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Some albums get built up to be way more than what they actually are by virtue of who the band is, while other albums get put down as absolute flops for the same reason. But Exodus received a rare honor upon their reformation, with Zetro back at the helm, and managed to release an album that managed to do both at the same time. The resulting equilibrium between greatness and failure manifests itself as an unapologetic exercise in thrash modernity, making little pretense about trying to relive a glorious past steeped in the 80s tradition of the San Francisco Bay Area. In other words, Exodus returned to the stage with all the youthful vigor of their former incarnation with the same lineup, but painted over it with something of a middle-aged exterior by virtue of the stylistic direction chosen.
To put it one plainly, "Tempo Of The Damned" is a gray affair after the likes of late 90s Overkill and Pantera when it rides in mid-tempo, and generally resembles the comeback albums of their California compatriots Heathen and Death Angel when driving forth at full speed. Zetro's vocals have taken on a much nastier and more nasally character that is heavily reminiscent of the modern sleaze-bag shriek of Blitz Ellsworth, though a little more throaty and not quite as exaggerated. This approach tends to work well with the stripped down, repetitive character of the riffing style that is employed, which really isn't all that different from the pounding, somewhat overproduced character of this era's follow up album "Shovel Headed Kill Machine". In fact, were it not for Zetro's wicked snarls on such laid back groove-mongers like "Blacklist" and "Forward March" (the latter sounds like it was partially lifted off of "Bloodletting"), these songs would fall absolutely flat for the slow and minimal amount of musical activity.
While at times this album really feels like its about to cut loose and go along a route of absolute ass-kicking in the mold of more recent Overkill albums ("Ironbound"), something always seems to drag this thing back down to earth rapidly. "Scar Spangled Banner" has all the makings of a skull-pulverizing metallic machine from ear-destroying riff work and multiple tempo switches, but the overly processed drum sound and almost digital guitar chug gives more of a "Far Beyond Driven" feel, complete with the needlessly profane tough guy posturing in the lyrics. "Sealed With A Fist" and "Throwing Down" pretty well descend into full out groove mode, and barely manage to stay interesting when Zetro isn't wailing away. The final 2 songs see a return to a more thrash-infused riffing approach and an abandonment of the Phil Anselmo lyrical worship, and this time the riff work manages to be busy and more in line with the brilliance of their 80s work, though still communicated through a modern production.
This isn't the sort of album that inspires outright excitement, but it does have more things going for it than its harshest critics might suggest. It's almost as if Gary Holt and the others wanted to mash every era of modern post-thrash metal that they missed out on between 1992 and 2003 into this thing, and the result is an album that listens like its stuck in two different eras, neither of them anywhere near what those hoping for a sequel to "Bonded By Blood" would expect, though something along that line has been done a couple times with varying success among younger revivalist bands. Then again, this is the sort of album that Machine Head might aspire to if Robb Flynn decided to stick to his guitar and hire a capable vocalist.