Hey there NGCS crew, I’m back with volume 12 of Something Old Something New Album Review. My last few entries have been softer music and holiday jams. With this one we are we’re gonna raise the volume and get back into where I feel most comfortable, the heavy stuff. I’m gonna feature big bands in the Metal genre that any self respecting Metal-fan would know, but not the biggest.
Most people into metal know who the “Big 4” are. In the 70’s almost all the best and biggest Heavy Metal was exclusively made in England. Black Sabbath and Deep Purple in early 70’s, then Judas Priest shortly after. But in the late 70’s a new subgenre started which was dubbed NWOBHM(New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) and included such bands as Iron Maiden, Saxon, Diamond Head and while they sounded different than most, Motorhead sometimes got lumped in there too. Small pockets of American teenagers in Los Angeles and San Fransisco, California respectively, and New York as well took this new subgenre and Americanized it. They took the speed and the structure of NWOBHM and mixed it with the attitude and aggression of Punk Rock and created a new force in Metal, THRASH METAL. The “Big 4” refers to the most successful of those American bands, Megadeth and Slayer, based in Los Angeles, Metallica based in San Francisco and Anthrax based in New York. While those were the biggest 4, there were tons of other great Thrash bands not only in America, but around the world. Fans of classic thrash usually also refer to “The next Big 4”. Now there is constant debate on who the next “Big 4” are, but fans of the genre generally universally agree on 3 of the 4. Testament and Exodus from San Francisco and Overkill from New York. For fun, my 4th is Death Angel, also from San Fransisco.
For this edition I’m picking an album from Testament and an album from Exodus, one of which was my pick for the best album of 2022.
Testament – The Legacy
1987 Atlantic/Megaforce Records
Picture is my 1987 first US Printing in Cassette.
As far as as thrash goes there are a few records fans of the genre point to as “perfect”. Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”, Megadeth’s “Rust In Peace” and Slayers “Reign In Blood” come to mind. Testament’s debut album, “The Legacy” should be on that list. The Bay area of San Francisco is arguably the home and birthplace of American Thrash, is their birthplace as well. They formed in 1983, roughly about a year or two after the genre really got going.
Initially struggling with lineup changes, in 1985 Alex Skolnick joined the band. Alex studied under guitar great Joe Satriani and over the years developed into one of the greatest metal guitar players period. In 1986 the bands singer Steve Souza left to join Exodus and Chuck Billy took over, cementing the lineup that would get them signed to Megaforce/Atlantic Records. At that time the band was actually called “The Legacy”, but had to change their name as there was another band with that name. “The Legacy” became the album name, and Testament was officially born.
Lots of bands struggle on their first records, figuring out what works and what doesn’t but from the first note of the first track, the mosh pit classic “Over The Wall”, they had the formula. This album kicks your ass from that first track, through other Testament classics like “Burnt Offerings” and “First Strike Is Deadly” all the way to the end. Everything is right. The songwriting is fully developed, the performances are fantastic and unrelenting and the aggression is ON DISPLAY. If you’re looking for a classic metal record NOT by Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax or Megadeth, you could do a whole lot worse than the killer debut from Testament.
Exodus – Persona Non Grata
2021 Nuclear Blast Records
Picture is my vinyl copy, first Worldwide printing, special edition on Red & Mustard Swirl with Black Splatter.
While Exodus may not have been in the “Big 4”, their original incarnation pre dates the formation of them all. The roots of Exodus lay in 1979, when they were formed by a young Kirk Hammett. Yes, THAT Kirk Hammett, of Metallica fame. By 1981 they added guitarist Gary Holt and vocalist Paul Baloff. This is the lineup that really started to solidify their sound. They stayed that way until 1983 when Hammett left to join Metallica right before the recording of their classic debut “Kill ‘Em All” due to the firing of Dave Mustaine for increasing substance abuse issues.
Exodus is really a band of “what if’s”. The first obviously being what if Kirk Hammett had never left Exodus? Like the other “Big 4” bands, they signed an indie label deal for their first record. For whatever reason, while the album was recorded in by the summer of 1984, it didn’t see release until April of ’85. When “Bonded By Blood” came out, it was heralded as a classic of the genre, but unfortunately the rest of the “Big 4” had a jump on them.
By mid April of ’85 Metallica already had 2 records out, Megadeth’s debut wasn’t out yet(It would come out a few months later), but Dave Mustaines writing credits were all over those first 2 Metallica records so he had an advantage before even releasing his own album, Slayer had 2 albums and an EP out and Anthrax had a full album, an EP and had already recorded a second record. They were behind on momentum. The next “what if?”, what If Exodus had released their debut sooner?. After that they took a full 2 years to release their follow up during which time, they had a vocalist change. Steve Souza left The Legacy to take Paul Baloff’s spot due to his substance abuse and erratic behavior. The album they did release, ’87’s “Pleasures Of The Flesh”, was underwhelming. Two mode “what if’s?”, what if the band hadn’t made a vocalist change and what if their second record was stronger? Their third record however, ’89’s “Fabulous Distaster” was a return to form that finally got them major label deal with Capitol Records. Another “what if?”, what if they had gotten a major label deal sooner?. In 1990 they released “Impact Is Imminent”, which was another dissapoinment, and 1992’s “Force Of Habit” saw a style change to a more slower almost progressive sound. Neither album did as well as “Fabulous Disaster” and the band broke up shortly after. What if their major label records had been better. The band reunited for a short time in 1997 and in 2001 with orignal Paul Baloff, but in 2002 Baloff suddenly passed away due to a stroke. The band recorded a one off album with Steve Souza back on vocals before his departure in 2004. They recruited an unknown singer Rob Dukes and released more albums, steadily touring and climbing back up the metal ranks due to the resurgence of Thrash, which had diminished in popularity in the early 90’s. Souza reunited with the band in 2014 for the fantastic return to form “Blood In Blood Out”. By then guitarist Gary Holt had been fill in and eventual replacement for guitarist Jeff Hanneman in Slayer, where he was gaining well deserved notoriety for himself and Exodus.
With Slayer officially retiring in 2019, Holt was able to 100% concentrate on Exodus again, releasing one of their best records, and again, my favorite record of last year, Persona Non Grata. Souza’s voice is just as cutting as it’s ever been and Holt resumes his place as one of the all time Riff Beasts. His style is very percussive and makes the riffs that much heavier. Drummer Tom Hunting recently survived cancer, but by his crushing playing here you’d have never been able to tell he was even sick. “The Beatings Will Continue(Until Morale Improves) and the title track are my 2 favorite on the album, the former just a relentless assault and the latter punishing the listener with brutally amazing riff changes and an insanely heavy chorus. Persona Non Grata is an absolutely sick record that is making Exodus bigger than they’ve ever been, and they’re a band that deserves it.
Thanks again for reading! As always you can find more album reviews similar to these on Instagram, follow me @SteveDestruct. Cheers until next time!