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Like several other "legendary" bands, my first experience with Exodus was when they released a new album, that being "Shovel-Headed Kill Machine." Nearly every review that I read said that this was "a return to thrash roots" or "as good as their older material," which I foolishly believed. This belief actually led me to putting off purchasing the older Exodus albums because I assumed that they were all this bad (I later heard some old Souza and Baloff material and realized the error of my ways).
So why is this album so bad? Several things. The biggest is the production; Andy Sneap mixed the album but the production is handled by Holt, as opposed to "Tempo of the Damned" which was produced by Sneap. The change in sound is instantly perceptible; the bass is in the forefront, a major gaffe because not only does the bass sound terrible, Jack Gibson does nothing remotely interesting on his instrument. In fact, he actually hurts songs like “Deathamphetamine” with that overstated sound.
Also, the rhythm guitars are tuned poorly, down-tuned far more than necessary. It certainly doesn’t help that the riffs, ranging from groove-sounding slow to moderately fast, are incredibly bland. Certainly nothing that hasn’t been done before, and when it was done before, it was much more attention-grabbing. There are really only two riffs that I can remember being worthwhile, one after the solo in “Deathamphetamine” and one in the middle of “Now Thy Death Day Come.” The fast parts in “Raze” and “.44 Magnum Opus” are nice, but nothing special. Even the fast opening and surprising break in the title track aren’t enough to save it.
And while Rob Dukes isn’t a terrible vocalist, he isn’t anything extraordinary either. He has an annoying habit of putting emphasis on the “ow” sound in any word such as “down,” “ground,” or “around.” And the lyrics are atrocious; yeah Zetro’s lyrics weren’t much better, and were filled with puns much worse than “Deathamphetamine,” but he sang them with such conviction that they were actually enjoyable. Dukes is just too one-dimensional and lacks any sort of personality other than tough-guy yelling.
The only two positive aspects of this album are the lead guitar and the drumming. Gary Holt and Lee Altus are spectacular soloists, and pretty much every song contains a lead by both of them. We all know Paul Bostaph from his days doing a fantastic job taking over for Dave Lombardo in Slayer, and here his performance is just as impressive. His drumming, while fast and technical, also has a sort of spontaneity that is lacking in many other modern drummers.
Unfortunately, these two highlights are not enough to justify the purchase of this album. Yeah, it’s Exodus and yeah it isn’t nu-metal, but this album is disappointing all the same. Don’t listen to all the ass-kissers who rate this album highly, because they are dead wrong. Download the first two tracks if possible, but save your money for something more worthwhile.