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Playing terrible thrash - a "Force of Habit?" - 10%

jmack, July 24th, 2009

Occasionally, fantastic and even genre-breaking artists suffer major recorded missteps; some of these are sudden and unforeseen, others are part of a long progression of poor albums that may span several years. Great metal bands of all sub-genres have, at one time or another (or perhaps almost continuously for the better part of their careers) fallen victim to a bad album or string of records. Think about it: Metallica, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Napalm Death, Anthrax, Celtic Frost, In Flames, Carcass, Sepultura...heck, and that's just a short list comprised of a few more recognizable names. I prefer to scratch my head over what the heck happened to Katatonia, why Extol slowly decided black metal wasn't their thing anymore, or laughing with a few good friends about the attempted late nineties comeback of a certain unspecified glam metal band named after a particular mammal classified under the order "Rodentia." Come to think of it, it is nearly impossible to find a band who HASN'T suffered this specific pitfall, not taking into account the handful of bands not around long enough to screw up very badly.

Why am I going on about this? Because Exodus are, or at least were, a great band, who, while not revolutionary in every sense of the word were extremely influential in formulating not only the sound of classic bay area thrash but of metal in general. Kirk Hammett got his start with Exodus, "Bonded By Blood," while arriving a little late on the scene (in LP form, at least...rumor has it that any true metal head worth his denim jacket already had a copy of it on tape long prior to it's "vinyl incarnation") was a landmark record with all the elements of that classic thrash sound, and the band was comprised of some great musicians. That being said, "Force Of Habit" is an absolutely terrible album.

Now, to be fair, the 1992 incarnation of Exodus has already weathered plenty of storms since the early 80's, and this must be taken into account. The loss of Paul Baloff, the stress associated with being on a major label, the band's admitted drug problems, and the passage of time and musical tastes; all in all, this was not the same Exodus.

First and foremost, I am personally of the humble opinion that things REALLY went downhill with the loss of the aforementioned Mr. Baloff, and Steve Sousa is without a doubt the number one reason this album is laughably awful. Sousa's "delivery" for lack of better or more civilized terminology, has been described several (hundred) times by myself as being a mixture between a bored, high school science teacher and a middle aged man who has smoked one too many cigarettes. He literally croaks like a frog, and his attempts to sing in tune with the music are cringe-inducing. After hearing this album, a good friend of mine jokingly stated that Exodus had swept the finals in his list of the top ten worst vocal performances of all time, "placing first, second, and third."

Moving on from what is, simply put, an embarrassing aspect to this record, take a look at what Sousa is whining about. Many of these songs are funnier than an eight dollar trip to the movies for the latest comedy film and simply must be read to be believed. The pinnacle of absolute idiocy is the title track, a song chronicling the mental state of a compulsive thief attempting to make the argument that, "it wasn't me, yeah you know it wasn't me. It must have been someone who looked like me!" However, my personal favorite being "When it Rains it Pours," with it's tale of an unfortunate individual who has the luck of, well, this band; and I quote:

"So I'm sittin' in a cell for 48 hours,
Keepin' company with thieves and drunks;
I'm free to go but my car's impounded,
and I'm thinkin' 'bout becoming a monk;
So I'm wandering around in a catatonic daze,
now barely a shell of a man;
I look like I live out of a shopping cart,
and I'm picking up aluminum cans"

That's just the vocals.

Gary and Rick were known in their eighties heyday for being one of thrash metal's best guitar teams, embodying the genre with a knack for frenetic, fractured leads, and most importantly, fast, grooving riffing that made you bang your head (even against the stage, in some cases) and absolutely assaulted the senses. The riffing on "Force Of Habit" would possibly have been tolerable if the band had decided to play more than one riff per song. Literally. Once again, the title track comes to mind immediately. I could be hearing incorrectly here, but it seems like the entire song is one riff. There is simply no variation. The riffs presented here are nearly all mid-paced, plodding affairs that sound as tired and boring as this band that have jumped boldly over the self parody line. Occasionally, a respectable, or dare I say interesting, lead or riff will pop up ("Me, Myself & I", "feeding Time at the Zoo") and many of the solos are enjoyable, but this is hardly excuses the rest of the records flaccid guitar playing and overly fuzzy production values(yeah, it sounds heavy when blasted through a car speaker, but is still not a great sound in my book).

Concerning the rhythm section, the bass is intelligible, but nothing worth mentioning in terms of playing ability or tone. Drummer John Tempesta is really the only noteworthy musical performer on this record, keeping things solid with some interesting and occasionally fancy stick work.

There are legitimately a few decent sections of this record, but as a whole it is an ugly abomination that eschews the greatness of the band's classic works. It is the sound of a tired, dirty old band content to rest on their ugly, drug-addled laurels, serving the rest of us with a "what not to do" manual for songwriting, as well as providing a viable, inexpensive source of entertainment, at least for those who find brainless lyricism and song writing amusing.