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For the follow-up to 2004’s Tempo of the Damned, band leader and main songwriter Gary Holt substituted almost his entire supporting cast, bringing in two Metal all-stars in drummer Paul Bostaph and guitarist Lee Altus, as well as a fairly unknown singer called by the name of Rob Dukes. We all know what Bostaph and Altus can do on their respective instruments (the drumming on Shovel is particularly stellar), and Dukes ain’t no slouch either. His voice is pretty similar to Zetro’s, maybe not quite as instantly recognizable, but still very solid – the guy is definitely a worthy addition to the line-up.
However, Exodus have always been primarily Gary Holt’s baby, and Shovel Headed Kill Machine proves it: despite the radical overhaul in the personnel department, this album is the logical continuation of its predecessor, and it’s still 100% Exodus.
In terms of songwriting and production, this isn’t much different from Tempo, with the exception that Shovel is overall faster and more aggressive. It seems like with Tempo, Gary first had to reassure himself that he could still do it before he could accomplish the solid slab of Thrash that is Shovel. The new album simply sounds tighter and more self-confident, whereas Tempo often sounded a bit too restrained for my taste and also had some filler material.
There are no actual weak songs on Shovel, everything sounds very homogeneous from start to finish. The only downside is that there are no instant “hits” this time, no songs that really stand out from the rest. Whereas Tempo had instant favorites like “War Is My Shepherd” or “Blacklist,” Shovel is a record that has to be listened to in its entirety to be really appreciated. Anyway, the extra speed and ferocity easily make up for the lack of catchiness.
The production is yet again very crisp and heavy, although I do have a minor bone to pick with the guitars – they sound a bit too low, a bit too down-tuned for my taste. This is particularly noticeable on “Altered Boy,” but it’s really the whole album that would have benefitted from a less modern, more “traditional” guitar sound. Apart from that little flaw, though, the production is pretty much impeccable.
The bottom line is that Shovel Headed Kill Machine is a highly recommendable Thrash album. For those who were a bit disappointed by the prevalence of slower songs on Tempo of the Damned, the added speed and aggression on Shovel – for further evidence, see (among others) “Raze,” “Karma’s Messenger,” “Going Going Gone,” and the title track – is exactly what the doctor prescribed.
Choicest cuts: “Raze,” “Deathamphetamine” (eight-and-a-half minutes long, but never gets boring), “Karma’s Messenger,” “Shudder to Think” (the catchiest song to be found here, very reminiscent of “Blacklist” from Tempo of the Damned), “Going Going Gone,” and “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” (now this is really fast…); even the bonus track of the digipack version, “Purge the World,” is quite excellent…