After a seven years’ hiatus, EXODUS have come back this year with a new record called “Persona Non Grata.” The Bay Area band, with their long-running career since 1985, have been reinventing themselves, record after record. Nonetheless, their aggressive thrash sound that enforces the listener to get into a moshpit is their sonic signature. That signature is, for sure, the common thread within this new work.
The title “Persona Non Grata” makes us think whether it is a conceptual album, as the name in Latin has a strong reference to an alter ego, or perhaps a character that they want to make up over the course of the songs. From the beginning to the very end, these escalated sounds transport the listener to a world of madness where night-time creatures appear in a fierce dance. Titles such as “Slipping Into Madness,” “Prescribing Horror,” “The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Approves),” “Lunatic Liar God” give this work a personality that comes from a serial killer’s horror movie, where evilness is at the center of the plot. The sound of the record does justice to the aggressive titles, as it is heavy on riffs, rapid on its drums, and abrupt on Steve Souza’s vocals. As the second work with Souza on the vocals, who previously fronted EXODUS from 1986 to 1993 and from 2002 to 2004, “Persona Non Grata” functions as a return of that fierce old-school face of the band in a voice that screams for headbanging swing on a live show.
The record starts with an energetic title track; with long-lasting guitar riffs and the sudden appearance of Souza’s voice, “Persona Non Grata” starts the album off right. The song gets its ticking point with a guitar solo that gives a melodic touch to this fierce intro. Our sonic journey continues with “R.E.M.F.,” which is an intense headbanging symphony full of textures: from guitar riffs to punchy drums and a Souza scream that says “Rear Echelon Motherfuckers” (the actual meaning of its acronym) – a definite album highlight. The record finds a major climax on the song “Prescribing Horror,” as it has a gloomy essence with a slower rhythm and a voice that moves gently while transmitting a mysteriousness that unleashes at the end with some baby screams. It is indeed an odd song, but the whole record is shadowy as it seeks to move the listener from adrenaline to suspense. In contrast, right after this weird song, “The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Approves)” appears violently. This piece is somehow “catchy” as it is not as long as the average 7-minutes of most tracks on this album, and in addition, the overall sound is not that full of riffs and drum beats. However, it still upkeeps the energetic yet mysterious atmosphere of the album.
Another highlight is “Lunatic Liar God,” which is preceded by a weird-named “Cosa Del Pantano” intro. It features a melody that starts softly with some acoustic guitars, while moving toward Souza‘s sharp voice as he recreates a story of religious wartime through the lyrics. The song moves gently, little-by-little to the end, which makes the listener think that it is a prelude to another dimension within this record. Well, indeed it is, as the song guides us to the finish line. The end reaches the listener with “The Fires of Division,” a piece that wakes us up from the moody sound in the previous passage. The song is a rapid sonic journey of aggressive riffs that are reminiscence of the war field that the record is attempting to summon with the lyrics. At the very end, “Antiseed” overdoses our senses with an up-and-down mixture of heavy riffs and a drum beat that motivates the listener to simply stand up and jump around to its rhythms – a masterpiece to close out the record.
In general, “Persona Non Grata” fulfills its aim: to give the listener aggressive stamina while creating nostalgia for the band’s past. However, I would say that the album went a bit overboard by delivering a long-length album of twelve songs, plus almost each of them lasts around 7 minutes. This long-lasting repertoire could make unfamiliar listeners feel a bit tired of listening to songs that are long and full of rapid instrumental changes, and probably give up in the middle of the record. On the other hand, it can also encourage those listeners to feel curious about the genre, as the lyrics are well-aligned to the experimental riffs that move throughout this piece. That said, I would definitely recommend this album, even if you are not a big “thrash metal” fan. Just be patient, take the first listen with a grain of salt, and allow the second to unleash its fury so you can mosh away to the jumpy mood of this release.
Written by Hector Sanchez
1. Persona Non Grata
3. Slipping into Madness
5. Prescribing Horror
6. The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)
7. The Years of Death and Dying
9. Cosa del Pantano
11. The Fires of Division
Tom Hunting – drums
Gary Holt – guitars, backing vocals
Steve “Zetro” Souza – lead vocals
Jack Gibson – bass, backing vocals
Lee Altus – guitars