do that with. With the album written with Dukes' voice in mind, you've got a situation where it sounds like the sadistic villain is trying to angrily yell at you...and it just comes across as comical because Souza's voice simply doesn't suit that kind of vocal performance. The end result is that the vocal performance on this album, while still good on its own merits, is just not right for the material on this album.

There are three guest appearances scattered around this album, but the only one I'd say actually adds anything to the album is Dan The Automator's on the opening track, "Black 13", as his atmospheric introduction to the album opens the album on a weird (for an Exodus album) note that is nonetheless still quite the interesting addition to the album. Kirk Hammett's guest appearance on "Salt The Wound" certainly SOUNDS like him, but you could be forgiven for missing his appearance if you weren't aware of it, and Chuck Billy, while certainly recognisable as him due to his distinctive vocals, ultimately doesn't make much of an impression on this album, although it was certainly interesting to hear him singing underneath Steve Souza!

Production wise, I have to give credit for the fact that the bass is more present than usual, but it's still too quiet for my liking and the mastering...well, put it down for my usual complaints on this one.

So, overall, what do I think of this album? Well, it's a bit disappointing, all truth be told. For a band claimed to hold the true legacy of thrash metal in their hands among Bay Area thrash fans, it's not an especially interesting album overall and certainly more than a few steps down from Tempo Of The Damned. I just would have expected to have gotten far more than this album provided. If you liked the singles from this album...than that's probably all that you really need to take from this album, as the rest of the album is pretty much just longer, slowed down and less interesting versions of those songs. I guess die hard thrash fans would find this far more enjoyable than I did, but I just feel like the band dropped the ball on this one. Even if Dukes had been on this album and provided vocals that fit in more with what the album was going for, it still wouldn't have saved it from ultimately being boring, and that is ultimately the biggest disappointment for me. Nothing is offensively bad about the album and the songwriting is at least acceptable overall, so it might be worth checking out if you're a huge thrash fan, but two really strong songs from an eleven song album, with the rest being merely listenable and not really all that memorable...I'm sorry, but that's not enough for me to really want to recommend this album to anyone, and, for an album which is one of the most hyped albums of the year, that's FAR less quality material than I would have expected to have gotten from this album. Put this album down as an album for the die hard thrash fans only, I guess...or just put this album down, ha bloody ha...

Final Rating: 6 Out Of 10

Personal Favourite Tracks: "Blood In Blood Out", "Salt The Wound"

Offline note: I was going to give this a 5 Out Of 10, but I started to find this album growing on me while I was writing the review, so I bumped it up. I still stand by the rest of my review, though!

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