The 1990's and early 2000's were not great times for bay area thrashers Exodus. They began a hiatus in 1992, released a single live album in '97, and invited original lead singer Paul Baloff back into the band only to see him tragically die shortly afterward. All in all, it was 12 tough years between studio releases for the band. The album they did finally release, Tempo of the Damned, isn't just a nice little comeback album - it's a top-tier genre highlight of the decade.
In the BbB and FD days, Exodus carved their niche as being a talented, rather lighthearted thrash band who only cared about one thing: thrashing. Right from the opening riffs of Tempo's opening track, Scar Spangled Banner, you can tell that Exodus has altered the formula quite a bit since then. Aside from thrashy as hell, some adjectives that immediately come to mind when describing Tempo are malicious, heavier than hell, unforgiving, and blasphemous. Slayer wishes they could make some of their lines stick like these:
America - the arrogant, the belligerent/God's sh*t is grace on me!
All they do is sh*t and breed/To ignorant to ever succeed/Stupidity should not be multiplied
The worlds a big cesspit/Of puke and piss and dogshit/But I aint gonna be its whore
You're cruci-fucked and you're out of luck/if you put your faith in the flock
... and pretty much the entirety of 'War Is My Shepherd' and 'Shroud of Urine'. You name it, Gary Holt wrote plenty of it: god-bashing, war-bashing, country-bashing, sh*t, f*ck, extermination of idiots, the bloody revenge of a beaten wife, and lots more. Souza's witch-like voice only adds to venom of what's being shouted, and even takes his most aggressive approach yet, letting loose quite a few more roars and screams than in albums past.
Just in case you think that Exodus kicking the lyrical vinegar up five or six notches is them compensating for some devastating loss of talent... well, stop thinking that. The riffing on this album is top-notch, with Gary Holt (who too often goes unmentioned in the whole thrash rhythm guitarists discussion, thanks in part to Mustaine and Hetfield), leading the way and crunching out some of the nastiest rhythms in the genre. Tom Hunting is back on drums, making his first appearance since Fabulous Disaster, and he delivers the heavy, punching sound that was so much a part of albums past. His brutality-over-finesse style suits this one perfectly. Bassist Jack Gibson is a new addition to the band, and is perfectly competent at this craft. However, much credit is due to producer Andy Sneap for giving Gibson's bass a constant presence in the spacious mix.
The songs themselves are crushing. Scar Spangled Banner and War Is My Shephard are unrelenting attacks on the American govermnent's fatal flaws, namely warmaking. Blacklist is a slower affair that, stylistically, recalls the band's earlier material (mainly because of the silly chorus, which basically features 3 or 4 lines all ending in 'on/in my blacklist!'). It's still unrelenting heavy, though, and would be a highlight on quite a few other albums. If there is one song on this album that could be deemed 'out of line', Shroud of Urine is that song. Souza lets some brutal screams fly in this one while shouting about the idiocy of the church. The solo also features a bit of melody toward the end, which is a nice disruption from the usual all-out attack.
The pace kicks back up with Forward March, which musically is a great track, if a little long. Culling The Herd is somewhat of a deviation from the formula. It's probably the album's most melodic offering, with Souza engaging in nearly-clean, rhythmic singing in the chorus. The lyrics steal the show, though, they are just vile. Unfortunately, we then hit our first mediocre track - Sealed with a Fist. The lyrics are certainly provocative and angry enough ('the bullet's speed/cutting right through all your bull***, 'wedded bliss began for her when the bullets hit/sixteen rounds in case she missed/sealed with a fist'). The track's downfall is it's montonous musicianship and unnecessarily slow speed. Souza doesn't give his best performance either. SWAF could have been so much better with a faster, double bass type pace. Luckily, the album redeems itself with Throwing Down, which is arguably the album's heaviest track. Impaler and the title track are two of the best three songs this album has to offer. Both are blistering thrashers delivered at maximum speed and adrenaline, and close a very impressive comeback album out perfectly.
In the 2000's decade of thrash metal, Tempo of the Damned has to be considered a top 5 album, maybe even top 3. Everything about this album is top quality and launched Exodus back into their groove.
Scar Spangled Banner
War Is My Shepherd