Well over a decade since the poorly received Force of Habit, Exodus delivers their long-awaited follow-up/comeback album, Tempo of the Damned. Released in Europe two years to the day of the death of original vocalist Paul Baloff, this album is as much a tribute to the fallen, charismatic frontman as it is a definitive statement of their return to the top of the thrash genre they helped pioneer back in the 1980s.
From the outset, it is clear that the band has returned to the form not heard since their early output of Fabulous Disaster and the classic Bonded by Blood (considered to be a defining moment of the thrash genre). The guitar duo of Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt deliver razor-sharp riffs and shredding solos, while drummer Tom Hunting and bassist Jack Gibson lay down the backbone with a vengeance – all of which are perfectly accentuated by the flawless production of Andy Sneap. Vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza is in top form, his venom-soaked voice providing the proverbial icing on this delicious slab of old-school thrash cake.
Album opener “Scar Spangled Banner” kicks things off with a vengeance as their own homage to the soldiers who have died defending the US of A. “War is My Sheppard” continues in the same vein. These two songs alone should have even the modern day thrash giants standing in awe of the old masters. The tempo takes a step down for the next handful of tracks, but with no loss of the TQ (thrash quotient) set by their predecessors. Things pick up again not-so-briefly for the 7-minute “Forward March”, with enough time changes to merit it “epic” status. Soon after, we are greeted with the two much ballyhooed tracks from Holt and Hunting’s short-lived mid-90’s project, War Dance. “Sealed with a Fist”, which is slightly musically reminiscent of “Toxic Waltz”, and which many may remember has been played live with different words and titled “AnGary”, but with new lyrics about a battered, vengeance-seeking wife, the song has shed much of its previous cheese factor, and in the end comes off as a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Fabulous Disaster. “Throwing Down” is the other recycled track and, while good in its own right, falls pretty far from the Exodus tree, possibly the slowest non-ballad they’ve ever recorded. “Impaler”, on the other hand, is a 20-year old demo track that was originally heard on 1997’s live album Another Lesson in Violence, but is fully realized here – perhaps a little slower than Baloff would have liked, but I’m sure he’ll bang the heads that aren’t banging to this one in the afterlife, anyway. Going out with a bang is the title track, which at times almost sounds more like modern-day Destruction than Exodus, but when the track ends, you will surely press the play button and start all over again.
This album, already receiving praise from various media outlets, is going to be analyzed and dissected by the press and fans alike. Many will call it a true return to form, and a hell of a throwback to the thrash era; others will pan it as a disappointment, especially without Baloff’s vocals. For me, it’s the former: this is 21st century thrash by one of the masters of the genre’s golden age, which for me is about as close to a formula for perfection as you can get. Thrash or be thrashed!