Review Summary: ...And Justice For All, Exodus style.
In two consecutive years after officially reforming, Exodus unleashed two thrash classics upon the metal community. Arguably the most impressive thing about the two efforts is how starkly different they were from each other, due in no small part to the fact that both albums contained different vocalists. 2004's Tempo of the Damned was an angry, aggressive, outspoken, yet mostly mid-paced affair that showed Exodus taking more of a political or social stand than in the past (and emphasizing that stand, instead of just thrashing out). Shovel Headed Kill Machine, released the following year, was more of an uber-pissed off speed/thrash affair that impeccably blended classic and modern styles, and, aside from a couple of low blows to organized religion, was just Exodus thrashing mindlessly, and writing the lyrics accordingly. While neither saw much commercial success, both were huge hits amongst metalheads everywhere. The 'selling out' option aside, the next logical thing a band would try to do after releasing a couple of albums with that level of substance, is to the blend the two styles. Exodus did just that, and out comes 2007's The Atrocity Exhibition... Exhibit A.
Exodus' main goal while recording Atrocity, it seems, was to create an album that was as lyrically (and occasionaly musically) sinister, critical and irritated as Tempo, while retaining as much speed and musical aggression from SHKM as possible. Now, they did fuse the styles, but whether they did so successfully is up for debate. Atrocity, as it shall be called from here on out, is a pretty good album. But both Tempo and SHKM were great albums. Thrash classics. So Atrocity is both a good album and a decrease in quality at the same time. And in the process it opens up flaws that didn't even exist on the two albums it aims to emulate.
There are two main flaws with this album, and unfortunately they are both at Atrocity's center stage. The first problem is Rob Dukes, the current Exodus vocalist. On SHKM, he utilized a throaty rasp th. at was right in the middle of the scream-growl spectrum. It worked to a charm. Here on Atrocity, he's gone from a rasp to being very screamy, and at times it is just overbearingly bad. Perhaps this is because he wanted to sound a bit more like Steve Souza, since this album was intended to bring back some of the Tempo style. Regardless, on tracks like Children of a Worthless God and The Garden of Bleeding, he's almost unlistenable. The former track even has a clean sung chorus by Dukes, and while he isn't the greatest singer in the world, it's a nice change of pace. However, the chorus can't save it from being maybe the worst track on the album (due in part to it's ridiculous 8:25 run time - more on that in a bit). At his worst, Dukes is horrible on this album. But he has some bright spots too. Riot Act, Iconoclasm, and Bedlam 1-2-3 seemed to feature more focused deliveries by Dukes, and it helps add to the wild pace of the three tracks (all of them also lean a little more toward the SHKM style, coincidence or not). As It Was, As It Soon Shall Be actually shows Dukes utilizing the rasp from the previous album in the verses, although his chorus vocals are not good.
Atrocity's other issue is the length of some of it's tracks. Funeral Hymn, Children of a Worthless God, and the title track are all well above 8 minutes long, with the title track (oddly enough, an album highlight) boasting a 10:33 runtime. Iconoclasm and Bedlam 1-2-3 (on the normal version) are both at least 7:50. Everything else except for the intro and Riot Act is at least 5 minutes. A huge chunk of each track's length is taken up by sheer repetition. Exodus milks every single last riff on this album, many songs containing extended sections of just riffs, neither verses, choruses, or guitar solos. Making matters worse, these are oftentimes stacked toward the beginning of the song, as in the case of Children..., as well as the album's two closing tracks. Fortunately (or sadly, depending how you look at it), when Exodus isn't just playing the same riff a million times and are actually focused, they deliver the goods with force. Children of a Worthless God is the only truly subpar track here, while the title track and Bedlam 1-2-3 should settle in nicely among the ranks of Exodus' best outputs.
The album's intro instrumental, A Call To Arms, is short and sweet featuring a great clean riff in the beginning, and an even better main riff. It flows right into Riot Act, which is a non-stop speed assault that is Dukes' best vocal outing on the album. Funeral Hymn drags at times, but when the band isn't dicking around (as mentioned above), this track is fireworks. Children of a Worthless God is the album's low point, featuring really crappy unclean vocals by Dukes, excessive riff wankery, and a goofy outro section that adds absolutely nothing to the song. Despite being one of the album's slower offerings, As It Was... is a bit reminiscent of SHKM, once again defined by the vocals of Dukes, this time leaning a bit more towards rasp than scream, at least in the verses. The album's title track is by far the longest on the disc, but it's arguably the best, featuring plenty of tempo changes, multiple solid riffs, and really impressive drumming by Tom Hunting. The song is spiritually kin to Deathamphetamine from SHKM, even though it's probably the most abrasive on the album lyrically, with organized religion in the crosshairs (whoda thunk?). The track evolves as it goes, culminating in a hugely intense final chorus (the chorus is fairly intense the first few times, too).
Iconoclasm is another speedy one, and alternates between being blindingly fast and mid-paced. Dukes even uses some voice distortion at the beginning. The Garden of Bleeding is another weak track. It has a very cool intro and a basic-yet-effective main riff, but that's about it. This track is another victim of excessive riff wankery, and is, strangely, devoid of a solo. The album's closer, Bedlam 1-2-3, starts a little slow, with still more pointless riffing (I mean, seriously?). Once it picks up however, this song is a fist-pumping thrash anthem, and possibly Exodus' best mosh song since The Toxic Waltz. A perfect way to close the album.
All in all, Atrocity is a good album, when things average out. What I mean by that is, this album is quite inconsistent, and is too often unfocused in it's songwriting and vocal delivery. The music is aces when Exodus is on their game, but unfortunately that doesn't happen enough here to put this in the ranks of Tempo of the Damned or Shovel Headed Kill Machine. It is a second-rate Exodus album, although considering how awesome of a band we're talking about here, second-tier isn't the end of the world. However, the band never makes the same album twice, and after hearing a track from the upcoming Exhibit B album, there appears to be plenty of realistic hope for improvement in the future.
The Atrocity Exhibiton... Exhibit A