Shovel Headed Kill Machine
posted on 9/2005 By:
You’d think that after Exodus unleashed the expectation decimating Tempo of the Damned that the faith of the metal community would be squarely in the band’s corner. Instead, some have voiced doubts about whether the band has enough in the well to be able to pull the same trick twice, especially considering the steady exodus of Exodus members, as long-timers Steve Souza, Tom Hunting, and Rick Hunolt are out, and in are Rob Dukes, Paul Bostaph, and Lee Altus. But if anything can quell the seemingly ever present tide of doubts circulated by certain pundits in the metal community, this album should do the trick. Shovel Headed Kill Machine is every inch the hulking beast that Tempo is, and like the grotesque, inextricable bond shared by a certain set of twins we met back in ’85, these two brother albums by different iterations of Exodus are also bonded by blood; the blood and sweat of Gary Holt. Those naysayers should check the songwriting credits for Tempo of the Damned–there is a reason Exodus has weathered such substantial line up changes without sacrificing an ounce of fire, and rather actually gainined momentum. For fans, the departure of long term members will take a nostalgic toll, but functionally, the band hasn’t lost a step. Paul fucking Bostaph? Good enough to replace Dave Lombardo is good enough for me, and guitarist Lee Altus (ex thrash vets Heathen, who just recorded a cracking comeback demo of their own) is a perfect fit. Changing vocalists, especially for high profile bands, is always dicey, but taking a chance on rookie Rob Dukes pays off, and within a single listen most fans will have become accustomed to the change, and many will prefer Dukes to Zetro. His voice isn’t as distinctive (for better and worse) as that of Souza and Baloff, but has the rasp and sneer quality that fits with Exodus’ sound, and he won’t have a bit of trouble performing songs from the back catalog.
Given the success of Tempo, it’s no surprise Holt’s chosen to cut these songs from a similar cloth, although this album maintains an overall quicker pace than the last. The vintage toxic waltz injected with modern groove and production yields the same neck punishing result. Some have complained about the more modern approach, but it seems to usually just be the newer bands that want to sound two decades old. Change is a function of creative experiences and context, and Exodus sounds like a vintage band that has made an unusually natural and successful transition to the contemporary scene without sacrificing a shred of identity. Opener “Raze” isn’t the landmine that “Scar Spangled Banner” was, but is no slouch either, and the band more than make up for it with “Deathamphetamine”, an eight-minute scorcher centered on a riff reminiscent of Motorhead’s “Traitor”. But unlike that song, and very much like all the songs on Kill Machine, this one is a feeding frenzy of riffs, rarely lingering in the same place for too long. When you have an octopus like Bostaph behind the kit it’s best to just stay out of his way, so Holt gave him free reign to develop the drum parts, and Bostaph’s mighty handiwork contributes to the faster tone of the album and makes good songs (see “I Am Abomination” and “Raze”) better and even lesser songs like “Going, Going, Gone” more enjoyable. This album packs several surefire live favorites, including the contemptuous attack on the Catholic sex abuse scandal, “Altered Boy”, which seethes with trademark venom and bone shattering crunch. Closing the album is the pair of instant classics “44 Magnum Opus” and the title track, both flat out, full on malevolent thrash beasts that are perfect pit fodder. In the former, Holt’s lyric “No appeal, I know I got a raw deal—but I don’t give a fuck”, captures the hard nosed, blue collar ethic of the band. Rather than resting on the twin crutches of past accomplishments and excuses like band turnover, Holt blows them to bits with head down determination and back breaking (theirs and yours) perseverance.
Despite some minor faults (and even partly because of them), such as sometimes straying into standard meat and potatoes fare, and the occasional sophomoric social commentary, Shovel Headed Kill Machine is exactly what we needed from Exodus. This is a beast of an album that is guaranteed to evoke a physical reaction, and to paraphrase the late Paul Baloff, will give you the kind of feeling that used to make you want to break windows when you were a kid. Wherever he is now, Baloff is no doubt smiling, his brothers having done him proud once again.
posted on 9/2005 By:
Pleasing metalheads is the most difficult accomplishment next to surviving a minute of MTV’s Super Sweet 16 without wanting to shake a fist at American greed. There are those who will listen to Exodus’s Shovel Headed Kill Machine and cry about how it sounds exactly like Tempo of the Damned. These are the same whiny little bitches who will masturbate to Opeth’s new album and stain their fluffy white comforters before their moms knocks on their door to tell ‘em it’s their night to wash the dishes. Pathetic. There are also those who will argue that this is no longer Exodus. How can this be Exodus when only two existing members from Tempo of the Damned took part in its recording? Gary Holt IS Exodus, numb nuts! Just ask your friends complaining about how similar this album is to Tempo. How could this be a new band if it sounds exactly like Tempo? Make no mistake; Shovel Headed Kill Machine will pummel your eardrums ‘till they bleed. In fact, if those whiny bitches played this album instead of Ghost Reveries, they probably wouldn’t hear from their moms for weeks. Of course, the white comforter would suffer the same result, but at least they wouldn’t have to take out the trash for a while.
I am not here to give you a lesson in Metal 101, but I can tell you that thrash is not about progression. Thrash is about piercing vocals that could shatter the thickest of glass, catchy rhythm work, and insane, throat-ripping solos. If you didn’t sign up for at least two of those three, don’t bother arguing with me about this album. From the crushing opener, “Raze,” to the lightning quick title track, Holt and crew are unrelenting in their pursuit to produce Satan’s soundtrack. Sure, the guitar duo of Holt & Hunolt is no more, but Holt and Lee Altus of Heathen fame don’t miss a beat in forging a style of thrash mayhem all their own. On “Deathamphetamine” the two trade licks as if they were attached at the hip from birth. Holt’s signature style is all over this album, from the stellar solo a little over five minutes into the aforementioned track to the anthemic sensibility of tracks like “Shudder to Think,” which might as well be the sequel to Tempo’s “Culling the Herd.” Name an old fart more inspired to produce quality metal than Gary Holt and you’re promised as many virgins as you can find in heaven, young martyrs.
Rounding out the rest of Exodus’s new members are drum god Paul Bostaph of Slayer fame, who replaces founding father Tom Hunting, and Rob Dukes, who snatches the mic from veteran Steve Souza, who, for all we know, has made a career of playing benefit shows. No one worried about Bostaph. We all knew that he was going to validate his status as a metal deity, and if he contributed anything to this album, it is its insane pace. However, Dukes is another story. Exodus asked for demos from as many vocalists wanting to replace Souza as possible, and they settled on their guitar tech? Oy vay. Worry not dirt-dwellers, for Dukes is as good a replacement as any. In fact, for those who complained that Souza was a bit over the top on Tempo, you’ll find that Dukes, who, in elementary terms, is a more subdued Souza, proves his worth with clean but strong vocals that in no way hint at a step toward modernity. These are still the same thrashers of the 80s. Well, at least Holt is still the same thrasher he was in the 80s.
If you liked Tempo, you will like Shovel Headed Kill Machine, but to say that they are one in the same would be falling short of the truth. Shovel Headed retains about three fourths of the groove Tempo established, but the speed, as Holt promised, has been brought up a few levels, perhaps a result of Bostaph’s presence. Thrash die-hards will want to pick this up on its release date, because every day with this album is one less day of modern metal suckage. Come to think of it, with the release of Deceased’s As the Weird Travel On, Municipal Waste’s Hazardous Mutation, and now Exodus’s excellent eulogy to euphoria, 2005 has been a kind year to thrash.
posted on 9/2005 By:
The 2001 death of vocalist Paul Baloff threatened to bring Exodus’s latest reunion attempt to a screeching halt. Determined to honor his memory by completing their first album of new material in over a decade, the band welcomed back Baloff’s successor, Steve “Zetro” Souza to fill the vocalist slot, and in 2004 unleashed Tempo of the Damned on an unexpecting public. The album saw Exodus performing with a ferocity not heard since their Bonded by Blood debut, and ended up on many a Top 10 list for that year, including the Metal Maniacs Readers Poll.
Things have changed quite a bit in the past 18 months. Souza abruptly quit (or was unceremoniously fired) on the eve of a tour of Mexico, which later saw the band utilize Exhumed’s Matt Harvey and Skinlab’s Steev Esquivel to fulfill their obligations (and would go on to fill the spot through a U.S. tour with Megadeth, save for one magical night in SF with Testament’s Chuck Billy). Drummer Tom Hunting was forced to step down due to recurring health problems, and longtime guitarist Rick Hunolt also departed in order to focus on his family life. With guitarist Gary Holt and bassist Jack Gibson the only holdovers from Tempo, they quickly recruited drummer Paul Bostaph (ex-Slayer/Forbidden/Testament), guitarist Lee Altus (Heathen), and newcomer vocalist Rob Dukes to lay down the tracks for its successor, the aptly titled Shovel Headed Kill Machine. The album brings with it three big questions: 1) Can Dukes live up to the legacy of his predecessors, 2) How have all these changes affected the band’s sound, and 3) How does a band follow up an album as mighty as Tempo of the Damned? Read on for the answers.
Exodus is out to prove a point here, and that is that they and they alone are the reigning kings of thrash metal. In a nutshell, point taken and proven. This album is even heavier, faster, and more venomous than the one before it. Gary Holt is simply a demon on the guitar, delivering these riffs with unbelievable intensity and precision. The opening riffs of “Raze” and the solos on “Deathamphetamine” alone will have you on the floor, and there’s still eight tracks to go! Bostaph brings an already impressive drum sound to a new level which has to be heard to be understood, and Altus is well on his way to making people cease to grieve Hunolt’s departure. Meanwhile, Rob Dukes proves his worth with a sound vaguely reminiscent of those who came before him, but with a style and urgency all his own.
What I’ve always liked about Exodus isn’t just their ability to lay waste to your eardrums with breakneck speed, but also how strong the songwriting is at any tempo (no pun intended). The mid-paced “Shudder to Think” is damn infectious with a simple main riff and nary a sign of anything fancy, and still stands out as one of the album’s stronger tracks. “I Am Abomination” brings the speed back and serves as a nice bridge to the 7+ minute “Altered Boy”, a scathing attack on the Catholic church scandals which may lyrically be the best track here.
The breakneck speed that marked the album’s opening tracks returns on “Now Thy Death Day Come”, and will remain for the rest of the album. “44 Magnum Opus” and the closing title track are, put simply, devastating, with the latter track being described by Holt as “one of the fastest Exodus songs ever”. That point would be hard to argue, but it also has a slowed-down, heavy-as-hell midsection that will give your neck a break (no pun intended, again) in between the faster stuff.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of this one, but after a couple of listens, I was hooked. Despite all the personnel changes and internal drama, Exodus hardly misses a beat on their latest effort, which more than holds its own against its predecessor, and anything else in their back catalog for that matter (yes, even the mighty debut). This will easily find its way onto my top ten list for the year. So, in case you missed it, let me answer those three questions from earlier: 1) hell yes, 2) only for the better, and 3) with an album as mighty as Shovel Headed Kill Machine.
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Exhibit B: The Human Condition
Shovel Headed Tour Machine (Live At Wacken And Other Atrocities)
Let There Be Blood
The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A
Tempo of the Damned