Review: Exodus, Shovel Headed Kill Machine (Nuclear Blast, 2005)

Hmmm... first things first, this is another surprisingly good Exodus record. That being said, I've gotta say, I have a hard time calling this an "Exodus" record. I mean, no H Team? No fucking H Team!? I don't know, man. Not to discredit sole remaining original member Gary Holt in any way, after all, he wrote the music and lyrics to basically every song herein, but... is it really Exodus without the patented twin guitar attack of Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt? And that brings us to the other big change: New frontman Rob Dukes. Exodus has always been known for scoring two of the most unique and immediately recognizable frontmen of all time in Steve Souza and the late Paul Baloff, so I guess it doesn't hurt that Dukes has gone to great lengths to come across as a Souza/Baloff sandwich, but... he's still not Steve Souza or Paul Baloff, you know what I mean? Bassist Jack Gibson may have been with the band since '97, former Forbidden/Slayer sticksman Paul Bostaph is certainly no insignificant addition, and Heathen guitarist Lee Altus has the history and the chops to hold his own... but is this Exodus? I don't know. I could go either way on that, but I think it might've made more sense for Holt to have treated this as a new band - though were Dukes to have sounded so similar to Souza/Baloff under the circumstances it would've been viewed as Exodus-lite anyway, so... I guess it's a crapshoot, eh? Whatever the case, the songwriting definitely still carries with it plenty of characteristic Exodus riffs and arrangements, and that's what makes it work when all is said and done. Once again the only real setback here is overly long songs, where the 50+ minute running time is cluttered with a handful of overly lengthy numbers that need not creep up on seven to nine minutes since none of them offer up anything particularly special. For instance, "44 Magnum Opus" does a pretty good job of plowing through some unexpectedly chunky dissonance and meaty classic thrash rhythms, but the level of repetition gets a little old beyond the lead break around the four-minute mark, so... there's no reason to drag it out into a seven-minute song, you know? And why the hell is the second track, "Deathamphetamine", fucking eight-and-a-half minutes long!? Talk about early on overkill! Among the finer moments, "Karma's Messenger" sort of hearkens back to some of the tangible midpaced riffing and melodic aspects of records like "Impact is Imminent" and "Force of Habit"; "Going Going Gone" throws down plenty of frantic lead bursts and harnesses a little of the band's old school catchiness in terms of vocal arrangements and a damn memorable chorus; and you can't really lose with the ferocious three-minute blast of the title track, complete with a crushing midpaced breakdown that represents one of the moshiest moments in Exodus history. I don't have any major issues with the production. The drums are clickier than I'd prefer, but they definitely sound more tactful than they did on "Tempo of the Damned", blending in fairly well against the aptly crunchy guitar tone and just enough of a bass presence to add some oomph. Were they able to have gotten a little more texture to the more Souza-esque elements of Dukes' vocal performance I think that would've helped, but he's doing a pretty good job of filling some huge fucking shoes, so... for the most part Holt also did a damn nice job with his duties in the producer's chair. The layout's not doing much for me, though. The cover looks alright, it's a cheesy metal cover, you know, whatever. But elsewhere the imagery looks too rough and messy, and the text is hard as fuck to read, so... there are some hitches there. Not that it really matters with lyrics like, "A straight razor and a flick of the wrist, Brass knuckles and a willing fist, A big knife and a little scream, They do wonders for my self-esteem...", but even the credits and stuff are hard to read, and I'm a nerd, so... Oh, and in regards to the lyrics, even though they're not great by any means, I can hang with some of that smartass attitude, so the band's token sense of bitter humor seems to be in place as well. Maybe it is a true Exodus record after all!? I guess it's just that most bands that trickle down to one original member do so much more gradually than losing two of the band's three most prominent faces after a decent reunion that yielded a strong studio record that just happened to be the band's first such output in over 10 years. And hey, I bought this record because I'm a longtime Exodus fan, right? Yeah. I knew what I was getting into, and while I'm not floored, I certainly don't get regret it.

[Nuclear Blast]
Running time - 52:50, Tracks: 10
[Notable tracks: Karma's Messenger, Going Going Gone, Shovel Headed Kill Machine]
Exodus -