Guitarist Gary Holt told Imhotep that Exodus’s new album “The Atrocity Exhibition – Exhibit A” is going to redefine thrash metal as we know it. Tough words, but can he back it up?
Exodus is definitely one of the most legendary names of Bay Area thrash metal. Formed in 1980, the band released the now-legendary debut album “Bonded By Blood” in 1985. Pretty soon after that the singer Paul Baloff left the band and Steve Souza took over the vocal duties. “Pleasures Of The Flesh”, “Force Of Habit” and “Impact Is Imminent” soon followed, but those albums never really shoved the true potential of the band. “Force Of Habit” was released in 1992 and it turned out to be the last album before the band went on to a lengthy hiatus.
Exodus came back in 1997 and released an excellent comeback live album called “Another Lesson In Violence”. Fronted by the legendary Paul Baloff, the band played tracks mostly from the first album. The response was awesome and for a while it appeared that Exodus might even do a full comeback. Sadly, the original singer Paul Baloff got a stroke and passed away, which put all plans to rest. But guitarist Gary Holt wasn’t prepared to call it quits just yet. Holt composed new songs and the comeback album “Tempo Of The Damned” was finally released in 2004. Produced by Andy Sneap, the album was a real show of power and it featured an excellent vocal performance by Steve Souza, who was now back in the band.
“Tempo Of The Damned” was greeted well and it put Exodus right back to the top, but then the problems started again. Steve Souza, guitarist Rick Hunolt and original member drummer Tom Hunolt called it quits and suddenly the band was crippled again. Gary Holt and bassist Jack Gibson refused to die, so the new line-up was made. Formerly unknown Rob Dukes took over the vocal duties, Lee Altus from Heathen grabbed a guitar and Paul Bostaph sat behind the kit. Written almost completely by Holt alone, “Shoved Headed Kill Machine” came out in 2005 and it was the most violent album the band had released so far. Exodus was back!
...and atrocities for all
Gary Holt says that the only way to write an album even better than “Shoved Headed Kill Machine”, was to write something that would redefine thrash metal. Holt proudly says that the new album “The Atrocity Exhibition – The Exhibit A” does just that.
"If you look at the genre of thrash metal in 2007, who else is making anything like this? Who else is, like, pushing the boundaries of thrash metal 22 years after their debut album like we are? I don’t see anybody else doing it. I mean, there are lots of great bands out there; especially the young thrash bands I have all the admiration for, but we are taking it onto a whole different level and that’s awfully strange coming from a band that’s been around as long as we have. We are creating albums that are like monsters. We are supposed to be old and slow, or at least that’s what people think, haha."
Gary has a point there. The songs on “The Atrocity Exhibition” are long, epic, surprisingly melodic and aggressive at the same time. There are several songs that go beyond the eight-minute mark, but it doesn’t feel like it. Songs like the magnificent title track and mid-tempo “Children Of A Worthless God” are the kind of songs anyone would be proud of.
"The most important thing is you got to love doing this and you got to do it for the right reasons. Writing music this aggressive, you could always take an easy route and play shit that’s a lot easier to play and doesn’t give you arthritis in your fucking joints, but I don’t want to do that. I want to write like I write because it gets me exited.
I couldn’t be more proud of “The Atrocity Exhibition”. And the amazing thing is that it was an entirely natural process to write it, nothing was ever intended to be long or short or whatever. We just tried to create huge songs that would be badass and the song was never considered finished until it felt done, you know, and we didn’t know how long anything was until we recorded it, and then you just look the computer which gives you the time and we are like, “shit, I didn’t know it was going to be ten minutes long!” Those songs are kind of like a journey, that doesn’t slow down, that keeps your interest and they don’t seem that long, at least not to me."
“Shoved Headed Kill Machine” was almost completely written by you. How about this time?
"I wrote most of the stuff, but Lee wrote almost all the music to “Children Of A Worthless God”. The follow up album that is going to come out hopefully next year, “The Atrocity Exhibition – Exhibit B”, he has written the opening track in its entirety and he is working on two or three right now, so on the next album there is going to be even greater amount of songs that are not written by me, which I welcome, It makes my job easier."
What can you tell about “Exhibit B”, just how much of that is already written and how would you compare it to “Exhibit A”?
"When we recorded "Exhibit A" we had too many songs and none of them were your typical throwaway, b-side bonus songs. We had long debates, which songs should be on the album. Finally we just chose the ones we felt would work best together for this album and create the right kind of atmosphere. We chose four songs to save, so now we have four songs recorded and done for the next album and we have to finish the remaining songs. About the direction of the next album, I can only comment on the four songs that are finished, and they all stand on their own compared to the first album. There will be some themes, both musical and lyrical that kind of tie each album together, but it’s not going to be like a two album concept record, really."
drugs and religion
One of the leading themes on the new album is organized religion and especially Christianity. I ask Gary, when and how did he originally start to question the importance of religion in his life.
"I questioned it my whole life. When I was a young child I had to go to a church and I was wondering why my parents didn’t. “Mom, dad, why aren’t you going? Why do I have to go, I don’t want to go!” When you’re a little kid they make it kind of like a summer camp so that it’s fun, but they just brainwash you. My parents, who I love to death, weren’t practicing Christians so they didn’t go to church but I was supposed to go, so eventually I just left the house and did my own business and came back when the church was supposed to end, so I didn’t even get there. It came much more personal to me later in life with things involving my ex-wife’s newfound love for Christ and my two children torn in the middle of it. You know, if you marry me you end being a born-again Christian haha "
The album also deals with Islam; especially the song “Children Of A Worthless God“ seems to include some particularly strong opinions.
"Yeah, Rob worked that one and it’s about radical Islam and terrorists. It’s just another angle that the album touched on the organized religions, but this time from the point of view the outside looking in on Islam."
How much did Rob wrote lyrics this time?
"Well, he wrote the lyrics on that one and he has already written two lyrics for the next album. Once again it came down more to just like everybody agreed on which songs to save and which to use, so he already has more credit on the upcoming album than one this current one."
There are also some clean melodic vocals on “Children Of A Worthless God”, which was somewhat surprising.
"Well you know that was Rob’s idea and it was something we had never done with him. Lot of people forget that we have done the clean vocals before on songs like “Seeds Of Hate” and “Chemi-kill”. It was just something we had forgotten about and got away from, and I didn’t know that was something Rob could do. So it was his idea 100% and he tried it on rehearsals and I said that we’ll listen to it in the studio when we record and see what myself and Andy think about it, because our rehearsals are quite loud, it’s hard to pick out the subtle things because it’s more like a fucking war zone in there. It turned out those clean vocals made the song better without overdoing it, so it’s something we might use here and there in the future but it’s also something we are not going to use so much it’s getting ridiculous."
What else can you tell me about the lyrics on “The Atrocity Exhibition – Exhibit A”?
“Funeral Hymn” is kind of like a tale or comment of reckoning, judgement day. “Garden Of Bleeding” is just my own twisted little satanic fantasy world, haha. “The Atrocity Exhibition” and “Iconoclasm” deal with the myth of Christianity and organized religion, which are just a great way to control mankind. “As It Was, As It Soon Shall Be” deals with this fucking mess in Iraq and “Bedlam 1-2-3” is just trying to get someone in our audience to break someone’s arm or something haha, you know, just to wind the crowd up into a fucking frenzy. “Riot Act” is about revolution, anarchy and returning this world into an eye-to-an-eye society again."
There’s a song on “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” called “Deathamphetamine”, which deals with drugs and all the misery they bring. Did you write anything as personal this time around?
"Not really, my demons are exercised; I mean “Deathamphetamine” was kind of cautionary tale to anybody else who was using the shit, but I didn’t want to preach so all I did was basically tell you what it was like. I also wrote it to help other people around me so that if they would like to read the lyrics and maybe decide to quite their bad habits. When it comes to me, hell, I quit smoking last December so I am pretty much demon free nowadays. I’m a health-food junkie now, like a hippie or something. I’m completely demon-less, but I am still a pervert, so I guess that could count as one demon, haha."
Well that’s good to hear. Hopefully that means you are able to keep thrashing for years to come!
"Absolutely, yeah. I am working really hard right now getting my body in a best shape I can just so I can get on stage and really destroy and not slow down. I am wise enough to know that I am not 25 years old anymore. I need to be in a better shape now than what I was when I was young so that I can go out and kick the shit out of everybody."
Would you say that all those problems you had with drugs made you a stronger person?
"Certainly, it has made me more driven and I want to regain all the things I once had and go beyond even. It has made that desire extremely strong. I just feel I have to keep myself busy, not because of any fear of doing drugs again because I am so far past that you know, I would never go back to that, not in a million years, but work keeps me from getting complacent. I wouldn’t want to just sit around and get too comfortable and stop working, because of fear that the band might come into halt again if I don’t keep going forward."
When Gary talked about the song “Deathamphetamine” and how he partially wrote it to help other people around him, he obviously meant the guitarist Rick Hunolt, who left the band pretty soon after “Tempo Of The Damned”. I ask Gary what’s the situation with Rick nowadays, how is he doing?
"I haven’t seen Rick in a long time, but last I heard he’s playing music again with his friends and taking care of his kids. I don’t know about his personal demons, but I wish him nothing but the best. I love the guy, he’s like a family to me, but eventually it comes to a point when you can’t help people anymore if they don’t want to be helped, you know."
Tom Hunting, who has played drums on all albums expect “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” had also some problems, which forced him to leave the band after “Tempo Of The Damned.” For a while it looked like he would never be able to play drums again, but luckily that was not the case. So how did he manage overcome his problems?
"You know, two years of taking care of him and not worrying about the band. At the time it did look like he would never do this again because he was on his lowest point, dealing with the anxiety issues and stuff, but given the two years off away from this and just concentrating on himself and his own health, he rebounded and found his own peace, overcame the problems he had and now he is back stronger than ever and it’s just a joy to have him back. He has been my best friend since I was seventeen years old.
Tom is a natural; a guy like him doesn’t ever lose the ability. I mean you might need to get your body back in shape a little bit just because you are breathing a little harder than normal, but he is actually in a really good shape. Tom is like a streefighter, he walks into a bar and takes his jacket off and starts fighting. Some guys are like boxers; they train and hit the heavy bags and speed bags to get ready for the fight. Tom is a guy who like goes out in an alley behind the bar and starts fighting."
“Shovel Headed Kill Machine” was probably the fastest album Exodus has ever done. “The Atrocity Exhibition” is also fast, but not quite as fast. I remember that right before Tom Hunting left the band, you said that Tom didn’t want to play fast stuff anymore, so is that the reason why this new album is maybe slightly slower than before?
"No, I mean I think the album is every as bit as fast as the last album. It’s just the songs are longer and there are more time changes. When Tom said that he didn’t want to play fast, that was because he was starting to suffer from his anxiety issues and it was really taking its toll on him. But he did all of his drum tracks for this album as well as four songs for the upcoming album in five days. I know bands that take seven days just to get the kick drum sound, but Tom recorded one and a half album in just five days and that's unheard of. He was pounding it out for hours, just not letting up and his strength was just phenomenal."
Is there anything more to tell about the recordings? I believe you worked with Andy Sneap also this time?
"We worked with Andy on this one all the way through. On “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” Andy was booked up already, but I am perfectly confident on my abilities as a producer. Personally I prefer to have Andy there because the two of us together work brilliantly together and get along great, so its lots of fun, but we also get extremely creative when we are in the same room. It’s inspiring."
throught times of war
At the beginning of this interview I called Gary the godfather of thrash. He was honoured, but not surprised. The man has done thrash metal almost three decades and it gives you an authority most people can only dream of.
"I’ve become wiser during the years. You learn from past mistakes. I mean, he who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it. As far as the band goes, the eighties were a magical and special time, but right now this is version two of the band and we are more deadly and dangerous than ever and we are most certainly hungrier than ever because we don’t take anything for granted. We are out to reclaim our spot at the top of the thrash metal world. I am pretty driven and I am not letting anything to get on my way.
In the eighties there was newness on everything and we didn’t understand the business side of things. That’s was kind of bad but it was also good because we were just kids wanting to play thrash metal and getting wasted and looking for chicks. We didn’t have the business side of things to worry about and it was fun, you know. Haha, like 1989 the Headbangers Ball Tour, that was as close as any thrash metal band ever, got to feel like they are in Mötley Crëw, hahaha. We were playing in these huge places with Anthrax and Helloween and there were like 25 or 30 girls waiting for us outside the venue. It was fucking fun, but now we are older and little wiser and don’t want to get caught in any scandals. I have two daughters of my own now, so there a little difference in the way I feel about that stuff now, haha."
Does Exodus give you a living nowadays, or is it still more like a hobby for you?
"I make a living, Exodus is all I do, I don’t have another job. But when you say make a living, my answer is yes – barely, and sometimes like this year it’s been rough since we haven’t been on tour or made an album so money gets tight and you have to sell couple of guitars from the collection, liquidate an asset or two to pay some bills and I have child support I have to pay. But I am lucky, I’m able to do what I love and not have to work for some asshole boss, so that’s fucking good luck for me. I rather do this than make twice as money working for some regular job. As long as I have food, my kids are taken care of and my bills are paid, that’s all I care and everything else is a bonus."
What about your future plans? I read somewhere that you are planning to make a new version of your classic debut album “Bonded By Blood”, but not without Rick. So what’s the situation with that?
"We still want to do it and we will do it with Rick. That doesn’t mean Rick would have to be back in this band because this is Lee’s band now. But I want to do it as a final tribute to Paul Baloff, so what we want to do is rerecord all the songs with nine different singers. I think Paul deserves a tribute so I’m just going to make it my own mission to make sure he gets it."
What about other plans, are you planning to release any DVD’s or something in the near future?
"Right now this album is last in our contract with Nuclear Blast, so until we have come into terms with any kind of a new deal, any future projects are in halt – including “Exhibit B”. The one thing we are putting out this year on our own is a double-DVD called “Double Live Dynamo”, which has a 1985 Dynamo Club Show with Paul Baloff and 1997 Dynamo Festival Show. They’re the only shows Paul Baloff ever did in Eindhoven, Holland and especially the 1985 show is a legendary gig and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when watching it."
That sounds like something to wait for!
Composed by Kari Koskinen