Exodus – Persona Non Grata (Nuclear Blast)
The fickle hand of fate has given Exodus a merciless slapping over the years.
When it comes to the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’, few of their peers have come so close, so often and still never quite made it to metal’s fabled summit.
On material alone, Exodus should be massive.
Their 11-album back catalogue stacks up alongside Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth et al.
And the punishing Persona Non Grata is proof that the bone-crunching Californians have plenty left in the locker.
The band’s iconic brand of thunderous thrash still sounds thrilling more than 40 years down the line.
So why do Exodus remain the nearly men of metal?
A revolving doors line-up in the early 80s hardly helped their cause.
As rival acts bedded in and settled down, Exodus dropped off the pace due to a lack of cohesion and a lack of direction.
Future Metallica man Kirk Hammett famously learnt his trade with the band before hooking up with James Hetfield and co.
And Exodus went through talented musicians for fun before founding member Tom Hunting finally found his mojo…and the right men for the job.
But even 1985’s blistering debut Bonded By Blood was delayed due to record label wranglings.
And although Exodus released five standout metal classics in seven years before a mid-90s hiatus, the band’s story continued to be blighted by bad luck, bad decisions and bad timing.
But in 2021 that narrative has changed. And for the better.
Holt The Front Page
In Hunting and Gary Holt, Exodus boast the beating heart of this brilliant band.
And both men are pivotal to Persona Non Grata’s pulverising power.
Hunting rips through the first Exodus album in seven years like a man possessed.
Holt, meanwhile, is at his menacing and measured best.
Technically proficient, the Slayer alumnus fuses raw passion with his note-perfect delivery.
And the result is a gloriously riotous record for the ages.
According to the band, the follow up to 2014’s bruising Blood In, Blood Out ‘touches on the themes of modern societal disgust and degradation’.
And it does.
Lyrically, it’s often uncomfortable and frequently divisive.
But what Exodus fail to mention in their PR blurb is that the weight of Persona Non Grata’s challenging content is matched by the density of a suffocating soundscape.
And that’s due, in large part, to the mountain of a man behind the mic.
Frontman Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza proved his worth on 1987’s Pleasures Of The Flesh.
And almost 35 years later he’s somehow eclipsed that performance with a career high vocal masterclass that crushes the opposition.
Without Souza it’s possible Persona Non Grata might have worked out ok.
With him, this album is elevated to a level even the most ardent Exodus fan would never have dared believe possible.
Why Persona Non Grata Is Thrash Metal For The Masses
Persona Non Grata is bristling with attitude, angst and abrasive metal.
The seven minute-plus title track is a stunning statement of intent: Holt and Souza mixing clarity and aggression to perfection.
R.E.M.F picks up the pace as a whiplash riff cedes to Hunting at his brutal best.
But what about The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)?
It’s the least catchy but most oppressive song title here.
And three minutes of urgent Anthrax-style pop metal is pulsatingly brash.
If Steps did thrash metal? Almost.
At his affecting best, Souza naturally sounds like a wizened old witch drunk on some hallucinogenic brew.
So it’s little surprise he’s at his most evil on Prescribing Horror.
But it’s the alliterative thrust of Lunatic Liar Lord (the most retro Metallica song here) that allows Exodus’s main man to let rip without compromise.
Souza, Holt and Hunting are bonded in blood and bloodied by an often unforgiving music business.
Persona Non Grata is the trio’s relentless response to a life in metal.
And it’s Exodus at their most destructive…and instructive.