Exmortus - Ride ForthExmortus, California’s own technical thrash metallers, are a band who does everything I love in metal. They write fast songs, packed with frantic energy and rarely pushing the 5 minute mark. Their guitar work is tight, melodic, and classically influenced. Ride Forth, which drops on January 8th from Prosthetic Records, is an album that goes from zero to 90 in a split second and never drops in intensity as it pounds through nine tracks of palm-muted riffs, staccato licks, arpeggios galore, and non-stop double-kick ass kickery (For the Horde!).

Ride Forth will be remembered by the people who pick it up for its ridiculous guitar gymnastics. Exmortus is unapologetically influenced by Viennese classical music (or at least Yngwie Malmsteen)—going so far as to cover Beethoven’s magnificent “Appassionata” [piano version – Exmortus version] for one of the record’s highlights—and the whole album is laced with excellent neoclassical licks and solos. Guitarists “Conan” Gonzales (who doubles as the vocalist) and David Rivera are fretboard gymnasts of the highest caliber. Every song on here has memorable and exciting leads—pick a song and it’s got a solo that would make Yngwie say “See? More is more!”

The problem with Ride Forth, though, is that while the guitar work is cranked up to 11, the songs themselves are what feels like an odd combination of Thrash 101 riffs juxtaposed with immaculate guitar work. Some songs, like “Hymn of Hate,” balance baroque harmonies with technical prowess. More tracks, however, are like “Let Us Roam,” simplistic or no-frills, sharing more in common with Sodom than the neoclassical powerhouses these gentlemen play like.

And rather than feeling like a raw, whirlwind of thrash metal, Ride Forth is weirdly flat. While one sits and wishes for Fleshgod Apocalypse‘s Oracles, the songs on Ride Forth aren’t dynamic or inventive. When listened to from front to back, Ride Forth feels like it’s made of dozens of straight 4/4 time signatures with little variation or dynamics, and that makes the guitar wizardry seem rote at times. One could interpret this as simply being true to an old school thrash metal sound, but the technical prowess feels a bit like it promises more than it can deliver. This is made most clear by how engaging the cover of “Appassionata” (including a herculean performance for which bassist Mike Cosio deserves highest praise) is when compared to the composition on the other songs on the album. It’s not fair to hold them to Hr. Beethoven’s composition standards—he was, after all, one of history’s best composers—but the contrast with Exmortus‘ more Cro Magnon riffing is stark.

Exmortus - 2016

What worries me about the above critique, is that on a deep diving playback, each song seems to stand on its own when taken separately. Choose any one song except “For the Horde,” and I can point out why I like it. Make me listen to the three in a row and I lose the thread. This make me suspect that the record’s flatness has more to do with its overall sound. While Zach “Friend of the Blog” Ohren’s mix is clinically clean, perfectly balanced, and a technically proficient job—y’know, good!—this album clocks in at a solid DR 5, flattening out the peaks and valleys to a nice, symmetrical rectangle. Ride Forth has a precision reminiscent of the mid-2000s production trend that sounds nearly robotic, which is an odd choice. Rather than sounding like a marauding horde of axe-wielding madmen, the album’s clinical sound removes the trashy, edgy feel that this music needs! Of course, producers in metal aren’t writing a band’s songs, but it probably doesn’t help that Conan’s monotone rasp is high in the mix, or that the drums are lifeless, despite being fast and heavy.

The sum total of Ride Forth is an album with lots of the parts in place to be a fun and engaging metal record with an unapologetically Malmsteen meets Manowar and German thrash feel, but which doesn’t work quite right. And all of that is frustrating, because when these guys hit the right notes (“Hymn of Hate,” “Black Sails,” “Fire and Ice”) they are awesome: technical, classical, with an ear for melody, harmony, and unafraid to use musical forms still engaging after centuries. Look at the score, but don’t ignore Exmortus because of it. There’s a lot to like here.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Prosthetic Records
Websites: facebook.com/exmortusofficial
Releases Worldwide: January 8th, 2015

 

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  • André Snyde Lopes

    I want to like the sample track but it sounds really dry and not nearly as aggressive and grimy as it should. Seemed more like old school heavy/power metal than thrash to me. All it’s lacking is a proper vocalist.

    • Totally. It’s among the weirdest mix of sounds I can think of. Absurd and strange.

      • [not a Dr]

        True. I think like it because of that.
        Time will tell if I get used to the voice, though.

  • Reese Burns

    The first paragraph had me foaming at the mouth for this album, but after I read the rest of the review… not so much. Oh well, guess that’s 8-12 $ saved for the first great album of 2016.

    • That’s how I felt about it. Which is why I wrote the review like this. I feel a bit guilty about the score because there’s a lot to like, but it really is a heavily flawed record even if I love the individual bits.

      • Reese Burns

        Well, if it’s any consolation, you did get me interested enough to look forward to their next release. So there’s that.

  • Gabriel PérezMolphe

    They should do the tempest sonata, their Beethoven covers are awesome.

  • Diego Molero

    At first I was expecting a 4.0/5.0 minimun, and then it came the bad side. The vocalist is really anoying

    • Vice-President of Hell

      he sounds like a guy from debauchery

  • Vice-President of Hell

    technical thrash with classical influence? just remembered mekong delta

    • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

      Fuck yeah. “The Music of Erich Zann” is a stone classic, and I’m not even a huge fan of this style.

  • Look at the score, then buy Slave to the Sword (the one preceding this one), since that record slayed.

    • Erik

      +1 to this! Listened to Ride Forth and was kind “meh” but Slave to the Sword is really güüd! Better production, better writing, Guitar God of Burning Steel of Glory still present.

  • Sharp-Blunt Boy

    Sounds a bit Jekyll and Hyde to me. Pretty insipid music, yet with ear melting technical guitar licks. 2.5 points awarded to the lead guitarist, it seems.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’d like to see this album cover in a fight with the Ironsword album cover

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Mmmmm… Ironsword. Now THAT’S a sound I could take a bath in.

  • Kronos

    Revocation stands alone!

  • groverXIII

    Definitely lower than I’d score this album. It’s not quite as good as Slave To The Sword, at least on my first few listens, but it’s got more of what I love about that album, and that makes me happy.

    • It’s just weird how flat it is, imo.

      • groverXIII

        Fingers crossed that it’s just the promo, like with the last Gorod album.

        • Was the last Gorod shipped with a different mix? Because that’s so stupid.

          • groverXIII

            I think the promo was just super compressed and sounded really flat. The release version sounded much better.

    • Rob Liz

      I’m with Grover on this. I dug the hell out of this album. Giving it a 2.5 because you would have preferred a different mix is ridiculous considering the material. Thrash with shred, aggressive vocals and songs about battles and swords.A mashup of Skeletonwitch and 3 Inches of Blood deserves at least a 3 ;)

      • Tofu muncher

        What he said/wrote/ranted about/whatever, and then some. I so love this band.

  • Norfair Legend

    I don’t envy having to review this album because it’s solid to where I should love it but there’s just something about it that I can’t see myself listening to it ever again. Flat, as you said, kind of aptly describes it. Everything chugs along at a nice pace but yet never really goes anywhere, the instrumentation is great but never really memorable.

    Maybe it is the production sounding so clean, maybe a little more enthusiasm from the vocal department could have elevated it, not sure and I’ll give it a few tries but the magic 8-Ball says “Outlook not so good.”

  • Hammersmith

    I really dug In Hatred’s Flame when it dropped, but haven’t been able to get into them since.

  • GREEN MIST BLINDS

    So can someone recommend a band that does this combo right?

  • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

    First paragraph (especially the first sentence) -> HERE COMES THE COLE TRAIN, BABY; rest of the review -> This train might experience some delays until further notice.

  • Dagoth_RAC

    Oh boy. I am going to be a pedantic d-bag here, but … the “Appassionata” is Beethoven’s 23rd piano sonata and clocks in at roughly 23 minutes across 3 movements. The 5-minute Ex Mortus version is just a cover of the last movement. Seems minor, but in my defense, I would be quick to correct a classical artist covering Master of Puppets if it turned out to just be “Damage, Inc.” :-)

    • That’s legit. But the band did just call it “Appassionata,” and I’d only heard it in passing prior to hearing their cover of the third movement.

  • JL

    I agree with the review and score. Not a very impressive record in any regard. Streamlined, very simplistic and overly produced. I’ll pass on this for sure. What a let down.