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A Lesson in Violence: An interview with Exodus

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It’s a question that has been rattling in the minds of elitist fans for decades: which is better, thrash or death metal?

Exodus

The two sub-styles of extreme music may, musically, be on two sides of the same coin, but their histories couldn’t be further apart. Thrash was spawned in San Francisco’s Bay Area in the early 1980s, pioneered by the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Forbidden and Death Angel.

Meanwhile, death metal was invented in the UK and Sweden before being refined in Florida, roaring across the world with acts like Morbid Angel, Death, Massacre and Deicide at the helm.

The two genres finally came head-to-head in October, when California’s Exodus and Tampa’s Obituary clashed in a co-headlining tour that spread across the UK for five dates. Dubbed the ‘Battle of the Bays’, it culminated in grand fashion with a show at Southampton’s Engine Rooms; a show which saw the seaside city rock to its very core thanks to a bombardment of punishing metal.

However, three hours before thrash’s flag-bearers, Exodus, hit the stage, things could not be more tranquil; lead singer Steve “Zetro” Souza sits at the back of his tour bus, relaxing in anticipation of the momentous concert ahead, bowl of cannabis in-hand.

“I think in our genre, we just had more bands that were more proud, I guess you could say,” he says.

“From the Bay Area alone, I can sit here and name at least eight bands that did really well, starting with Metallica and on the way down. If you were to give death metal a look, Florida’s the home of and everybody knows that. All the great death metal bands – Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Vital Remains… – they’re all from Florida.”

Souza says that both Exodus and Obituary are products of moments in metal history, made significant by the fact that their respective eras can never be replicated.

“I think that everything has its time and everything has its evolution. So if you look at, say, the ‘60s bands of the Bay Area and you’re talking Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and all those types of bands, you get your time. And your time, after a while, it’s no more. It was an era, that’s how you can consider something an era; if it were to continue, I think it’d get stale.

We revel in this type of music because certain bands have captured the sound and they have not let go of that. Some bands come in, some bands come out and try to grab the sound – Municipal Waste, Iron Reagan, Havok, Hatriot – but I think when you initiate a sound, when you’re an innovator of that sound, you’re always followed. Bring up the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, who do you think of? Saxon, Maiden, Priest, Motörhead, Def Leppard: you think of those bands and those bands will always be solidified in that realm.”

The heavy artists of both San Francisco and Tampa have now hit the level of being metal veterans and as a result, Exodus is particularly keen in bringing the next generation of thrash bands with them on-tour whenever they can. For example, when they were last in the UK eight months ago, the old-school five-piece brought the young Finnish quartet Lost Society in tow, while the ‘Battle of the Bays’ saw Prong and King Parrot acting as dual supports.

“You’ve got to remember for this to have its longevity it has to evolve,” Zetro states.

“So there’s got to be some young ones. You can’t be like ‘We want the pie all to ourselves,’ because eventually the pie will run dry.

“How many bands in the last year have had to call it quits because of age or physical restrictions? Eagles: done; Glenn Frey: dead. Motörhead: done; Lemmy dead. AC/DC, pretty much done. I mean Cliff [Williams, bassist] just quit, who’s left? You’re going to get four blokes that aren’t AC/DC and put them with Angus [Young, founder and guitarist]? It’s not right!

“As we’re getting older, probably in the next ten years, the Priest guys are gonna go, then Maiden, then Saxon. And then it’s going to be our turn, so for metal to evolve there has to be those bands.”

Regardless, the classic thrashers of the ‘80s aren’t quite ready to call it a day just yet, with many of them unleashing intense, energised and vital records in 2016.

“There’ll always be Megadeth fans, there’ll always be Anthrax fans, there’ll always be Exodus and Overkill, the guys who did it first; that’s why they did it so good and still do it good,” Steve continues.

“Like the new Anthrax is great, For All Kings. New Megadeth [Dystopia] is awesome. New Testament [Brotherhood of the Snake], I wrote five songs on that. Check the liner notes; go looking, see which ones I wrote. I’ll say this: I wrote ‘The Number Game’, I wrote ‘Neptune’s Spear’ and three others. Go look in the liner notes, it’s there.

“New Death Angel [The Evil Divide] is great, the last Exodus record, Blood In, Blood Out: awesome. What about the new Metallica? New Metallica’s fucking good! They’ve already put out two songs [‘Hardwired’ and Moth into Flame’] that are really quality. And I think people in the genre, especially thrash, are like ‘Yeah, I’d like to go see them live, but their last record, there was two good songs on it.’ That’s not the case anymore; the bands are bringing it these days, hard.”

And in this vein, Exodus is also beginning to lay down plans for a new record as well. After the titans finish bringing the ‘Battles of the Bays’ to mainland Europe in late November, they will commence work on their eleventh release, the long-awaited follow-up to Blood In, Blood Out (2014).

Clearly excited for what the near-future holds, Souza lays out the band’s schedule:

“We’ll go home [and] take December off for the holidays. Probably in January, Gary [Holt, lead guitarist] and Tom [Hunting, drummer] will get together because Slayer’s off for a while. He already has the next record pretty much written, he says. He’s got all the songs put together so they’ll get together and start jamming them out. Probably by March/April, we’ll have songs to write to in the studio. Summertime, we’ll probably be mixing it.”

Regarding a release date, Zetro states “I’d say next year, about this time. If not, when the first releases come out in 2018. But we’re really trying to put it out next year.”

As Steve Souza lays out how obscenely well the veterans of Bay Area thrash metal are doing at the moment, it becomes undeniably clear that the West has won the Battle of the Bays. From Death Angel to Metallica to Megadeth to Anthrax, 2016 has doubtlessly seen thrash totally revitalise itself. And a new Exodus album in 2017 would definitely form the icing on the cake.

Exodus’ new album, Blood In, Blood Out is available physically and digitally now via Nuclear Blast Records. Their next record is tentatively scheduled to be released in late 2017/early 2018, again through Nuclear Blast.




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