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The Exodus Attack - 45%

Juno_A, January 13th, 2021

For years, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the fervor behind this album. Bonded By Blood represents one of heavy metal’s most iconic records, a thrash classic beloved by many, and for the life of me, I cannot fathom why. Is it because thrash metal only had a handful of releases when this album dropped, thereby augmenting its status in heavy metal history by virtue of being one of the first thrash metal releases? Do fans consider the instrumentation on this album superior to many other bands at the time? Were there plenty of critics at the time praising it, inadvertently molding popular opinion in its favor? Granted, the album isn’t without merit, but judging by its highly revered nature amongst metalheads, I genuinely thought this album would match the quality, intensity, and complexity of Judas Priest’s Painkiller or even Megadeth’s Rust In Peace.

To begin, my biggest grievance with Bonded By Blood lies with its unremarkable nature. That’s right, I said it: This album sounds mundane to me thanks to a few elements. First, the melodies have little range – the riffing almost never leaves its mid-pitched station, creating a bunch of songs that sound similar even when listening closely. Second, average riff complexity also suffers due to many mid-tempo shifts in speed, and because Exodus doesn’t possess the melodic talent to differentiate the riffs better, the slower sections feel lazy compared to the faster parts. Third, even the faster riffs fail to raise my excitement because they sound lazy, too – Why does the opening riff to the title track have a short, but noticeable chunk dedicated to playing one note in between the other melodies? Like, that one note stands out so much because the melodies surrounding that note reach a complexity the rest of the riff doesn’t attain, and this problem appears many times on the album. I’m reminded of Metallica’s opener to Kill ‘Em All, “Hit the Lights,” where the riff structure and song composition resemble Exodus’ attempts on Bonded By Blood, except Metallica have more melodic range than Exodus, making for a more fun and interesting song in “Hit the Lights.”

Another issue I have with this album lies with its status as sacred cow. This is probably an unfair criterion with which to judge this album, but I’d be lying if I said my expectations didn’t play a major role in my reception to Bonded By Blood. Going into this album, I had expected thrash metal so technical, melodic, and substantial, I assumed I would renounce The Big Four in favor of Exodus. Instead, I received a bunch of music that all blends together in one humdrum package – I’ve heard brutal death metal and ambient stuff with more sonic variety than this album. I would chalk this up to a millennial failing to comprehend a past innovation, except just about every other major thrash band in the early 1980’s exhibited a unique quality throughout their debut releases: Metallica’s strength in Kill ‘Em All lies with interesting songwriting, Megadeth’s Killing Is My Business… contained technical ferocity, Show No Mercy from Slayer probably exhibited more melody than the rest of their career while still maintaining an aggressive sound, and Overkill’s Feel The Fire assumes a solid form meshing most of these elements together in one cohesive package. Bonded By Blood has little of anything for me. I don’t know if this counts as sacrilege, but I consider Feel The Fire superior to Bonded By Blood by having more melodic range and dynamic songwriting – at least Overkill doesn’t give me the impression they’re regularly dumbing down their abilities just to play easier riffs.

Tired yet of the pretense and cynicism of this review? You are? Sorry, I have some more criticisms, anyway: I’m not a fan of the soft acoustic guitar introducing “No Love” because it suggests a song with more melody and substance will follow, not to mention how the title doesn’t match the lyrics at all, even from a poetic standpoint. Speaking of lyrics, I understand I wasn’t a poetic master earlier in my life, but none of the lyrics seem inventive for a group of men in their 20’s (“Exodus” strikes me as especially sloppy with its lyrics because of its immature atmosphere regarding both content and construction). The final two notes of “Metal Command” do not match the melody that came before those notes, making for a incongruous and bizarre-sounding song finale. This next complaint could be my specific pressing of the CD I have, but “Strike of the Beast” cuts off a half-second after the final note, so it sounds as if the engineer sliced off the rest of the song to finish this album for release ASAP. No, seriously, my CD pressing of this album had the same issue as Metallica’s closer to … And Justice For All, “Dyers’ Eve,” where the album ends immediately after the final note, except Exodus’ own closing track ends even sooner, it feels like. I secretly hope my CD pressing is responsible for this issue, because the notion of someone sleeping on their job – or God forbid, approving this decision – seems unprofessional and/or woefully misguided to me.

Even the positive aspects of this album come accompanied with more elements that detract from my listening experience. For example, while I commend the technicality on display for most of the album, the music feels insubstantial somehow, as if the completed product doesn’t match the sum of its thrashing parts – I blame this on the lackluster melodies and compositions when compared to other major metal acts at the time. As a result of the underwhelming instrumentation, Paul Baloff stands out as the most effective member of the band on here thanks to his legendarily excitable performance, but as mentioned before, even I can’t ignore the poetic weakness of the lyrics. The riff arriving nearly 3 minutes into “And Then There Were None” has cemented a place in my long-term memory as the most enjoyable part of the album, but it has little edge typical of thrash metal and its pace means the album’s best part is non-representative of the end product. Finally – who approved that cover? I don’t mean the red-background cover my pressing came with, I mean the two-baby cover – I understand the concept, I guess, but I feel like this idea could have been conveyed more artistically, even for a debut record.

Even after all this, I have to give this album some credit for its technicality and production value: The instrumentation on Bonded By Blood comes across clear and showcases some decent talent, especially the guitar solos, percussion, and vocals. It’s just a shame that all the pieces don’t connect into a cohesive whole for me, as the musical elements on this album have been done better by other bands. Don’t get me wrong, the album is far from a disaster, but the best description I can give to Bonded By Blood is okay. This album is okay, if only because I’ve heard this kind of stuff done before and better – this album may have the benefit of releasing during the prime era for metal domination, but I can’t deny this album turned me off of Exodus. With music becoming more accessible, I may yet check out the rest of their discography someday, but for now, I’m gonna chalk this up as another album I just don’t get. You may like it, as many others did, but I sure didn’t.