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Exodus – Persona Non Grata Award winner

Persona Non Grata
by Mark Machlay at 30 November 2021, 6:26 AM

Initially set for release in the summer of 2021, the seminal bay area thrash metal band EXODUS released their eleventh full-length studio album “Persona Non Grata” on November 19, 2021. Since their formation in 1979 - in addition to eleven studio albums – they have released two live albums, one compilation album and a re-recoding of their first album retitled as “Let There be Blood” in 2008. They are often left out of the “Big 4” of thrash metal but are included in the “Big 6” and “Big 8” when expanded to include bands such as OVERKILL and DEATH ANGEL. The band had particular success in the middle to later 1980s with there first three albums, “Bonded by Blood” in 1985, “Pleasures of the Flesh” in 1987, and “Fabulous Disaster” in 1989. The praise given to the latter caught the attention of several major labels, ultimately signing with Capitol Records and releasing “Impact is Imminent” in 1990 and “Force of Habit” in 1992. Unfortunately, they would break up in 1993, have a short reunion from 1997-1998, then reunite for good in 2001. They would go on to release the majority of their catalog in this new era beginning with “Tempo of the Damned” in 2004, arguably reigniting the 2000s thrash metal revival movement as well as catapulting them back into the limelight.

With “Persona Non Grata”, we see frontman Steve "Zetro" Souza  back again for the second album after “Blood In, Blood Out” in 2014. He and longtime guitarist Gary Holt had previously gotten into a feud in 2004, resulting in his departure only one album after their reunion. The long delay between albums stems from the fact that with Holt being the primary songwriter for the band, he did not have time to write as he was filling in on the road with fellow bay area thrashers SLAYER after the tragic death of guitarist Jeff Hanneman. They would begin planning for the album as early as 2017, with Souza saying in an interview, “we’re just structuring songs right now. I think we’ve probably got five or six maybe, and the makings for the rest of them – bits and pieces here and there.” He would later describe the album as “heavy as shit…really fucking heavy.” While writing would continue through 2018 and 2019, it wouldn’t be until June 2020 that they began recording in drummer Tom Hunting’s trio of home studios in Lake Almanor, California. Further delaying the album, Hunting would be diagnosed with cancer in April 2021 and it was announced the album release would be pushed back due to his illness and vinyl manufacturing issues due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, lead single “The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)” would be released on August 20, 2021 and made good on all the promises of heaviness.

EXODUS is one of those thrash metal bands that never slowed down and arguably can embody the title of thrash metal itself and “Persona Non Grata” shows the band still strong after their comeback in 2004 and the metal world is better for it. The introduction to the album is the title track and it pulls no punches with pummeling fast riffs and absolutely pristine drum work from Tom Hunting, keeping up with the mixture of gremlin-like “clean” vocals and brutal screams from Souza. There are slower tracks such as the chuggy “The Years of Death and Dying” and the relentless ending track “Antiseed” but while they may not always be speedy, they make up for with tuning the guitars down a bit and getting sludgy while still having catchy riffs to head bang and hit a circle pit with. They show some southern drolling in the instrumental “Cosa Del Pantano” that sounds as if it was recorded with a southern metal twang in the deep south bayous of Louisiana. You may think they’re getting soft here but this leads right into the intro of “Lunatic Liar Lord” which is one of the most brutal and heaviest tracks on the album. “Persona Non Grata” is just further proof that thrash metal is alive and swinging and has new creative journeys for listeners.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 10

4 Star Rating

1. Persona Non Grata
2. R.E.M.F.
3. Slipping into Madness
4. Elitist
5. Prescribing Horror
6. The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)
7. The Years of Death and Dying
8. Clickbait
9. Cos del Pantano
10. Lanatic-Liar-Lord
11. The Fires of Division
12. Antiseed
Steve "Zetro" Souza – Lead Vocals
Gary Holt – Guitars and Backing Vocals
Lee Altus – Guitars
Jack Gibson – Bass
Tom Hunting – Drums and Backing Vocals
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records


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