We haven’t reviewed much thrash this year, mostly because there hasn’t been a bumper crop to write about. That’s why the prospect of a new Exodus opus with Steve “Zetro” Souza returning to the fold had many a thrashard foaming at the mouth in anticipation. While the three recent albums with Rob Dukes were respectable enough, they lacked the pure, raw aggression the band had in its infancy when they and Slayer were the “scary, poser killing” crews. Now we get Blood In, Blood Out and with Zetro’s return, the band takes a noticeable jump back to their roots. Gone is the more polished, “modern” thrash of Exhibit A and especially Exhibit B (which as a newbie reviewer I admittedly overrated) and in its place is a savage, pissed off enterprise more in line with albums like Fabulous Disaster and Tempo of the Damned. I’m willing to guess that’s what most fans were hoping for, and the Exo-geezers did not disappoint. Blood In, Blood Out does everything it’s supposed to do and does it pretty well. There are the typical Exodus missteps of course, and there’s nothing particularly surprising here, except how youthful and angry Zetro sounds. But that’s okay, since nobody looks to Exodus for surprises anyway.
The quirky electronica intro to “Black 13” may give some fans pause before it launches into a vicious thrashing spree with Zetro sounding as nasty as he did on the recent Hatriot albums. It’s a lovely introduction to their new/old style, which should be comfortably familiar to older fans as well as thrash loving newcomers. The riffs from Gary Holt and Lee Altus are heavy and crunchy, and the solos show why they may be the most talented guitar tandem in thrash today.
The biggest hits all come early on, with the title track hitting high marks for raw aggression and vintage riffs guaranteed to make you feel like it’s 1986 again. “Collateral Damage” is the album’s atomic bomb, with a frenzied, chaotic shitstorm of speed and an oddly anthemic chorus crammed in amidst the spiraling insanity. The riffs remind me of classic Dark Angel and Zetro truly loses his lunch on this one. “Salt the Wound” is another tasty cut with an oppressive mid-tempo crunch and ugly performance by Zetro. It also includes solo work from none other than Kirk Hammet, who makes like the prodigal son, returning to the band that launched him on his way to thrash royalty when his lucky stars led him to Metallica.
While most of the songs are good, meaty doses of thrash overkill, a few are less than stellar, like “My Last Nerve” and especially “BTK,” which is rather generic, despite the always charming Chuck Billy (Testament) dropping some guest vocals. Both songs are about three minutes too long, and that brings me to a point of contention I have with Exodus. Over time they’ve become as incapable of self editing as Metallica. Many of the songs here run well over six minutes and feel bloated and repetitious because of it. Whatever happened to the thrash ethos of the short, sharp shock of three to four minute songs? Thrash is not a medium where extended play is a good idea and this album proves it once again, as meritorious ideas and effective songs are drawn out past the “Sell By” date. You end up with an album over an hour long, and that’s too damn much for even a grizzled thrash fiend like myself. Cut the songs and drop the weaker tracks for a 45 minute Exodus attack and then we’re cooking with thrash gas!
In the band’s defense, they fill the hour with a lot of consistently high level riffs and some stunning solo work. At this point in their respective careers, Holt and Altus are at the pinnacle of their playing ability and they’ve become quite the powerhouse tandem. Even songs that don’t wow me like “Body Harvest” make me keep listening due to the lovely solos. Just listen to the wild guitar duels running through “Wrapped in the Arms of Rage” to see what these cats are capable of. As for Zetro, he continues his strange, late career resurgence and I’m still shocked how vibrant, youthful and maniacal he sounds. He even veers into black metal-like croaks at times and he gives the material the snarling, rabid intensity Rob Dukes never could. Another plus is the surprisingly large bass presence by Jack Gibson. Most thrash albums relegate the bass so far into the background, you need the FBI to help locate it. Not so here, and it gives the sound a bigger, more burly punch.
Blood In, Blood Out, is front-loaded, bloated and too farging long by a lot, but when it works, it really works. The band sounds great and the savagery is certainly back, so just consider it the Exodus version of …and Justice for All and prepare to be worn down by a cosmic butt ton of heavy thrash from the original toxic waltzers.