The banner of discontent flies high.
Long breaks in output can often signal a career that is winding down, but nothing could be further from the truth in the case of Bay Area thrash metal pioneers Exodus if the latest studio installment of their 40 years plus career is any indication. With a little over 7 years having passed since the triumphant return of iconic front man Steve “Zetro” Souza and the pummeling return to thrashing form that was 2014’s “Blood In, Blood Out” it would be rightly assumed that the urge to render the collective spine of the masses into confetti via a pummeling auditory assault would be reaching a fever pitch in the minds of this mad quintet. True to form, the hour-long foray of unfettered aggression that is 2021’s “Persona Non Grata,” this outfit’s eleventh studio LP, is a beast to be reckoned with, though also one that balances out frenzied fits of sonic violence at ramming speed with a methodical sense of structure and needed respites into more measured territory that goes with crafting a masterwork.
Keeping to the frenetic spirit that typified the sub-genre at its early 80s inception, this fold goes about their business with the level of speed and fury normally exhibited by bands half their age, showcasing from where the likes of Warbringer and Havok take their cues. The thunderous battery of kit maestro and co-founder Tom Hunting lays the foundation with the precision of a master architect and the explosive energy of a fusion reactor, while the raunchy and glassy bass work of Jack Gibson augments the highly percussive character of the arrangement and sits high in the mix. Likewise, the twin guitar assault of veteran riff machine Gary Holt and Heathen’s six-string solider Lee Altus amounts to a relentless cacophony of punchy hooks and flashy virtuoso solos that can rival any of the shred fests that adorned the classics of the 80s. And at the center of it all stands Zetro in all of his maddened, snarling glory, delivering the lyrical refrains of malcontent in a timbre resting somewhere between the raving heights of Bobby Ellsworth and the deeper growls of Chuck Billy.
From the very onset of this extended kill session, this Bay Area mainstay doesn’t pull any punches, and often throws caution to the wind with maximum payoff. The opener and title song “Persona Non Grata” takes the concept of concise speeder meant to warm up the listener and stretches it into a massive, 7-minute-long epic colossus of busy riffing, barely human vocalizations and a chaotic foundation provided by the rhythm section that is comparable to the more intense moments on 2004’s “Tempo Of The Damned.” This highly ambitious blend of early thrash energy with latter day elaboration is not an anomalous occurrence either, as near equally swift and complex excursions into longer territory such as the closing crusher “Antiseed” and the vertebrae-destroying 8 minute monster “Lunatic-Liar-Lord” round out the high points of this album’s latter half. In a sense, one could argue that these more developed and multifaceted offerings represent the same ideal that the style sought after in the early 90s via albums like “Rust in Peace” and “Victims Of Deception,” namely a balance of high-impact thrash fodder and a more nuanced and progressive sense of structure.
All the same, the lion’s share of this album consists of Exodus’ forte going back to the days of “Pleasures of the Flesh,” namely shorter bangers offered up at ludicrous tempos. The ultra-chaotic ode to media manipulation of the public “Clickbait” stands as one of the more ferocious offerings; showcasing a particularly riveting performance out of Tom Hunting that almost completely upstages the rest of the band. The punk-infused 3-minute ditty with a mouthful of a title “The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)” takes a somewhat tongue-in-cheek yet socially conscious stand on how the riots of 2020 played out, yet manages to throw in plenty of tasty guitar treats despite its more streamlined format. Other standout moments in what is basically a near flawless assembly line of top notch thrash fodder include the more blues-rocking yet still amped up thrill ride “R.E.M.F.” and the almost mid-paced and punchy protest banger “Elitist”, both of which carries some echoes of the groovier material of modern Overkill but seasoned with an even sweeter savor of guitar solo goodness.
In essence, this album amounts to a triumphant return to form wrapped in a gargantuan, ground-shaking production as only Andy Sneap can deliver. Though it initially comes off as a modern thrasher after the mold of “Tempo of The Damned” and “Blood In, Blood Out,” the level of musical ambition here is a cut above everything that has come out bearing the Exodus label since the 1980s. It might be a little bit of a stretch to put this in the exact same league as the seminal debut and game-changer that was “Bonded By Blood,” but this fits in perfectly with what came into the equation when Zetro initially came in to fill Paul Baloff’s shoes. Though some nostalgia hounds may continue to balk at the slicker and more compressed mixing practices that most of the older guard have adopted, the 2020s are proving to be a renaissance-like period for the greats of the 80s, and alongside the recent output of Testament and Heathen, Exodus have knocked it out of the park here.
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: November 19th, 2021
Genre: Thrash Metal
- Steve “Zetro” Souz / Vocals
- Gary Holt / Guitar
- Lee Altus / Guitars
- Jack Gibson / Bass
- Tom Hunting / Drums
“Persona Non Grata” track listing:
1. Persona Non Grata
3. Slipping Into Madness
5. Prescribing Horror
6. The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)
7. The Years Of Death And Dying
09. Cosa Del Pantano
11. The Fires Of Division
Thrash metal pioneers and masters of the craft Exodus take time off from their 7-year studio break to deliver a politically charged, adrenaline steeped, hour long sonic boot to the face of the competition to shake up the 2020s