Exodus from A to B

For a lot of people, Exodus remain the epitome of Californian thrash metal. The band’s intensity and aggressiveness barely weakened at all in the past, and Force Of Habit is probably the only area of non-turbulence in their entire discography. In 2007, Exhibit A: The Atrocity Exhibition was a serious blast: modern thrash, full of hatred and progressives songs that echoed Machine Head’s amazing The Blackening. To say the least, the fans were eager to hear the sequel, Exhibit B: The Human Condition, which will be released sometime in May.

We interviewed the man behind the beast: Gary Holt, riff-maker extraordinaire since the beginning of the 80s. We not only talked about this new misdemeanor, but also about the thrash revival we’ve been witnessing in the past few years, the current relationship between Gary and his band’s former frontman, Steve « Zetro » Souza, and the re-recording of the legendary Bonded By Blood (rechristened Let There Be Blood), which sparked off such a debate among the fans.

Note that the band will play nothing else but Bonded By Blood from beginning to end at this year’s Hellfest, and that a commemorative tour is planned next year. That’s the latest craze right now !

« A song like “Burn, Hollywood, Burn” shows my hatred of fake reality-TV celebrities. Some people are more moved by that than by the most horrible atrocities on the planet. »
Radio Metal: Exhibit B: The Human Condition is very similar to its predecessor in terms of composition. Was it a deliberate decision, made in order to maintain a certain general coherence with Exhibit A ?

Gary Holt (guitars): No, we just write whatever we’re feeling at the time. Three of the songs were recorded during the sessions for the previous album, the rest was written later. It’s a little more melodic, a little old school at times, but it still maintains a modern edge. We’re perfectly happy with it, it’s a perfect companion to the last one.

Your lyrics, your artworks and your visuals refer exclusively to war and human brutality: I suppose it is a way to denounce them. But are you not in a certain way fascinated by this violence ?

We just want to show what kind of violence the human race is capable of. As a species, we excel at it. We’re better at violence, ignorance and arrogance than we are at anything else. The human race always gives us something to write about !

A title like « A Perpetual State Of Indifference » seems to denounce the fact that the general public is not moved or shocked anymore by the violence around the world. On the other hand, “Beyond The Pale” describes the mind of a murderer who is living like an outlaw, without really being aware of what he is doing. The absence of awareness seems to be the central theme of this album: do you agree with this ?

Yes, I do. « A Perpetual State Of Indifference » is an instrumental, it doesn’t have any lyrics. But you’re right, we as people are not shocked by anything anymore, not even by the most brutal genocides. A song like « Burn, Hollywood, Burn » shows my hatred of fake reality-TV celebrities. Some people are more moved by that than by the most horrible atrocities on the planet.

It looks like EXODUS have always tried to teach people something about violence. One of your live albums is called Lessons In Violence. Do you feel like a teacher ?

No, I don’t! In some ways, maybe we can be educators. Hopefully some of our songs can educate people, like the Japanese occupation of China in 1937. But we’re not here to teach a class. We simply hope that people will learn something along the way.

Can you tell us something about the video which was recently made for « Downfall »? I imagine that it is linked to the topic of the song, that is to say to the decadence of great nations which leads them to recession and war…

Yeah, exactly. We did a video for that song, and one for « Hammer And Life », but I haven’t filmed my parts yet. The day before the video was shot, I had to go home because of a family crisis. I’ll shoot my scene next month, so I haven’t seen any of it! I was the only guy who wasn’t there because I had to go home.

« Hammer And Life » is dedicated to the late Paul Baloff, former singer of Exodus. I guess the video will also be dedicated to him ?

Like I said, I don’t even know what the video will be like. I think the director went to a different direction. I didn’t want to write a song that was obviously about Paul and use all of his quotes, shit like that. In the video, it’s absolutely different. It’s a personal song, but I’m not going to wear my heart on my sleeve.

In which state of mind was this song written ?

A good one. The song is more about Paul’s spirit than anything else. Like I said, I didn’t want to write lyrics full of all the awesome things Paul had always said. That would be too obvious.

The artwork : Da Vinci view by Exodus

The album cover is a reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s artwork, « Vitruvian Man ». Do you think that he would have appreciated it ?

Yeah, I think he would have loved it! I think he’d be flattered.
How far do you plan to take the « Exhibit » series? Do you intend to continue it?

No, it was the last one. It was a two-part thing. I never know what we’re going to do this far in advance, so we’ll think about it when the time comes. But right now, I’m saying no.

You could have used the whole alphabet !

Yeah, that would be many albums! I don’t know if we’ll make that many more albums !

« We’re always immature ! Everything we do, we’re just being big stupid kids ! »

In 2008, you released Let There Be Blood, a re-recording of your classic album Bonded By Blood. This album was quite criticized by thrash metal fans. Apart from the fact that only you and Tom were on the original record, they complained that the production was a bit too clean and that the song had lost their charm. What are your thoughts about that?

I don’t get angry with anybody about that, because they’re only defending and protecting an album I made. We do have a modern production, but we certainly didn’t do it clean: we recorded the thing in less time than we recorded Bonded By Blood. I have no regrets, we did this to pay homage to the guys who made the first album. It also had the benefit of introducing people to the original: not all our fans are that old and go back that far. We did it independently, we didn’t even do it through the traditional means. Some people just don’t like the idea of re-recording classics, I think that’s more what it’s about.


Isn’t it a bit strange that an album you did when you were a teenager became such a classic album ?

We would never have predicted it. We thought the album was killer, we really liked it, but we were just playing the kind of metal we wanted to hear. After all the years, it’s still considered as a landmark metal album. It’s quite an honor and a compliment that people hold it in such high esteem.

Before re-recording it, when you listened to Bonded By Blood, did you ever think: « We were so young, this was not very professional… Maybe we could do it again, as adult musicians… » ?

When we were doing it, Tom and I were just laughing all the time, thinking about all the mayhem that took place when we were recording the original. It was a non-stop party at the time! We recorded in a studio that was on a farm, basically. All of our friends would come up, we would get so drunk and started fighting, and shit would be broken every day… It was crazy. It’s a wonder we actually ever got the album done! We would drink like madmen all night, and in the morning we would get up and start recording. It was really cool.

Are you a bit more serious now when you’re recording an album ?

Oh, yeah. I mean, we have fun the whole way through, we’re always laughing and joking, but I enjoy a good night’s rest more than I did then !

« Le thrash old school n’est pas le seul style à vivre un revival. […] Aujourd’hui est une excellente époque pour jouer du metal .»

You’re getting old, then ?

Yeah, I gotta take better care of myself.

Musically, do you think that the new version is a bit more mature than the version you released all those years ago ?

We’re always immature ! Everything we do, we’re just being big stupid kids !

Exhibit A and above all Machine Head’s album The Blackening, seem to have started the fashion of thrash music with progressive sonorities and long, convoluted songs. What’s your opinion on this ?

Everybody does what they want to do musically. We don’t plan thing, we never think we need to write a long song. When the song’s done, it’s done, and sometimes in turns out to be nine-minute long. To me it’s musically liberating to write whatever you want. You don’t have to worry about radio or stupid shit like MTV. You just do what you want to do as a musician, and if the result makes you happy, that’s all that matters.

This year, thrash fans will have the opportunity to see a multitude of historical gigs. There’s the Big Four during the Sonisphere Festival, and there was recently the 20th anniversary of Megadeth’s Rust in Peace with Testament and Exodus. In your opinion, is this celebration of thrash metal the consequence of the thrash revival which we observed in the last few years, with bands like Municpal Waste or Violator ?

Exodus worked non-stop for the last seven years, so I think the thrash metal revival has a little bit to do with all the hard work we put into it. I think it’s happening with all forms of metal, not just thrash metal. Death metal and traditional metal are all making a come-back now. It’s a good time right now to play metal, regardless of what kind it is, as long as it is true and honest.
There’s a new band called Bonded By Blood. Have you heard about them ?

They actually played a couple of shows with us in the past. I heard some of their new music, it’s really good.

What are you feelings regarding a band called Bonded By Blood ?

It’s a total compliment. They’re not the first band to name themselves after a song, bands have been doing that since the dawn of time. It’s always a compliment.

How did the anniversary shows with Machine Head and Testament go ?

It was awesome. Virtually all shows were sold out. Everybody had a good time. It was nice being on tour with all friends, being able to share old stories and stuff. We had a lot of fun.

Have you ever thought about playing Bonded By Blood in its entirety on stage ?

We’ll actually play nothing but Bonded By Blood from start to finish at the Hellfest this year. We’re thinking about going back to Europe next year and making a special Bonded By Blood tour to commemorate the album. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

« I’m not very good at holding a grudge and staying angry. I get over things pretty quickly. Sometimes I wish I could stay angry longer!»

Exhibit B is your third album with Rob Dukes. Do you think he was easily accepted by Exodus fans ?

He was accepted from the very start, he’s the perfect frontman for this band. There are always people who only love the old school stuff, but for one person who wishes this was still 1989, there are 20 fans who love the new stuff. But these people are going to listen to the new record and hear what an amazing job Rob did, and their opinion is going to change. Most of our fans were not even born when we released Bonded By Blood, and only the 50-year-old guys tend to be very old school. When people see a guy with a bald head, they might think: “Yeah, he’s not thrash metal”. But Kerry King and Scott Ian are still as thrash metal as they ever were, and they have zero hair! That’s just ridiculous. Rob does such a killer job on this new album, he’s gonna blow everybody away.

Steve Souza has a new band now, called Tenet, with a bunch of Strapping Young Lad guys. Have you heard their album ?

Yeah, I heard it before it ever came out. It’s really good.

I think your separation with Steve wasn’t very friendly. How is your relationship with him now ?

We’re friends again. We don’t talk all the time on the phone, but then again, I don’t talk to many people on the phone. He actually came out to a show in San Francisco to see us play, to sing “The Toxic Waltz” with Rob. Unfortunately, I missed most of it because my amps quit working halfway through the song. So instead of watching this two guys sing together for the first time, I was back there with my guitar tech trying to fix the problem. It kind of sucked. We’re on friendly terms now, I’m not very good at holding a grudge and staying angry. I get over things pretty quickly. Sometimes I wish I could stay angry longer!

So you’re not like Dave Mustaine or Kerry King ?

No, life’s too short to hold grudges.

Interview conducted by phone on April 20th, 2010

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