We've all heard the stories. Someone leaves your favorite band and the remaining members have two choices.... carry on or pack it in. It doesn't mean shit to a tree why the member left - whether they were kicked out, quit, or had a bus roll over on them, the point is they're gone, and as popular as the band may be, it's often thought to be more dignified to call it quits, because how can __________ ever be replaced, right?
If two members leave? Well sir/madam, then your favorite band is pretty much fucked. More than two? Really fucked. Because then what you usually have is some greedy asshole hiring a few flunkies and desperately clinging to a name that once brought fame and glory and now causes bitter tears and fists clenched in rage at the memories dashed in the hopes of a "kickass" new Megadeth or Saxon album. Groups shouldn't be treated like hockey teams, folks - you don't throw on the jersey and keep going to games just because they brought up some losers from the farm team. You judge the performance, not the uniforms. Exodus is the exception to the rule.
After a truly tumultuous few years following the tragic death of original vocalist Paul Baloff from complications due to a stroke, the rejoining and leaving of vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza, and the departures of co-founding drummer Tom Hunting and longtime guitarist Rick Hunolt, surely it sets the stage for another flunky fiasco, no?
Wrongo dongo. With guitarist and co-founder Gary Holt the only original member, it fell on his shoulders to keep Exodus alive, and lucky for us, he ain't no chump. He's down three men, so what does he do? Replaces the open slots with Heathen guitarist Lee Altus and Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph, whose pedigrees alone can almost elevate the band to "supergroup" status. Not only that but he finds in Rob Dukes a vocalist that has in his voice all the anger and venom to satiate the old-schoolers but takes it up a notch for the rookies as well.
Shovel Headed Kill Machine is undoubtedly the groups' best album since their 1985 debut Bonded By Blood. Yeah, I said it.
I can hear the din of dissent rising as I type this. The bottom line is, when it comes to heavy music, or any kind of sub-genre you want to add, if you don't have growth, you're dead in the water. Now, growth doesn't mean adding a ballad or jazz-fusion track, but it does require a modicum of change in the formula otherwise it becomes stagnant.
I loved the band's previous album Tempo of the Damned - it was great to hear Steve Souza's guttural growl again and the band was tight as shit, but ultimately it only spoke to the nostalgic side of me - It took me back to 1986 again which in and of itself isn't bad, but it tends to lack the stamina of repeated listens in the long run. Shovel Headed Kill Machine takes a band that might have otherwise been thought of as irrelevant by the industry and forces them to pay attention. It brings them into the new millennium. It sounds like Exodus but takes it to another level.
A large part of this is due to having Dukes behind the mic. This guy means business. Sure most modern bands in the genre all try to sound angry, but it always falls short - like they're having a harmless tantrum. Rob Dukes is out to do some damage. Listen to tracks like "Deathamphetamine" and ".44 Magnum Opus" and tell me otherwise. I dare you. As such, Dukes should have no problem performing the old songs on the current tour.
I remember when it was first announced that Bostaph was going to be replacing Dave Lombardo in Slayer - a lot of people that really didn't think he could pull it off. I mean let's face it, those are tough goddamn shoes to fill, but fill them he did, thus making his addition to any band something to look forward to. His work on this album is some of the best he's ever done.
I'm a cynical prick, and I'll admit, my thoughts going into this album were somewhat pessimistic. Sure, I was curious to hear the new line-up but I was expecting so much of the old Exodus to be lost in the fray. Thankfully this wasn't the case. Holt has a signature style and sound that most veterans of his stature would have kicked to the curb to gain a new audience, which because it usually happens late in the game, fails miserably. It takes skill to still be recognizable and sound as fresh as a debut album, and with a new album and line-up as strong as Shovel Headed Kill Machine, I hope to hell there's a whole lot more to come.