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Good Friendly Violent Thrash - 85%

DawnoftheShred, February 26th, 2010

Bonded by Blood is legendary in thrash circles because it is from the old-guard of thrash albums, back when things like technicality, accessibility, and eclecticism were of little importance in the wake of rampant speed, aggression, and pure musical extremity, not to mention hordes of riffs. It is one of the first true “thrash” albums, having shed enough NWOBHM and speed metal influence to stand on its own as something new and distinct and, with the help of several other key albums from this period, outline the style as a whole. It and its immediate sequels are also among the most widely plagiarized albums among new millennium thrashers, whose attempts to imitate the raging, painfully raw, poseur-hunting anthems pioneered here are pale at best. It is also a load of fun; an ideal album to party to, drink heavily to, piss on your neighbor’s porch and fistfight his dog to. You get the idea. It’s good stuff.

Generally speaking, this is as no-nonsense as thrash metal gets. Edgy guitars deliver heavy riffs at maximum volume and tempo with furious percussive accompaniment. There’s that ominous intro, and the random classical guitar prelude to “No Love,” but otherwise it’s all riffs, all the time. It’s a dash primitive, what with a certain sloppiness in the production and delivery, but it’s so chock full of memorable bits that you can’t help but love it anyway. Gary Holt has thrash songwriting down to a winning formula: “two parts riffs to no parts bullshit. Solo frequently and serve immediately.” Speed is a key factor, and overt melody is all but excised like the innocent victims so ruthlessly splattered in the lyrics, with the triumphant chorus of “Metal Command” being an unexpected exception. Kind of a holdover from their earlier, less brutal incarnation, it is songs like the title track and “A Lesson in Violence” that really pushed thrash in a more lethal direction, somehow being incredibly anthemic all the while. “I’ll teach you a lesson in violence you won’t soon forget, the pleasure of watching you die is what I will get!” Yeah, you’ll be howling along with that one for sure. “Strike of the Beast” goes even further still, singeing the ear hair of anyone within range with its furious riff onslaught.

However it is when speed is restrained that Exodus truly reign supreme. “And Then There Were None” and “Piranha” are mid-paced thrash defined, while tracks like “No Love” and “Deliver Us to Evil” position slower passages more evenly against speedy ones to create more involved compositions. These latter two are the template for the types of songs that would come to dominate during the Souza years. Speaking of individual songs, one random neat thing about the album is that the songs are in a variety of keys: “Piranha” is in G, “Metal Command” is in A, “A Lesson in Violence” is in B, “Strike of the Beast” is in F (I think), etc. A little thing, but it might just be one of the reasons these songs are a bit more memorable than your run-of-the-mill, E-til-death bands. Just saying. Other things worth mentioning are the emphasis on gang vocals, which seem like they’re in every song and would come to be a trademark of this band.

But while it is not uncommon for Bonded by Blood to be heralded as one of the greatest thrash albums ever, I’m usually not too quick to join in the refrain. There’s the certain matter of one Paul Baloff at the mic that dethrones this album in my book. Kicked out of the band shortly after this release for his inability to deliver his lines on time, his shrieking, rabid dog growl is both a perfect vehicle for the lyrical violence and an impediment to the band functioning as a cohesive whole. His vocal energy is contagious in a live setting, but in a studio, bathed with a ridiculous amount of reverb, his efforts are relegated to the weaker end of the spectrum. And with the wit and savagery of Steve Souza right around the corner, Baloff’s performance could easily be forgotten. Additionally, while Rick Hunolt and Gary Holt shred all over this thing, none of the lead guitar moments are particularly memorable either. And while I’m in a wishing mood, I guess I’d prefer a more polished production too.

But faults aside, Bonded by Blood is still packed with classics and anyone interested in thrash metal should have the opportunity to hear it. It’s not one of my favorites, but most of this site’s reviewers would think me mad for saying so. But I’m saying it anyway, so take it as you will.

My Picks: “And Then There Were None,” “Piranha,” “Strike of the Beast”