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Uh Oh, Now They're Super Cereal - 52%

DawnoftheShred, March 26th, 2011

I am of the persuasion that the unholy Exodus have never failed to produce a good studio album; even filler laden Force of Habit and modernized Shovel-Headed Kill Machine had more than enough merits to earn their badge of quality. However with The Atrocity Exhibition, Exodus break precedent by producing something that can’t really be called a good album. But to be fair, they’ve also produced something that can’t really be called an Exodus album. Yeah, I know what it says on the cover, but I also know what it sounds like, and Exodus it surely isn’t. Instead, you get the feeling that Gary Holt has long been bitter about playing second fiddle to his more revered colleagues over in Anthrax and Metallica and, with a mostly new lineup in tow for his aging thrash project, has finally decided to take a serious stab at the limelight. Holt promised a modern masterpiece; what he’s delivered is essentially a rebranding of Exodus as a modern metal act.

And what, dear friends, is more celebrated in the modern metal world (in the mainstream, not the underground) than the world-(in)famous Gothenburg sound and its close cousin metalcore? Not that this is a total conversion or anything; in fact, on a superficial level it is very much what one could expect a new Exodus album to sound like. The guitars, despite being tuned lower than one would prefer, have the same murderous crunch that pretty much every Exodus album has managed to provide and at least a few of the riffs (see: the early guitar break in “Funeral Hymn” and the unmistakable one in the middle of “Iconoclasm”) are indigenous to Holt’s usual sonic landscape. There’s also a veritable slathering of guitar solos worthy of the names Holt and Altus; again, as should be expected. But in general, the style of riffing is quite different from Holt’s thrashtastic forte, emphasizing chunky dissonant chords and disparate sludge over his signature no-nonsense battery. Some of the melodic aspects are completely foreign: I challenge you to play the intro bit “A Call to Arms” to an unexposed Exodus fan and have them correctly guess what it is they’re listening to. I hear more elements of Soilwork, Lamb of God, Trivium, or The Haunted in this than anything else, and though that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you dig any of said artists, it’s a bit discouraging if you, like me, were expecting it to sound like Exodus. The logical followup to Shovel-Headed Kill Machine? This strays from that path, assuredly.

The worst departure, however, is the general attitude of the record. Since Rob Dukes’ arrival as Exodus’ lead verbal propagandist, it is quite clear that Holt has used him as a catalyst to mold the band after Dukes’ harsher, more ‘extreme’ if you will, vocal approach. As such, the band has taken upon itself a darker atmosphere, begging to be taken seriously after comical mishaps (though I certainly wouldn’t call all of them mishaps) of the past decade such as “The Toxic Waltz” or their rather silly cover songs. The result, naturally, is on par with other ‘modern’ metal lyrical standards and an atrocious drop in entertainment from the riotous lyrical insights of Tempo of the Damned. Here, Holt and Dukes achieve a result somewhere in between modern Slayer and modern Megadeth. Religion = bad. Politicians = bad. Yeah, message received. It’s the same old song and dance thrash and plenty of heavy metal in general has been advocating for decades, in brutally detailed but redundant fashion. No one needs to hear another anti-Iraq war song, and despite a gutsy (but resoundingly intolerant) stab at Islam (“Children of a Worthless God,” a title that’s weakly adapted from a much better song by a much better band), not a single lyrical passage proves to be original or enjoyable. And if lyrical ‘maturity’ wasn’t the ultimate proof of their newfound super seriousness, they’ve even scrapped the ol’ Exodus gang vocals. A blasphemous work indeed, oh Atrocity Exhibition!

But honesty always prevails in this reviewer’s work, and with that, I must admit that the musical presentation isn’t as unpleasant as the band’s lack of spirit might imply. The overall sound is extremely heavy (as modern productions go) and there’s a surprising amount of fast passages, if not explicitly thrashy ones. The return of Tom Hunting is welcome and bassist Jack Gibson actually gets a good slice in the mix. And remarkably, for the album’s extremely lengthy song format (four songs hovering around the eight minute mark and one cresting the ten), it’s not nearly as much of a drag as it could have been, save some lengthy mid-paced plodding (one of the few Exodus traditions honored here, and a most unfortunate one at that). And Rob Dukes really isn’t the worst guy out there. On the Derrick Green Scale of Shitty Replacement Vocalists, Dukes only measures approximately 0.5 Derrick Greens (where a measurement of 1.0 Derrick Greens is equal to being Derrick Green (the horror!) and a measurement of less than 0.05 is very unlike Derrick Green, the ideal). His clean singing is painful, but that’s limited to “Children of a Worthless God” and his generic hardcore shout/rasp is at the very least enthusiastic. And again, the solos are worthy and the overall songs are listenable, if not particularly entertaining (save “Riot Act,” if you and your friends are in the mood for a good old-fashioned game of Find the Downbeat). "Iconoclasm" might be considered a highlight.

I guess in the end, it’s not so much that it’s an awful Exodus album as it’s an awfully different Exodus album. You know, the kind that divides an older fanbase against a younger one or a seasoned, change-fearing thrasher-type against a more open-minded fan willing to let an old band try out a new sound. In comparison to the bands I’ve mentioned above (that shamelessly suck on the cock of the generic melo-death sound), The Atrocity Exhibition slays and could very well be up your alley, oh purveyor of the new-school. But it’s not for me, and if you revere the Exodus that once was, it probably isn’t for you either.