Exhorder – Defectum Omnium


Exhorder are legends of the New Orleans metal scene thanks to their 1990 debut, Slaughter in the Vatican. The heavy metal almanac is even kinder, identifying them as the originators of groove metal and the peers of Pantera. To make matters more complicated, the two fanbases of Exhorder and Pantera have a feud about who trademarked the sound. Thankfully, the members of Exhorder are less enthusiastic about slinging mud at their more successful friends. They can count 1992’s The Law as a seminal album released via Roadrunner Records and can also celebrate a triumphant return to the studio for 2019’s Mourn the Southern Skies. This band have nothing to prove now things are up and running again, even if Kyle Thomas is the last remaining member who started the group in 1985.

With such a revered name, it’s no surprise that Kyle Thomas has the pick of the big guns to join his band. Joining him on lead guitar is ex-Cannibal Corpse and Nevermore axeman, Pat O’Brien. On drums is ex-Heathen/Forbidden sticksman, Sasha Horn. In opener, ‘Wrath of Prophecies’, they make it clear that the landscape is the one that ought to have saved thrash in the early 1990s with down-tuned guitars and a slight hardcore tinge to the aggression. It begs the question – why did this sound not re-energise the genre during the dominance of grunge? You can hear the hard rock foundations in this head-spinning metal attack, yet Kyle Thomas is a singer in the mould of John Bush rather than the exhaled fury of a Tom Araya. The guitar tone is like granite stone in the hands of an expert mason. Of course, Exhorder love to alternate between fast skank beats and mid-tempo grooves, but they’re not afraid of blast beats either.

It’s better to address the contentious topic early on – can we compare this to Pantera? The answer is yes, and that’s a positive thing. Pentatonic guitar licks fly through the headphones like miniature drones recording your every move in ‘Under the Gaslight’. ‘The Tale of Unsound Minds’ is what the thrash bands of the 1990s sounded like when they needed to compete with grunge for people’s attention. In other words, Black Sabbath with masculine blue-collar vocals and haunting harmonies of voice. You can see why Kyle Thomas also fronts Chicago legends, Trouble, as their current lead singer. Like the first wave of thrash, this music is the natural successor to traditional heavy metal.

As if conscious that their inactivity between 1992 and 2019 cost them valuable creative time, Exhorder approach this album with the mindset that every track should be a banger. This admirable attitude also blinds them to a few clichés along the way. ‘Divide and Conquer’ is hard rock thrash, like ‘Fuckin’ Hostile’ in the hands of Armored Saint with a catchy double-tracked chorus. Here, Exhorder’s frontman sounds like he needs to expectorate a mouthful of tobacco. ‘Forever and Beyond Despair’ sees them venture into hardcore punk and introduce blast beats to accelerate the carnage, yet Kyle Thomas approaches his microphone like a narky hard rock agitator. ‘Taken by Flames’ is the type of crispy groove metal that operates at a doom metal level and throbs with a thrash metal impatience. Listen to the clarity of the mix – the production is sensational. The half-timing groove in the outro is the best moment of this LP.

Does this album need to extend beyond nine tracks? Your gut says no but your heart says yes. Exhorder operate on the sensible fear that their long hiatus leaves them open to accusations of creating an underwhelming fuss if they produce anything less than forty-five minutes. But the prospect of another twenty-five minutes of action at this stage is quite tiring. Fortunately, the NOLA legends realise this conundrum at ‘Defectum Omnium/Stolen Hope’ and give us a palette cleanser of ecclesiastical chanting in Latin before the high-speed riffs break down the walls. You expect this to continue for the rest of the track, but they strip things back to a Black Sabbath doom affair with ominous tom drums and a passable Chris Cornell imitation. The band’s reluctance to push a regular snare beat in the verse parts is what makes this such an intriguing song and justifies its seven-minute running time.

The natural end point for this album should be ‘Three Stages of Truth/Lacing the Well’, where the Led Zeppelin/Metallica phrasing of resonant folk guitar shapes ruminate on a dark tonality. Its surprise start-stop nod to Megadeth in the next section will leave your eyebrows raised before they blaze into a modern Metallica stomp. There’s no doubt that James Hetfield could learn a thing or two how to position his vocals in this type of biker thrash. Grab your bandana and get on your knees for the guitar solo. This would be ideal as the closing track on Defectum Omnium. Instead, they spoil it with three superfluous cuts that would be fine for an EP, but not for a record that shows little regard for the listener’s stamina. You can’t fault the thrash metal credentials of ‘Desensitized’, but this song would be better at the beginning of the album. Likewise, ‘Your Six’ is Kill Devil Hill with a harsher dose of Anthrax at the core of its sound. But it feels like a bonus track at this stage of the listening experience.

Exhorder earn the right to produce a forty-minute record on their next outing. Defectum Omnium is an ambitious defence of the status quo, and it triumphs more than it fails.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 08/03/2024

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Wrath of Prophecies; Year of the Goat; Defectum Omnium/Stolen Hope

Suggested Further Listening: Anthrax – Sound of White Noise (1993), Armored Saint – Punching the Sky (2020), Till the Dirt – Outside the Spiral (2023)