2005 Nuclear Blast Records
01. Raze REAL AUDIO
03. Karma's Messenger
04. Shudder To Think
05. I Am Abomination
06. Altered Boy
07. Going Going Gone
08. Now Thy Death Day Come
09. 44 Magnum Opus
10. Shovel Headed Kill Machine
When Exodus' and their comeback album Tempo Of The Damned arrived out of nowhere two years ago on Nuclear Blast, it was too late to salvage most of their fans who had grown up and moved on since their 1992 breakup. The album also came far too late following their hammering 1997 live album Another Lesson In Violence, after which white-hot anticipation began brewing from the prospect that Bonded By Blood-era vocalist Paul Baloff would actually record his second album with the band whose legendary debut he sang on over ten years prior. Had drugs not continued to be such an ongoing issue for certain members of the legendary Exodus, perhaps that album would have indeed been recorded, but when Baloff died from a massive stroke in 2002, drug-induced idleness ended up having the final say.
With Baloff's death sadly being what the band needed to get their asses in gear, they recruited main Exodus snarler Steve Zetro Souza and recorded a fine comeback album in Tempo Of The Damned, with a studio sound that rivaled all previous albums, thanks to Andy Sneap (Nevermore, Earth Crisis, Stuck Mojo), who also produced Shovel Headed Kill Machine, albeit with a dirtier approach than its predecessor. However as the reality of rebuilding a reputation and fanbase essentially from scratch loomed, in addition to more rumors of drug abuse within the band, Souza abruptly left Exodus mid-tour. Fill-ins on South American and last year's Megadeth tours included Exhumed's Matt Harvey and Skinlab's Steev Esquivel, but neither were around to write and record, so for the first time in over fifteen years, the band was forced to find a new vocalist. Doing so was initially thought to be a monumental task ahead.
Which brings us to 2005, the year in which only one original Exodus member remains in the band, yet simultaneously its talent meter has skyrocketed with the addition of Paul Bostaph (ex-Forbidden, ex-Slayer) on drums and Lee Altus (the recently reunited Heathen) on lead guitar. It is unclear how long this dream lineup will last. What is clear is the songs on Shovel Headed Kill Machine are the most focused and unyielding as they have been since their underrated 1990 album, Impact Is Imminent. And while the impacts of the two aforementioned Bay Area thrash gods are clearly felt from the first note of Raze, it's brand new vocalist and longtime Exodus roadie Rob Dukes who really bangs home every song on Shovel Headed Kill Machine in ways the band have never before been so fortunate for a vocalist to do.
While still obviously yelling in the vein of his Exodus predecessors, Dukes' deeper voice has already begun recieving comparisons to Phil Anselmo. And on songs like "Now Thy Death Day Come," the band actually comes dangerously close to sounding like Pantera's "Sandblasted Skin," if it weren't for Gary Holt's rhythm guitar buzzing so loudly behind Lee Altus' traditional solos. His occasional growls are new for Exodus, whose former vocalists all possessed high voices and would have sounded like fools attempting such octaves. Believe it or not, he also sounds similar to Tom Araya in the pre-chorus on the tight thrasher "44 Magnum Opus." Thanks largely to his gravelly singing during the choruses of "Going Going Gone" followed by Souza-like screams, Dukes' ability to adapt to the classic Exodus sound in addition to finally giving their vocal area a welcome renewal is the icing on the cake on what could very well be Exodus' best record since Bonded By Blood.
If anyone doubts Exodus' capacity for furious vintage soloing since founding member Rick Hunolt's abrupt departure earlier this year, listen to what Altus and Holt pull out of their hats on "Karma's Messenger," "I Am Abomination," "44 Magnum Opus," and "Altered Boy" for their flashiest fretwork. The mid-paced riffs on "Deathamphetamine," "Shudder To Think," and "Altered Boy," on the other hand, bring to mind the better tracks from 1990's Impact Is Imminent and 1992's Force Of Habit.
In the eighties, when many thrash bands were putting out some of the best hand-drawn art as Municipal Waste did on their evocative recent Earache debut, Exodus had among the worst. The excellent artwork for Shovel Headed Kill Machine, while digitally-rendered to some degree, is symbolic of the vast overhaul they underwent in order to make this album possible. Notable mention goes to bassist Jack Gibson, one of the hardest working of his kind in the Bay Area who doubles up for renowned death metal band Vile.
Bottom Line: The violent feel on Shovel Headed Kill Machine never lets up, and the constancy of impenetrable riffs is striking. No one expected Exodus to sound this good after losing three longtime members this year, nor did anyone expect a new album to drop just merely over a year following their last, which is why much had to be said about the unusual circumstances surrounding Shovel Headed Kill Machine's mere existence. With the dust supposedly having cleared for now, Exodus are back and stronger than ever.