Fire & Damnation
posted on 4/2012 By:
Cult-classic German thrashers Exumer seemed forever destined to be a footnote in thrash metal history. Debuting in 1986 with Possessed By Fire, Exumer occupied a middle ground between the German giants Kreator and Destruction and the American sounds of Slayer and Exodus. Fire was a sloppy diamond in the rough, a fun little record that never quite caught hold, and fortune eluded our heroes. Bassist/vocalist Mem von Stein departed, and the band struggled through one more record before taking a quarter century off. But here they are, back again, returning for record number three, with von Stein returning and only longtime guitarist Ray Mensh held over from the original band.
Stylistically, Fire & Damnation still falls between Germany and the US, between Exodus and Kreator, though now far closer to the American side than to the Teutonic. The new three-fifths of Exumer is made up of competent players, but in trading weakest-link original drummer Syke Bornetto for the much more solid Matthias Kassner, Exumer also lost a large part of the ramshackle charm that characterized Possessed By Fire. The production is stout and slick, in line with the modern sound, but even in that, Exumer loses something intangible. Von Stein’s semi-intelligible growl suffers against the cleaner, clearer backing tracks – given the chaotic Germanic clattering of Possessed, his vocals seemed far more feral and ferocious than they do here, where the growl often only sounds thin and by-the-numbers.
What ultimately extinguishes Fire & Damnation is a lack of spark in the songwriting – each of these ten tunes is respectable and unspectacular modern thrash, with straightforward riffing and little in the way of surprises or distinguishing factors. One track from Possessed By Fire (“Fallen Saint”) gets an update, as does one from the von Stein-free follow-up, 1987’s Rising From The Sea (“I Dare You”). Neither stands out here, even given their new shine, and few of the new tunes capture the band’s early fire either. Aside from some fun but forgettable soloing, most of Fire & Damnation thrashes by and disappears, neither so good nor bad as to be memorable, and Exumer’s return shows them right back where they started – in the second tier. There’s little going wrong – it's all performed admirably, albeit facelessly – but there’s little going anywhere, except right along the well-worn path already paved by the bigger names.
In the current glut of thrashers both new and old peddling similar sounds, only the most ardent thrasher needs another, slightly lesser version of the same old thing, and Exumer circa 2012 is both still stuck in the shadow of its bigger peers and now in the shadow of itself when it was twenty five years younger. And so a footnote a footnote remains…
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