Exumer // Fire & Damnation
Rating: 3.0/5.0 —Something old, something new, something on fire
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: facebook.com | myspace.com
Release Dates: EU: 2012.04.09 US: 04.10.2012
Here’s a reunion album I did NOT expect to see in my promo bin. Exumer was a part of the Second Wave of Thrash, which crested in the mid 80s. While there were plenty of classics released around then, a lot of that wave was instantly forgettable (Juggernaut anybody? How about Vectom?) One of the bands that left an impression was Exumer. Hailing from Germany, their Possessed by Fire debut was a frantic, over-the-top, minor thrash classic, with an amazingly berserk vocal performance by Mem Von Stein (he sounded like a monster version of the koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs bird). They mixed elements of Slayer, Exodus and Destruction and though it wasn’t too original, it did have a certain style and it was a ton of fun. The 87 follow-up, Rising From the Sea, was done without Von Stein and featured a more punky sound that didn’t thrill me, and after that, Exumer faded into oblivion. After 25 years on hiatus in Oblivia, Fire & Damnation brings back both Von Stein and the thrashy style that made Possessed by Fire so enjoyable. While they don’t recapture the lunatic charm of Possessed, they managed to craft some energetic, meat-and-potatoes thrash, far more in the modern American style (Testament, Exodus, Warbringer) than their Germanic roots would suggest. This isn’t a release that will bowl the world over and Exumer isn’t offering anything new to the thrash scene (quite the opposite actually), but I found this pretty enjoyable. Maybe that’s nostalgia talking, since these guys really remind me of my high school days, but so be it!
The first few tracks have a very pronounced modern thrash sound. The title track is a good opener, with a lot of aggressive energy, sharp riffing and a high level of Exodus influence. “Vermin of the Sky” and “The Weakest Limb” are both impressive doses of meaty thrash with lots of interesting riff and lead ideas, and both remind of Warbringer and “good” Death Angel. Von Stein sounds great repeatedly screaming “Let the blade fly” during “The Weakest Limb,” and it’s a pretty infectious number. Same goes for “Waking the Fire,” with his shouts of “waking the FIYAH!! I’m a sucker for that kind of metallic mispronunciATION!
By the halfway point, things take a noticeable shift backward to Exumer‘s old sound. This starts with a re-recording of “Fallen Saint” from Possessed, which sounds great with a new production, but is nowhere near as cool as original version. Subsequent tracks like “Crushing Point” and “Devil Chaser” sound as if they were written during the Possessed sessions and have that classic Exumer riff phrasing. Both are fun and loaded with nostalgia. Then comes a re-recording of “I Dare You,” which originally appeared on the Rising From the Sea album. I didn’t like this song back in 87 and it didn’t age well at all. The pseudo-hardcore style is awkward and the lyrics are below the maturity level of pre-teens. It’s just not a good song and I wish they left it buried in the past.
Besides the odd style differences between the first and second half of Fire & Damnation, a few tracks don’t completely work. Of the newer style songs, “New Morality” falls a bit flat with a groove-oriented, semi-hardcore sound, and as spelled out above, “I Dare You” sucks (again). Furthermore, the inclusion of two older songs seems cheesy. I know these guys have been in mothballs for decades, but would it have killed them to come up with all new material (it’s only a 33 minute long album as is) and include the re-recordings as bonus tracks? Instead, the bonus tracks consist of three live songs taken from Possessed. That’s five out of thirteen songs coming from older stuff. Cheese-o-Rama!
Musically, the riffing and soloing of Ray Mensh and H.K. is very effective. Whether on the older or newer sounding material, they craft some zippy, in-your-face riffs and little flourishes that add to the momentum. The older riffing style is more distinctively Exumer, but the new style works too. Von Stein sounds a lot different these days. He lost the “rabid alley cat in heat” approach in favor of a raspy snarl, but it’s effective and sounds appropriately menacing.
Despite the schizoid nature of the styles and the over-reliance on ancient material, Fire & Damnation proves Exumer still has some life in those old bones. I’d like to see them blend the new/old styles more effectively next time though. For thrash fiends, I highly recommend tracking down their Possessed by Fire opus, and I can recommend this as well, with the above caveats. I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys, without the inconvenient 25 year wait. Nice to see the hockey mask guy make his return for the cover too! Ah, nostalgia.