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The 1990s, for all of their silver-linings, were defined by a period of death for most metal institutions, particularly in America. In turn, the demise of said decade brought about a rekindled interest in the old ways. Exodus was one of many classic 80s metal institutions that were resurrected in the 2000s thanks to a renewed interest in both thrash and traditional heavy metal. However, their resurgence came with a surprisingly high amount of 90s baggage, in much the same respect as Overkill (though they carried it fairly well and dropped much of it by the time "Killbox 13" came into being), and they came out sounding pretty damn similar to the groove infused mixed bags that were "From The Underground And Below", "Necroshine", and a few others from that period, minus a lot of the peripheral elements that made Overkill's version of grayness a little easier to digest.
When coupled with the exit of longtime front man Steve Souza and his replacement being a virtual unknown, the modern trappings that embody "Shovel Headed Kill Machine" put it at an immediate disadvantage. Rob Dukes brings very little to the table in terms of distinctiveness, as his mixture of gruff and nastiness has more in common with Anders Friden circa "Clayman" and a number of metalcore singers who've all but parroted In Flames' latter period. His work is adequate by modern standards, but generally listens like a one-dimensional affair in tough guy posturing rather than the multiple layers of angst and outrage that normally comes from a seasoned thrash vocalist. By the same token, while the riff work that dominates this album has a pretty strong affinity with the punchy and catchy nature of the late 80s Bay Area sound, the hyper-slick production and overloud guitar sound obscure it to the point that it listens largely like the follow up to "Reinventing The Steel" that never happened, even though it is actually more intricate than anything Pantera ever put out.
As with a number of modern thrash albums, things tend to work better the shorter and faster things are kept on here. Long, drawn out numbers with occasional glory moments like "Altered Boy" do a respectable job of playing up the groove factor in a reasonably multifaceted fashion, but it just drags on too long and the monotony of the vocal sound does little to help matters. Even "Deathamphetamine", which is more thrashing than groovy, just drags on too long and has too many low points to really beat the sense out of the hearer the way it should. The real strong points of this album are found on "Raze", "44 Magnum Opus" and the closing title track where things are kept short and the neck-wrecking mayhem remains constant. Even when the lyrics start to sound moderately retarded and the vocals start to grate like nails on a chalkboard, the speed factor and Holt's signature and inventive riff work manages to keep thing interesting.
The mixed reaction of praise and scorn heaped upon this album is among the more logical reactions regarding the actual nature of a thrash album over the course of the past 10 years. Even when casting aside the history and legacy of the Exodus name, this album is a mixed bag of stomping skulls into dust power when it's on its game, and just barely avoiding hypnotic overlong drudgery when it's off, and proves to be discount bin treasure for those looking for a complete Exodus collection and a worthy pickup for groove fans who didn't get enough of the 90s version of the style. Loyalists be warned; if consistency is a requirement, you may want to skip this one.