I’m going to see Testament and Exodus live in April, and I don’t think I could possibly be more excited. If you’ve spent any significant amount of time on the pages of this blog, you already know of my absolute, unwavering love of everything Testament has ever released. By comparison, I’ve written significantly less about Exodus, so today I intend to remedy that somewhat. Some of the things I have written about Exodus have indicated that I think their sonic output is a bit spottier than some other thrash bands, and I still stand by that statement (Impact is Imminent and Force of Habit have some great songs, but they are nowhere near the same level of quality as anything else the band has released). I also mentioned at some point that I don’t care as much for the Rob Dukes-era version of Exodus, because his vocals are less enjoyable to me. This attitude was completely adjusted when I saw the band live at Rock on the Range last year, and now I can’t get enough of the Dukes albums, and I really wish I could hear their newest album (Blood In, Blood Out – 2014) with his vocals, because as amazing as the album is, I just think he would’ve utterly destroyed the songs, in the best possible way.
Anyhoo, one somewhat-reoccurring theme in Exodus songs is clever wordplay in either the titles or the lyrics (and sometimes in both). Two examples can be found on their first album, 1985’s undeniable classic Bonded By Blood (“And Then There Were None” and “Deliver Us to Evil”), although the wordplay became much more clever as the band grew, and in fact these first two examples are pretty weak, and are only really being included because the songs are so fucking good that it would literally be a crime to not include them.
Exodus circa 2008 re-recorded the songs from Bonded By Blood and released it under the title Let There Be Blood, and I love those versions just as much (what I’ve learned in the past year or so is that the three different Exodus vocalists don’t really sound so different), so I’ma include them, as well.
After Bonded By Blood, original vocalist, party animal, metal ambassador, and poseur-beater-upper Paul Baloff (RIP) was given the boot, because he couldn’t carry a tune in a dumptruck, and because he was partying a li’l too much, which when you think about the metal scene in the mid-to-late 80’s, is pretty absurd and rather terrifying. His replacement came in the form of Steve “Zetro” Souza, who was fronting a band called Legacy, who replaced him with young upstart vocalist Chuck Billy and changed their name to Testament, which led to the world receiving two beautiful gifts in 1987, Testament’s debut The Legacy and Exodus’ second album, Pleasures of the Flesh, which was my personal introduction to the band. There is only one wordplay example on Pleasures, but it hints at what would come later, and it happens to be my favorite song from the album, and is yet another example of thrash metal’s long-standing social awareness. It’s called “Chemi-kill”.
The follow-up album, 1987’s Fabulous Disaster, contains no cleverly-titled songs, but it is really great, and it had something of a hit single called “The Toxic Waltz”, which received pretty regular rotation on Headbanger’s Ball back in the day, and remains a live staple to this day. I’m gonna share it just because it’s fucking great.
And just because I can, here’s a live version with Rob Dukes on vocals. Look at that fucking pit.
1990’s Impact is Imminent gave us one wordplay example, album closer “Thrash Under Pressure”, which is one of the better songs on the album.
1992’s Force of Habit was in pretty heavy rotation in my bedroom when it first came out, but these days I just can’t get into it as much. It has some wicked-bad songs, but it seems to lack the urgency of the first three albums (and it definitely lacks the urgency of everything that has come after). The album contains no songs that fit within my self-imposed parameters, so I’ll just include the videos for the two singles, “Thorn in My Side” and the anti-suicide anthem “A Good Day to Die”, the latter of which was used in a television show at the time, although I cannot for the life of me remember which show, nor can I find any evidence on the internet of this having ever happened. I just remember that the main character was a high school kid, and his family was worried about him committing suicide because he was listening to a song called “A Good Day to Die”. Can anyone help me out with this? Did I somehow manufacture this entire scenario in my metal-and-caffeine-addled brain?
The band split up after Force of Habit, reforming in 1996 or ’97 with Baloff back on vocals. They released a live album, the outstanding Another Lesson in Violence, in 1997, and broke up again in 1998, reforming with Baloff again in 2001 to play the Thrash of the Titans concert, which was a benefit for Chuck Billy, who at the time had a rare form of cancer, which he went on to kick the shit out of. Holy shit, Thrash of the Titans had such an amazing lineup.
But I digress…the band continued to play shows in and around the Bay Area, and plans were made to record a new album with Baloff, but he died in 2002 after suffering a stroke. Zetro was brought back in emergency-style, so that the band could fill previously made commitments, which led to the recording of the band’s “comeback” album, 2004’s mighty Tempo of the Damned, which is nearly as overrun with clever turns of phrase as it is with badass songs.
The album kicks off with a one-two punch of anti-war diatribes “Scar Spangled Banner” and the absolutely brutal “War is My Shepherd”, which are later followed by the vehemently anti-religious “Shroud of Urine” and a dark tale of revenge against domestic violence called “Sealed With a Fist”.
“America, the violent, the indifferent, God shit his grace on me…we the people, for no people, secure the blessings of tragedy, do ordain we have established the scar spangled banner!”
I didn’t realize “War is My Shepherd” had an official video until just now. Let’s watch together, shall we?
“You’re cruci-fucked and you’re out of luck if you put your faith in the flock…”
“When she took your hand in marriage, it didn’t mean right across the face…but now that your wedding chamber’s the one the bullet’s in, brave man, look at you, not so tough when the hammer’s cockin…when they carry your body out over the threshold, you’ll wish you never said ‘I do’…”
Zetro left the band again on the eve of a tour that was slated to take the band to Mexico and points south, and harsh words were uttered by guitarist and band leader Gary Holt…words so harsh, in fact, that any chance of a return to the fold seemed completely out of the question. Enter Rob Dukes.
Dukes made his debut with the band on 2005’s Shovel Headed Kill Machine, which I absolutely love. The opening track “Raze” is short and sweet, if you replace “sweet” with bitter, angry, and savage. So…”short and savage”, I guess. Anyway, it leads into the first example of this albums clever titles and lyrical wordplay, “Deathamphetamine”, a vicious, nightmarish tale of addiction which is a maybe my favorite Dukes-era song, and which should have absolutely been included on my addiction-themed mixtape Obey Your Master, but I was foolishly unfamiliar with the song when I made that mix. I guess it’ll have to be a bonus track on the Special Anniversary Edition. Another finalist for the title of Joel’s Favorite Rob Dukes-Era Exodus Song comes later on the same album, and it also happens to fit the theme here. It’s called “Altered Boy”, and it is outfuckingstanding.
“Chicken hawks of the Catholic church, out to save and destroy, they have become the the priest of burden, and he’s become an altered boy.” How fucking brilliant is that?! “Exceedingly fucking brilliant” is the correct answer.
The band took a somewhat different path with their next album, 2007’s The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A. The songs are a bit more complicated musically, and the lyrics are based loosely around the themes of war and religion, which isn’t necessarily so different for the band, except that the focus on those themes is much more laser-like this time. It contains a surprising (if you’ve never heard it before) example of Dukes’ vocal abilities in the passionately anti-radical Muslim centerpiece “Children of a Worthless God”, but the only example that fits my parameters for this entry is “The Garden of Bleeding”.
“Endless orchards dot the land, of corpses up on spikes. Beauty’s in the eye of the beheaded on a pike…”
The companion album, Exhibit B: The Human Condition, appeared in 2010, and it contains no punny songs, but it does contain a song about school shootings called “Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer)”, the lyrics to which, you may recall, got a man in Kentucky arrested last year, after he shared them on his facebook page. I actually just bought this album yesterday, and I’m looking forward to digging into it. Hopefully I won’t end up on any watch lists.
At some point, Gary Holt must have had a change of heart, as Dukes was unceremoniously relieved of his duties last year and Zetro came back on board. Quick aside: you should also check out Dukes’ current band, Generation Kill. They kick ass, too. Anyway, the resulting album, Blood In, Blood Out, is as good as nearly any other album in the band’s catalog, although as stated above, I would love to hear it with Dukes’ voice. It also contains no songs that fit my theme, but I would be remiss to not share the searing title track, as well as one of my favorite songs ever from the band, “Body Harvest”, a grim little ditty based on the urban legend about the guy who wakes up in a bathtub filled with ice, only to find that his kidneys have been taken from him by black marketeers.
“Let’s start the pit that time forgot.” I can not fucking wait to “rage and make Paul Baloff proud” on April 21.
That’s all I got for now. Enjoy some Exodus, and seriously, if you know anything about the TV show that may or may not have existed in the early 90’s, and may or may not have featured that Exodus song, please let me know. Until next time, stay heavy, you heavy fuckers!