Formed in 1985, Louisiana’s Exhorder left a brief but lasting impression on a dying thrash scene with their controversial 1990 debut Slaughter in the Vatican and its more mature, but equally impressive 1992 follow-up, The Law (both Roadrunner). Just as thrash was making way for the unplugged introspection and tatty woolly jumpers of grunge, Exhorder arrived in an attempt to revitalise the scene.
It was a valiant effort but the band split in 1994, vocalist Kyle Thomas forming Penalty (who would eventually become Floodgate) before going on to join the likes of Trouble and Alabama Thunderpussy. Reuniting briefly in 2011, the band disappeared once again only for Thomas and founding guitarist Vinnie La Bella to re-reunite in 2017 with a new line-up. Joined by guitarist Marzi Montazeri (Superjoint Ritual), 2011 reunion bassist Jason VieBrooks (Heathen, Grip Inc.) and drummer Sasha Horn (Forbidden), Exhorder is back with new album Mourn the Southern Skies (Nuclear Blast).
Fading in with distortion and feedback, opener ‘My Time’ quickly explodes into a belligerent riff with a serious fuck you attitude. ‘Asunder’ follows, its initial southern boogie settling down into mid-paced neck-wrenching. ‘Hallowed Sound’ is the perfect combination of modern groove and late eighties thrash metal, while ‘Beware the Wolf’ is a razor-sharp expression of pure, unrelenting throwback thrash.
‘Yesterday’s Bones’, ‘All She Wrote’ and the less than subtle ‘Rumination’ keep things ticking over nicely before hitting you with the southern stomp of ‘The Arms of Man’, a fantastic track reminiscent of Thomas’s work with Floodgate. Long-time fans of the band will know what the next track is all about. Lifted from their self released 1986 Get Rude demo, ‘Ripping Flesh’ is an ear-shredding, face-melting, fret-fucking reboot, Thomas and La Bella proving they’ve retained that spiky punk attitude before closing the album with the markedly different slow stoner rock of the monstrous nine-minute title track.
There’s always a danger that when a band returns to active duty after so long, they’ll simply pander to fan service, falling back on what they know without offering anything new. Creating a natural balance between nostalgia and progression is a tricky procedure, but Exhorder has delivered on both counts. Sure, there are moments when you might think something sounds a little familiar – and yes, lazy comparisons will undoubtedly continue to be drawn to a certain Texan band who shall remain nameless, as well as the likes of Machine Head, Corrosion of Conformity, and even early nineties Exodus – but Mourn the Southern Skies is a blinding comeback album by a band who deserve more recognition than they originally received.
8 / 10