EXODUS – Violent Breed
Metal Forces, Issue 9 (1985)
Exodus (l-r): Rick Hunolt, Ron McKillop, Tom Hunting, Paul Baloff and Gary Holt
San Francisco has long been reputed as the premiere stomping ground for American metalmeisters, and it’s no secret why Metallica abandoned their previous Los Angeles homestead in favour of Franciscan ‘terrortory’ so many celebrated years ago. Indeed, the San Francisco metal scene has reached such phenomenal proportions that headbanging is literally an epidemic, what with endless lines of denim ’n’ leather-clad cranium smashers anxiously congregating in front of such renowned metal club strongholds as The Stone, The Mab, and Ruthie’s Inn on an alarmingly regular basis. Inside such clubs, sweat-drenched hair and limbs collide during violent riff orgies where fanatical thrashing and stage diving are common practices. Certainly, it’s not a ritual for the health-conscientious or the faint of heart, and it’s undeniable that Franciscan bangers have a true penchant for violence, and violence is what current San Franciscan heavy metal death-dealers Exodus are all about. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt gives an example of typical San Franciscan heavy metal savagery: “Quite awhile back, we played a show at Ruthie’s Inn behind some really weak ‘rock’n’roll’ band – y’know, the kind where their crowd just stands at the front and drinks while they’re watching the show. By the time we got onstage, there were a bunch of beer glasses left on the front of the stage (from the previous band’s crowd), which our crowd proceeded to knock down and smash all over. The punters were all cut up by glass fragments, and by the end of the show there were literally puddles of blood on the stage! It was really classic.”
Exodus have actually been terrorising the San Franciscan club circuit for many a death metal moon. In fact, the band once boasted current Metallica string-strangler Kirk Hammett, and many of you vintage demo collectors out there have probably latched onto a copy of the first Exodus demo, recorded shortly after the band formed in 1981 and hosting such tracks as ‘Whipping Queen’, the melodically-inclined ‘Death And Domination’, and the riff-laden ‘Warlord’, a classic outing that remains one of the band’s most memorable numbers. In contrast to such current Exodus gnashings as ‘Piranha’ and ‘Strike Of The Beast’, the aforementioned demo seems very out-of-character, being much more melodic and leaning heavily towards the Judas Priest / Iron Maiden school of British riffs coupled with spiralling guitar harmonies.
The current Exodus, however, consists of veteran members Paul Baloff (vocals), Tom Hunting (drums), and Gary Holt (guitars), as well as late-comers Rick Hunolt (guitars) and Rob McKillop (bass), the latter two having joined the band after previous lineups promptly disintegrated. Their music is a vicious blend of blinding riffs, no-holds-barred vocals and frantically fast paces akin to the antics of Metallica and Slayer. However, the band’s style somehow comes across as a unique transition in death metal, able to sound crude and uncompromising, while retaining a distinct level of precision and pace. Having built themselves a reputation as the opening act that is impossible to follow, Exodus embody the spirit of San Franciscan heavy metal to the hilt. They’re not flashy, opting instead for a very unprententious “street” look. It’s this complete disregard for appearance or trendiness that has made Paul Baloff and company the most potent thrash unit to emerge from the West Coast since Metallica.
In looking back to the band’s early stints with Hammett at the helm, it seems that in retrospect Exodus were headed in a much different direction than they are currently pursuing: their music seemed undeveloped, without the blistering intensity that now envelopes the Exodus sound. Gary Holt is quick to agree with such an observation.
“Back in the days of the first demo,” declares Holt, “there wasn’t much around to be influenced by: Priest and Maiden were the norm, and that was basically the calibre of the stuff I listened to. However, our music is now so much more intense that our playing has to follow suit, a lot more over-the-top and out front, to compliment our sound.”
After Hammett left the band to join Metallica in 1983, however, the band underwent a series of transitions that seemed ultimately for the better, beginning for Exodus a new era of supersonic infamy.
“Back when Kirk was in the band,” reflects Holt, “he did the majority of the songwriting and I would quite often write riffs but Kirk was always reluctant to use them. He’d want to change them around and sort of turn them into his riffs. Once he’d left the band, Tom and I wrote ‘Strike Of The Beast’ and ‘No Love’ within two weeks, because we had the freedom to write stuff ourselves.
“As a guitarist, it forced me into the driver’s seat when Kirk left – I kinda needed it. I started concentrating on my playing more heavily.”
It shows. Holt’s frantic fretboard antics have become a staple in the Exodus assault, particularly evident on the band’s upcoming debut album, tentatively titled A Lesson In Violence, a ferocious iron smelting so brutal that it looks sure to take the crown for thrash outing of the year. It’s a non-stop death-banger audio orgasm from start to finish, dishing up some of the most potent thrash ’n’ bash since vintage Metallica. The band demonstrate their proficiency at utilising speed in such bionically fast gems as ‘Piranha’ and the cataclysmic closer, ‘Strike Of The Beast’, which could serve as the definitive thrash metal classic of all time. However, Exodus also show their mastery of more complex material such as the epic ‘Deliver Us To Evil’ and the doom-laden ‘No Love’, while revealing that today’s thrash metal merchants sometimes owe as much to Maiden’s twin-guitar antics and complex rhythm changes as they do to the influences of Metallica and Venom.
While Exodus’ musical directions and lyrics hint at a Satanic edge, Holt is quick to dismiss his band from the pentagram-wielding ranks of similar thrash outfits.
“People who interview me often ask if we’re a black metal band and I always tell them definitely not. We definitely have disgusting lyrics but they’re not all written in the same silly sense that so many other bands use them in. Most of our songs are more based around violence as opposed to Satanism. We live up to such an image in our ordinary lives as well; anyone who has ever been to one of our after-gig parties could tell you that.
“For instance, I have a piece of a Ratt shirt that Paul Baloff so thoughtfully cut off a poser’s back who disgraced himself at our after-gig party last night. He told me, ‘I don’t like that guy’s Ratt shirt. It’s our duty to destroy it!’ before coming up to the guy with a pair of scissors. He threatened to take the guy’s skin off with it unless he took off his shirt, which he eventually did. Paul’s not a very big Ratt fan, as you can see.
“One night there were a bunch of poseur tweets (San Franciscan slang for wimpy women) at our house. We wanted to freak them out, so we each cut ourselves and bled all over pieces of cloth which we then proceeded to smear all over ourselves. Later, we went to the fireplace and smeared soot all over us. It looked like we were wearing some kind of demonic war paint! We could never get those girls to leave, but believe me, they kept their distance!”
Such grisly tales are plentiful within the Exodus camp, as is gossip of other sorts, such as the controversy over Metallica’s use of certain Exodus riffs on their Ride The Lightning album: ‘Trapped Under Ice’ and ‘Creeping Death’ both host guitar riffs lifted from vintage Exodus fodder. Most of this has been seen as legitimate, taking to mind the fact that Kirk Hammett was in fact responsible for a great majority of such riff-writing. However, questions still abound. Holt gives his relatively unhostile views on the matter.
“The only thing that irks me isn’t the riffs, it’s four words: ‘Die by my hand’. Kirk did not ask me if he could use those lyrics. I wanted to write an all-new music version of ‘Dying By His Hand’ (the original song in which the notorious ‘Creeping Death’ chorus was first used), because I liked the concept of the title, but I could never use that title now. It’s on a thousand lyric sheets. However, as long as everyone knows that we did it first, I don’t care.
“What puzzles me (about Metallica) is that they’ve neglected to use a lot of Kirk’s better old riffs, settling instead for some so-so riffs. I think some of his other riffs, like those off of ‘Impaler’ are better than anything they’ve used on Ride The Lightning. Incidentally, we’re currently working on a new version of ‘Impaler’, which will make the original look pale by comparison.”
After looking at Metal Forces’ own “Penbangers” section (classified small ads), it’s apparent that Exodus have built up quite an underground following of admirers, spawned in part by their numerous live tapes which have gained a favourable response with tape traders worldwide.
“I really like the underground scene,” says Holt. “I often get calls from people all over the world, or letters from people who send me their tape lists, and they’ve got eight, nine, even ten Exodus shows on their list! To tell the truth, I do not own but one Exodus live tape, believe it or not!
“One thing that bothers me about the current underground heavy metal scene, however, is the amount of unnecessary slagging that’s going around. I don’t like people who slag – they’re just showing who the real loser of the bunch is. Now, Dave Mustaine is a prime example. He gets on the radio and slags the shit out of Metallica, and then goes as far as to drag us into the argument, crying about how they’re stealing his riffs and now our riffs. He can’t go anywhere without telling everyone how weak everyone else is and how great he is. He even went as far as to tell everyone that he taught me how to play guitar! We’re playing with them on Halloween night, so we’ll save the arguments until after the show, after we’ve humbled him (which, by all reports, they did).”
With Metallica suddenly widening their range of material and progressing dramatically from their primitive thrash metal beginnings, I was interested in finding out how Exodus viewed such concepts as “selling out” and “progression”.
“I’ve heard a lot of criticism aimed towards Metallica for slowing down on such cuts as ‘Fade To Black’, which I personally think is a really good song – James’ (Hetfield) vocals are brilliant. But what the critics fail to realise is that there’s more than one way to be commercial. You can be syrupy-ballad commercial, pop-rock oriented, or rough-edged like AC/DC. I wrote one song that’s similar to a cross between Judas Priest and AC/DC that’s very heavy but airplayable at the same time. I’m working on another song that has a very uptempo, commercial feel to it for the second album. I like the songs, though – it’s not a cop-out. I wouldn’t play it if I didn’t like it.
“The bottom line is that I’m in this business to make money and become successful, and I’d like to do it on a very large basis. I don’t want to just be a popular ‘cult’ metal band and play clubs for the rest of my life. I want to play concert halls and expand our audience. I don’t want people to misunderstand me and think we’re going completely commercial. I mean, our second album will feature two tracks that are airplay oriented, but the other seven will rip your face off!”
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself in focusing on the second album, when in fact the first has yet to be released! A Lesson In Violence has endured delay upon delay, but Holt insists that it will soon surface on the newly-formed Torrid label based on the East Coast. Holt explained in detail how the band’s Torrid deal came about: “Sam Kress put in a good word for us, having known the people at Torrid, as did several other underground fans. Eventually, Torrid sent us a contract, which we had a lawyer look at, and decided that it wasn’t a very happening contract at the time. We spent three months negotiating the contract, and eventually came out with a good deal, which a lot of other bands don’t do. They’ll just say ‘Give me a pen and I’ll sign it now’. We’ve spent a lot of money in lawyer’s fees, but we’ve also had a lot of things changed in our favour. For instance, our contract’s only two years long (two LPs worth) and it’s very rare to find any label that will sign a band for under five years. I’ve been plotting how I want our band to move forward and I want to cut our second album on Torrid, and then we’ll be free of any connection with them and we’ll be able to pursue a deal with a major label. Any of these big label representatives, whether they like metal or not, cannot deny the intensity of our live performance, so we’ll hopefully be doing some live showcases to attract the right people when the time comes.”
Currently, however, the band are still content to pillage their usual haunts in San Francisco, where they’re plotting devilish deeds feverishly. Their latest achievement is ‘Parasite’, an epic about a germ that eats your body away from the inside-out. With such appropriately disgusting ideas already in mind for their future, I’m convinced that Exodus hold a firm reign on the upcoming success and advancement of power metal yet to come. May they proceed to slash, thrash and impale their way to the top of their violent genre!
Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 9 (1985). All photographs by Chris Roomian.