In interviews elsewhere on the interwebs, Exodus frontman Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza has claimed that Persona Non Grata, the newest release from the band and their first in a long, long time (seven years to be precise – fact-loving Ed), is their best ever. This is clearly a huge claim to make.
It’s also wrong. Long term fans – of which I am one – will obviously tell you that the band’s debut, Bonded By Blood was, is, and always will be the band’s best and that it’s all been downhill from there, whilst there will always be fans of the Rob Dukes era of the band who maintain that the feral heaviness displayed whilst Dukes was at the the vocal helm from 2005-2014 is where it’s at.
Notice both of these eras of the band don’t feature Zetro on the mic – so maybe he means it’s the best album he’s ever made with the band?
That may be a lot closer to the truth. For thrash fans of a certain age, There is an awful lot to like on PNG; The band have pulled back slightly on the verging-on-death-metal elements many older thrash bands employ in an effort to seem relevant, preferring instead to focus on their strengths, vis: Gary Holt‘s punishing chug and Souza’s at times off-the-chain wailing. His parting shot on R.E.M.F. – a partially-screamed ‘MOTHERFUCKER!!!’ is a joy to behold.
The other thing that’s perhaps important to note is that the band manage to hold on to the listener’s attention all the way through what is a pretty long album. Despite being a little one paced – this is a barking mad thrash album, remember – the band pack in enough twists and turns in every song to keep things fresh and interesting, which is no mean feat given much of the material is a sort of Overkill–Testament hybrid that in the hands of lesser practitioners might have become old very quickly.
Slipping Into Madness is perhaps where Zetro’s claim comes closest to being vindicated; the mid section where guitarists Holt and Lee Altus play off one another whilst drummer Tom Hunting keeps things percolating nicely with some neat drumwork is actual genius, really well crafted heavy metal of the kind we don’t hear enough of these days. Years of experience are squeezed until the pips squeak to create music like this, but the effort is well, well worth the result.
Elsewhere the title track is a bit of a ripper, as is the coruscating Elitist, where Zetro saves up some particularly unpleasant bile; his delivery here borders on comical in it’s wild-eyed commitment, especially when bolstered by the gonzoid gang chants from the rest of the band, but at it’s heart it’s quintessential Exodus from the old days, and is, therefore, beyond any form of critical reproach.
In fact, the same could be said for much of the album, especially the already-released singles (Clickbait and The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)) which, whilst displaying a lot of attitude are actually the weakest on the record; When the band hit hardest, as they do on the superb Prescribing Horror and Fires of Division, they concentrate less on foaming at the mouth and more on keeping the foot on the throat, both musically and lyrically. It’s a winning combination.
So, in the final washup; no, this isn’t the best Exodus album ever. But it is a bloody great hulking success of a record, guaranteed to inspire you to get your old high tops out of the attic and set about some serious thrashing. As lessons in violence go, it’s pretty well perfect, save for a couple of missteps – and I’ll take that.
Persona Non Grata releases on November 19th.