Exodus formed in 1981, a year before the birth of Metallica, two years before Metallica’s debut, Kill ’em All, and four years before Exodus’ own debut Bonded by Blood hit the streets with a delayed release.
This timeline is crucial, precisely because of what could have been. As Exodus rose to prominence as one of the earliest adopters of the reckless, often violent punk-metal hybrid that would come to be known as thrash, other California musicians took note — particularly of Exodus’ lead guitarist, one Kirk Hammett. Nowadays, Hammett’s name is usually associated with, you guessed it, Metallica, as he defected to the LA-based metal institution in 1983, replacing Dave Mustaine, who went on to front Megadeth.
Meanwhile, Exodus, having recorded Bonded by Blood in 1984 with new guitarist Rick Hunolt, found its debut languishing in label purgatory until it finally saw the light of day in 1985. It proved to be a crippling hurdle as the genre Exodus had helped to form evolved beyond what the band had put to tape.
Years of changing lineups and inconsistent recordings kept Exodus from the spotlight. Metallica, however, released landmark after landmark (Kill ’em all, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and ...And Justice for All), and fellow thrashers like Slayer (whose 1986 LP Reign In Blood is yet another metal masterwork) grew marquee followings in their own right.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 1989, with Fabulous Disaster, that Exodus reached its critical and commercial peak. But it was too late, and the band still didn’t achieve the same level of acclaim that had already been given to peers such as Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica.
Which is a shame, as Exodus’ thrash, as displayed on Bonded By Blood and Fabulous Disaster, is a concrete-bashing powerhouse of searing guitars and tight rhythms showing the group’s relation to Bay Area punk bands like the Dead Kennedys and British heavy metalers like Motörhead and Iron Maiden in its furious but melodic assault. A cover of War’s “Low Rider” proves a standout on Fabulous Disaster, keeping the original’s prominent cowbell and churning the riff into a thrillingly scabrous desecration of the original’s easy-going funk.
As Metallica began its decline from thrash titans into butt-rock icons and then into butt-of-joke self-parody (though, to be fair, the reception of last year’s Death Magnetic and a recent SXSW blowout could be evidence of a comeback for Metallica), Exodus continued to churn out more or less the same sonic template, grinding away as it has for almost 30 years. And save for two periods of inactivity — a five-year hiatus between 1992 and ’97, and two years between the death of original vocalist Paul Baloff and his replacement by Steve Souza — Exodus has been working consistently since its inception.
The band’s current lineup of vocalist Rob Dukes, guitarists Gary Holt and Lee Altus, bassist Jack Gibson, and drummer Tom Hunting issued a re-recorded version of Bonded by Blood, re-titled Let There Be Blood, in October of last year. That’s the album this resurrected Exodus is currently touring behind. Despite retaining only two original members (Holt and Hunting) this year’s Exodus has hit a groove, even this long into its career, building heavier sonics from modern production techniques and the new roster’s reverent, but progressive take on old material.
Like sometime tour mates Kreator (the German thrashers whose Hordes of Chaos also shows a veteran band issuing solid work while sticking to its guns), Exodus’ gradual adaptation to modern thrash might finally assert the band’s prominence within the genre. Even as it tours with the much-younger Warbringer, Exodus stands up to its supporting act’s youthful vigor with seasoned talent and equal vitality.
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