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A Pleasure Indeed - 85%

DawnoftheShred, February 26th, 2010

Though Bonded by Blood is historically THE Exodus record to worship, I’ve always felt it was the testament of a band just shy of their full potential. I mean, lose that maniac on vocals and sharpen the axes, so to speak, and the boys could really start to cook. Proof? Pleasures of the Flesh, the first album with Steve “Zetro” Souza on vocal duties, while not as resounding a classic as the band’s debut, is a tighter, meaner production that stands at least as tall, if not a few inches above its predecessor.

Souza’s presence is the most obvious improvement over BbB. Though not yet performing at his peak, his distinctive vocals are as much a trademark of the Exodus sound as Holt’s energetic riff attack, the gang vocals, and the dueling leads. He also adds the option of occasional melody, something Baloff was not attuned to, which makes an immeasurable difference for tracks like “Seeds of Hate” and “Chemi-Kill.” Not to slight Baloff though, as a lot of the lyrics on this album must still be credited to him and they’re a bit more varied and interesting than his earlier work, though admittedly less violent.

Musically, we find the logical maturation of the raw elements displayed so excellently on Bonded by Blood. The fast tracks are more devastating and the riffs tend to be a bit more atonal/ascalar, as evidenced by the jagged chromatic lines of “Deranged” or the accurately titled “Faster Than You’ll Ever Live to Be.” There’s a greater emphasis on slower passages and mid-paced songs, the latter of which would be their Achilles’ heel as they plunged into the 90’s. But here the songs are more calculated, more memorable, and never feel drawn out or boring. “Til Death Do Us Part” and “Brain Dead” are the kind of instantly moshable material that Exodus does best, while “Chemi-Kill” has an interesting clean bit that recurs throughout the song that calls to mind Metal Church’s “Method to Your Madness.” And the title track, nice fucking riff! That exotic, serpentine series of notes that begins the song proper (and comes back with a vengeance throughout) carries the band through one of the best songs they’ve ever done. Listen to the way the second guitar harmonizes around the main theme, the notes wrapping around one another like a python strangling another fucking python. Goddamn electric. It is sequences like this that make me listen to thrash in the first place (thou doth not choose to listen to thrash metal, thrash makes you listen to thrash metal).

Other improvements include the overall production, which is more even and professional (although it’s sometimes hard to hear the bass drum, see “Parasite.” Either Hunting’s playing a weird ass beat or the drum volume should have come up). The guitar solos are also far more memorable than on the debut, the H-team starting to live up to the silly nickname they’ve given themselves. Come back next album though, ‘cause they’ve really done it there.

Anyway, on the surface, Pleasures of the Flesh surpasses Bonded by Blood in most conceivable ways. Unfortunately, it’s also the first Exodus album to be stricken by dumb ideas, something Bonded had no time for in its manic frenzy. In this case, it’s a bunch of pointless, overly long intro sequences. There’s that long babbling Jack Nicholson sound-alike to start off the album, that shorter, buzzy thing before “Parasite,” and nearly a minute of tribal drumming before the title track. All of which serve as nothing more than time wasters between riffs. Even “30 Seconds” (which the CD proves is more like 40 seconds), nice though it is, continually gives the impression that Gary Holt only threw it on the album so that his Mum wouldn’t think all of those classical guitar lessons went to waste in light of all the noisy tomfoolery him and his pals seemed to prefer. The album would have done just as well without these little distractions and I would have less to complain about; a win-win.

In the end though, I can’t really say I prefer it over BbB. I’ve probably listened to it more over the last five years, but each album has its strengths and weaknesses. If you like one, you’ll probably find the other complementary.

Highlights: “Pleasures of the Flesh,” “Seeds of Hate,” “Faster Than You’ll Ever Live to Be”