One of the stranger parts of American culture is the phenomena of the Civil War reenactment. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it is exactly what it sounds like: History buffs and other geeks dress in 1860’s-era clothing, meet at a public place, and painstakingly recreate some of our nation’s most infamous battles. As fun as this might be to watch, the reenactments are somewhat predictable, because every single time (with one exception) the outcome is exactly the same. If you can imagine the futility of witnessing the same battle over and over again, fully knowing how it will end, then you are beginning to understand how difficult it is to review retro thrash albums.
Exarsis is not, sadly, a band made up of former Arsis members, but rather a five-piece thrash outfit from Greece. The band formed in 2009, and The Brutal State is their 2nd album. I will say this: these guys have got every aspect of thrash — specifically the late ’80s European variety — down to a science. The guitars chug with dissonant precision, and the drummer capably executes the beats that are essential to this style (all two of them). And if you ever wondered what Sean Killian of Vio-lence sounded like as a young child, Exarsis vocalist Alex has the answer for you [That curiosity alone compels me to track this down! — Steel Druhm]. If you told me their band photo was taken in 1988, I would believe you. They even saw fit to name-check Paul Baloff in their bio, even though Baloff has been dead for many years and it’s unlikely that he was involved in this album. Oh, and check out that fucking fantastic album cover.
Just like we all know which side won the Battle of Fredricksburg, there’s never any question what’s gonna happen when you press play on The Brutal State. The album opens with an acoustic intro, just like the thrash greats of yesteryear would have done. The pseudo-political spoken word samples are a nice late-’80s touch as well. Once “Intro” outros, it’s all mosh pit territory for the next 39 minutes or so. Ripping guitar solos? Check. Gang vocals? Yup, those too. Surprises? None at all. Well, “Toxic Terror” does sport some brief blastbeats; whether this was done out of boredom or as part of some greater artistic vision is unclear. And “Dying Earth” contains a pretty tasty (and lengthy) solo tradeoff. Overall, this is total 1989-core, splitting the difference nicely between 2nd-generation Bay Area thrash and perhaps Kreator‘s Extreme Aggression era.
All of this is fine, except that there’s already about 4 billion albums like this. I could easily take any of the previous thrash reviews I’ve written, do a find/replace on the band name, and end up with essentially the same review. And seeing as how the re-thrash movement has been underway for nearly a decade, Exarsis is in the unfortunate position of being late to the party (or more accurately, the reenactment of the party) — sort of like the Xentrix or Toxik of the 2010s.
Look, if any of the Exarsis guys are reading this, I don’t mean to be harsh. You guys are clearly very good at what you do, and are probably having a shitload of fun doing it, regardless of what some asshole reviewer says. But thrash metal is no longer a developing art form. It is a language now, codified with its own rules and restrictions, and it’s pretty stagnant as a result. Even a fairly solid record like The Brutal State has no chance of lasting effect, simply because the genre has reached saturation point long ago.
Alright, new rule for re-thrash bands: If the band comes to my town on tour, I will go to the show, headbang a lot, and most likely have an awesome time. I might even buy a back patch. In exchange, I will give all records of this style a 2.0 rating unless they’re mind-blowingly awesome and/or do something original. And then I will go listen to Fabulous Disaster. Sound fair? [Somewhere in the night, Slayer disagrees and swears wengeance — Steel Druhm].