Way back at the dawn of time, Exciter released back-to-back rip-roaring speed-driven rides that laid the groundwork for what would eventually become thrash metal. 1983’s Heavy Metal Maniac and 1984’s Violence And Force stand as important links between the early trad metal scene (when it was still just called “metal”) and all the faster / louder / more that would come after.
But not long past that, the bands that Exciter influenced overtook them. Exciter’s limited musical ability exhausted itself rapidly, and the students became the masters. And though they didn’t quite give up, Exciter faded into the background. Even by the late 1980s, when I first began delving into metal, the band was spoken of as “legends” in a tone as though they were historical artifacts. Which is to say that, even then, while they were still on the tail end of their first act, it seemed accepted that they were both extremely influential and relegated to the past. The scene that they had helped to spawn had grown far beyond their rudimentary riffage, unrefined vocals and simplistic structures, and the ramshackle youthful exuberance that made Heavy Metal Maniac and Violence And Force so enjoyable could carry the band no further.
The original incarnation of Exciter stumbled to a stop in the early 1990s, when vocalist / drummer Dan Beehler departed. Re-emerging in 1997 with The Dark Command, Exciter at the turn of the millennium featured only guitarist John Ricci from the earliest days, and after two records, they swapped vocalist Jacques Belanger for Kenny “Metal Mouth” Winter. Their last effort, the simply stated Thrash, Speed, Burn, showed that stylistically little had changed in the Exciter world in the time since they first wound down. Now Death Machine further hammers the point home – the riffs are still simplistic, often relying upon tempo more than any other factor; the songs are still straight-forward, no surprises speed metal, often riding one simple riff for most of the tune. The biggest difference between vintage Exciter and now is this: While Beehler’s vocals were ragged and unskilled (sometimes in a charming way), lingering between a shout and a scream, Winter’s voice is almost cartoonishly shrill and shrieking, like Udo Dirkschneider on helium. (Witness that piercing, nails-on-blackboard squeal at the end of “Death Machine.”)
Songwise, some of Death Machine is fun enough during the listening experience, particularly the driving “Dungeon Descendents,” but at the same time, almost all of it is so simple and bland that it rapidly becomes forgettable, with the only memorable moments coming by virtue of the fact that the chorus of each song is usually the title repeated in melodic lockstep with the riff. (“’RAY-ZOR… IN YOUR… BACK!’ chugchugchugchug…,” go the guitars and Winter, hand in hand. Or “’Death ma-chine!’ chugchugchug…”) The production is acceptable, but ragged – the drums sound too live, particularly the snare drum, and the guitars could stand to be sharper. Still, in some respects, Exciter c. 2012 trades in a similar roughshod style to that which they’ve always plied – so the production woes are at least fitting, given those the band has employed in their best moments, even if still employing them is not necessarily a good decision.
All told, Death Machine is what I expected – Exciter hasn’t been terribly exciting in decades, and so another average take on their well-worn style is par for the course. Like fellow Canadians Anvil, they’re semi-legendary for events long past, largely for simply being one of the first to push the boundaries of speed and energy, and like Anvil, they’ve struggled since their early-80s heyday. (Also, like Anvil, there was talk of an Exciter documentary, but I’m unaware if it ever surfaced.) The dedicated will likely be sated somewhat by Death Machine, but it falls far short of the band’s earliest output. As such, all but the most rabid Exciter faithful among us still have little reason to add any Exciter to their collection beyond the first two.
And let’s not even talk about that album cover…