I’m a crabby old thrash metal fanatic. No bones about it. I’ve never really been into the new wave of thrash metal like As I Lay Dying and Suicide Silence, or the retro thrash metal bands like Municipal Waste and Bonded By Blood, who prance about in their tight jeans and high top sneakers, probably because I was there in the trenches during the first wave (though I never got into the skinny jeans). When Sweden’s The Haunted first rose from the ashes of At The Gates with their self-tiled debut in ’98, I wasn’t all that big of a fan. Compared to the originators of the genre and the legacy of At The Gates, The Haunted, frankly, was a letdown. Six albums on down the road, The Haunted gradually stretched into more experimental territories, often much to the chagrin of their hardcore fans. I kept an ear out, but still nothing grabbed me. Until now.
Knowing I am a thrash fanatic, Captain Steel Druhm assigned Exit Wounds to me. I admit, I went in with tainted ears, and at first listen wasn’t impressed. Upon repeat listens, however, that changed drastically. This is a perfectly arranged album with enough variety to keep things from ever getting stagnant. The songs are laid out with the expertise of seasoned songwriters and musicians that vary song styles, parts, tempos giving Exit Wounds the pacing not of a frantic, one-dimensional thrash album, but more like an epic film directed by a master like Martin Scorcese or Stanley Kubrick.
A brief but raging intro leads into the tornado that is “Cutting Teeth,” which launches out of the gate at full steam and clearly establishes that Exit Wounds is modern thrash with nothing retro or “nu” about it. They can pen a song as good as their predecessors (not surprising considering the pedigree of some of the members) with all the chops of musicians that have been playing since the old days. The Haunted know to play a part so sweet it catches your breath, and not repeat it, forcing you to keep waiting to hear it again and listening so closely that the more subtle aspects of the songwriting shine through. On “All I Have” they slow things down considerably and showcase the melodic sensibilities that even the faster tracks on Exit Wounds possess. The lyrics cleverly reference the timeless Police song, “Every Breath You Take,” with the line, “with every breath I’m taking, and every move I make, leaves me anxious and waiting,” reminding the listener that a great song is a great song regardless of the genre.
The performance of every musician is exemplary. The bass is like a buzzsaw and always audible alongside the guitars. The sound on the whole is bombastic, full and warm rather than sterile as so many recordings are these days. The guitar solos shred when they need to, but never at the expense of tastefulness and they even provide moments of beauty. Give the solo section in “Eye of the Storm” a close listen to hear exactly what I mean.
What I expected to be the hang up with Exit Wounds was the vocals. In the past, even when The Haunted delivered a punch to my face with their music, I found them to be one dimensional. I’ve always been a fan of vocalists like Mark Oseguda (Death Angel) or the lunatic timbre of Sean Killian (Vio-lence) over an all-out screamer. The recently re-instated Marco Aro more than makes up for any lack of range with absolute conviction and fury, and as Forrest Gump once said, “he liked to say the ‘F word’ a lot!” Every time he does, instead of it coming off as gratuitous, you feel the volcanic anger and spite he musters in his delivery. Yes, friends, he has made me a believer. “Trend Killer” lightens things up lyrically, no less angry, but as the title indicates focusing on trends in music and those that ride them out. While The Haunted themselves have veered into some questionable territory, in the shadow of the monster that is Exit Wounds, their conviction seems to be unwavering these days and the message is all the more poignant.
Exit Wounds is a raging modern thrash metal masterwork that converted a thrash metal purist like me and should make fans of all those bands with four or more words in the name crap their pants. If you were a fan of The Haunted and feel they lost their way, you will find this to be a fine return to form. If you miss At The Gates, well they are coming back with a new album at the end of the year. Should it fail to live up to their legacy, Exit Wounds satiates many of the same cravings.