With lyrics and themes focusing on brutal wars and wanton violence, Los Angeles’ Exmortus fit cleanly into a niche that’s been cut by many a battle axe before. They know it, I know it. They’re just here to throw their hat (or perhaps horned helmet, as depicted on the album cover) into the ring and pay homage. On that note, their new album The Sound of Steel succeeds exceptionally. Tropes are meant to be embraced after all. But make no mistake: this album’s thrashy metal shreds through more cheese than a pizza parlor.
Seriously though, the fretwork here is nice and old-school. Rapidly picked solos, fret tapping, squealing riffage, and strong melodies are highlighted throughout. Album single “Make Haste” is one of the weaker tracks, and it’s still pretty solid with its quick melodies. Pinch harmonics cut through the mix on “Feast of Flesh”, which is a carnivorous good time with a catchy hook. “Turn the Tide” opens with soaring riffing that makes it sound like an old Castlevania game (let’s not forget the 8- and 16-bit era of video game soundtracks was heavily influenced by metal like this).
“A Minor Instrumental” is just that, though the performances are fierce enough to make it a solid break in the action. It’s a very anticipatory track – call it a middle-album march, because that’s exactly what it sounds like with galloping rhythms and classically heavy guitar. If you want the climactic stuff, I invite you to look at “Tempest”, which is a much more flashy and intense instrumental track with pummeling percussion and wild neo-classical guitar shredding that would make Yngwie Malmsteen‘s eyes widen. You know, like a tempest. Hey, the song titles might be lackluster, but they do make for great thematic fits!
Jadran ‘Conan’ Gonzalez’ vocals are very growly, more of a death variant of metal vocal, but seeing as Exmortus flirts with melodic death metal from time to time, it’s to be expected. The group chants of ‘doom!‘ in “Riders of Doom” are so cheesy that they’re kind of cool. They set the tone for a fittingly darker track, but the tenants of thrash are all still present, complete with punky drum rhythms. “Strength and Honor” contains a backing screamed falsetto vocal that reminds me of 3 Inches of Blood (RIP). It returns briefly on “Victory of Death!”, belting out the song title as the track, and album, closes out.
For all the things that The Sound of Steel does right by sticking to hardline thrash metal, it’s quite the double-edged sword in that it’s limiting. The lyrics are average battle banter, and while it’s enough to propel songs forward and provide a good foundation for the instrumentation to do its thing, it’s nonetheless a point of contention. The predictable song structures and instrumental themes don’t offer more than riff and melody fodder, and unless you have an undying hunger for that (*raises hand*), you’ll be left wanting more. Hell, even I wanted a bit more from this album, fully anticipating that this is what I would get – it wouldn’t kill Exmortus to experiment more, incorporating more epic elements like symphonics to play into their aesthetic. Alas, what you get is what you get, and while it is good, it leaves even me wanting a bit more.
This album won’t be breaking down any artistic barriers, but it’s plenty ammo to break through a good wall of death in the pit. The Sound of Steel is just metal-ass metal, an uncompromising relic of the old days when metal came with a side of baked cheddar and had really good hair. Exmortus, if nothing else, are quite confident in the direction they take with their music, no matter the cost. It’s moments like this where a band standing up for what they believe in and enjoy is compelling enough alone to rally behind, but I would be lying if I said the awesome riffs didn’t help. Like solid thrash metal? You’ll like this.
Notable Tracks: “Tempest”; “Feast of Flesh”; “Turn the Tide”
FFO: Warbringer, Havok, 3 Inches of Blood