It is incredible that thrash has been around for forty years – forty-two if the roots of Exodus and the late 1970s are taken into consideration. The Bay Area of San Francisco lit the touch paper in terms of defining a genre.
It has hardly been a straight road for Exodus over that time, a delayed debut – one of the most respected of the scene – saw lost momentum. Exodus has also had a number of line up changes over their time and even guitarist/main songwriter Gary Holt was seconded to the Slayer camp to fill in for the late, great Jeff Hanneman up until the band retired in 2019. Founding member Tom Hunting left once and Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza has been vocalist on three different occasions. It was worth fighting for though and what Exodus always projected was the enduring spirit of thrash.
With Holt being back with Exodus full time as it were and 7 long years since last album Blood In, Blood Out in 2014 and album that saw the return of vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza for this third stint in the band and since then Tom Hunting has battled cancer which has had the thrash community walking on a tightrope. Thankfully, Tom came through that and Exodus being back with more aural devastation does feel like a minor miracle.
It has been impossible not to get roped into the hype of Exodus’ 11th album Persona Non Grata with band members providing updates and describing the album as “vicious.” They were not lying; this album rips from beginning to end one assault after the other. Opening with the seven-minute title track which flies out of the gates and is utterly relentless. There are no intros that have peppered past Exodus releases, Persona No Grata opens in the most incendiary manner, a statement of intent in the flurry of serrated guitar at an insane speed and Tom Hunting’s inhuman drums. The technicality on display is breath taking and how Holt plays this fast is just one of the few head shaking moments on the album. Persona Non grata is Exodus all in one go, there is some twists and turns; textural moments in the breakdowns before the heat is turned up again. R.E.M.F. does dial down the speed a notch but is no less intense and when Souza screams “MOTHERFUCKERRRRR” he might as well be doing it right in the audience’s face and yanking some hair; on Slipping Into Madness the twin guitar attack – courtesy of Lee Altus also sharing guitar duties with Holt will turn the living room into a personal mosh pit; the speed returns and that chorus is absolutely monstrous wrapped around chugging guitar.
The musicianship is something to behold and it is not just the guitars or drums but Jack Gibson’s bass is so tasty and where there are those short spots of Gibson ringing through it is clear as any bell and sounds equally amazing on The Years Of Death And Dying . Steve Souza is on fire too, the venom he spits just fans the flames even more. Souza may be divisive as a vocalist but he absolutely slays now more than ever in terms of his razor blade gargling vocal approach which just underpins everything else that is going on.
Elitist is more snotty and punk-ish with the ‘gang’ vocals giving it a thuggish backdrop; Prescribing Horror is slow burn chug with Souza taking on lower register vocals and the song ends with a disturbing twist and the sound of a baby crying; Although The Beatings Will Continue (Until The Morale Improves) is another quick paced face melter which is a tongue in cheek at police brutality; Clickbait taking a pot shot at the media. Hearts and flowers it is not.
If there is any criticism to be made, it is the fact that it is a long album. On the plus it is more thrash for the buck but that energy is relentless and if there is the stomach and the stamina then this is Exodus at full blast for longer.
What Persona Non Grata represents is how 21st century thrash should sound and how to keep it in the moment. It might be expected that younger bands are showing the old school how it is done. Hungry? Spleen to vent? Exodus has that and proves hands down that a bunch of guys well into their middle age who were there in the beginning can turn out albums that still have the power to exude what thrash is all about. While Blood In, Blood Out was a great album but Persona Non Grata does raise that bar and is the best album since 2004’s Tempo Of The Damned.. If there is no wrecked furniture after hearing this then it is a wasted opportunity.
Exodus does not want to bow down or bow out, they might not have anything to prove but they want to and Persona Non Grata is a belter of an album. 11 albums and still no ballad?
Not a chance.
Persona Non Grata is released on 19 November on Nuclear Blast Records