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The reunion albums of the lower tier Teutonic thrash acts have been a mixed bag at best, with Necronomicon, Vendetta and Accuser churning out more or less average works that placed the respective bands into a modern context without really capturing the excitement and edginess of their earlier efforts; and a handful of others like the obscure Wicca making a pretty decent account of themselves. Cult heroes Exumer took their sweet time in joining these ranks, having decided to continue the band in 2001 after over a decade of absence, but at long last their third outing Fire & Damnation has arrived, and through Metal Blade Records, making this one of the higher profile releases of its type. Obviously the band's much loved underground status played its hand in this signing, but I was actually hoping it was because they heard the record and thought it was a serious ass kicking.
Now, I've never been the hugest fan of Exumer to begin with. The debut Possessed by Fire was good for its day, though vastly overshadowed by the Metallica and Slayer masterworks that came out in '86, not to mention the other German efforts like Obsessed by Cruelty, Eternal Devastation or the amazing Pleasure to Kill. As for its follow-up, Rising from the Sea, I don't have much to say other than it felt like a sinking ship, derivative and uninteresting with riffs that into which almost as much effort was placed as in smoking a cigarette. The tracks I heard from the band's 2009 demo Waking the Fire seemed like at least an improvement from that album, if nothing standout or particularly exciting, and that about sum up Fire & Damnation. Don't get me wrong, this is hands down superior to anything the band has come up with in 26 years. A tight and admittedly energetic spectacle of pure thrash metal, with no bullshit 90s groove influences that have plagued some of their peers. They've even got the original bassist/vocalist Mem von Stein back, along with guitarist Ray Mensh. But I still felt a little underwhelmed...
Like a lot of comeback or reunion efforts, this album just seems more intent on resting on the laurels of its genre rather than continuing to hike forward. As if Exumer were just excited to write the same old riffs again under the relish of modern production standards and not attempt to draft up some magnum opus of memorable songwriting. Most of the guitar progressions here sound like a pretty average mesh of those Sodom, Kreator and Slayer have been scribing in the past decade, clearly hook oriented but lacking much staying power. I do like von Stein's vocal bite, especially where he manifests a more vicious and incendiary presence, but I've never found him to possess that same level of ruthless expression that characterized his better known countrymen Schmier, Angelripper or Petrozza. The leads here are blistering but unmemorable, the rhythm guitars solid as they rifle through various breakdown grooves, faster paced Slayer meets Artillery propulsion with tremolo ("Vermin of the Sky") or mid-gait Exodus moshing ("Fallen Saint"), but few of the riffs feel essential.
That said, the production on Fire & Damnation is pretty well handled. The guitars potent but never overbearing, the rhythm section tighter than a chastity belt. Exumer never try to sell themselves as a 'thrash' band with the needless, stupid lyrics and song titles that a lot of the annoying nostalgia punks use these days, and there is no question that they've got a mature outlook on the music of their own youths. Nowhere is this album insulting, trite or trendy, and the newer members fit in seamlessly with the veterans. The one thing that really held back my enthusiasm and enjoyment here was just the sense that I've just heard it all before and better, even from this very same band (on their debut). So, while it edges out some of the more recent fare from the groups I listed in my opening statement, and it's competent on most levels, Fire & Damnation just doesn't jab out with those barbed hooks and chorus sequences that defined the best of the thrash songs in the 80s (or any period). It's alright, just not exceptional.