By the time EXODUS split up in the early '90s, they had all but lost their steam, their latter-day recorded output serving as little more than a painful reminder of the fact that the band would never recapture the magic that had made their first couple of efforts such classics in the thrash metal genre. The group's last studio album, 1992's "Force of Habit", was a decent enough effort that died a quick death at the hands of Capitol Records, who had effectively given up on the band after their failure to capitalize on their early sales potential.
Although it would be another five years before EXODUS would reunite with original singer Paul Baloff to record the now-classic live album "Another Lesson In Violence" (one of the greatest "live" albums ever made, in this writer's humble opinion), the band's legend never faded away, with many extreme metal acts citing the group's precision-like delivery and riff-laden approach as a major influence (just ask the likes of KREATOR, AT THE GATES or any of the current purveyors of the ever-popular Swedish "Gothenburg" sound).
Seven years later, EXODUS — still mourning the loss of Baloff, who passed away in February 2002 after suffering a massive stroke — have been rejoined by Baloff's replacement, Steve "Zetro" Souza, and have delivered an inspired and impressive comeback album that stays true to the band's pioneering sound while sounding fresh enough to avoid coming across like a mere rehash.
Aided in no small part by the crystal-clear, flawless production of British metal producer extraordinaire Andy Sneap, "Tempo of the Damned" opens with several tracks that can only be described as "typical EXODUS". "Scar Spangled Banner" is all dizzying riffs and pounding drums, with Zetro's distinctive delivery and "gang" backing vocals sounding like they could have come straight off one of the band's late '80s releases. "War Is My Shepherd" follows in the same aggressive, up-tempo fashion, while "Blacklist" is a classic EXODUS mid-tempo cruncher that possesses an infectious groove and an equally hooky chorus. "Shroud of Urine", like many of the other cuts on the album, showcases Zetro's much-improved vocal range, with a higher-pitched, scratchier-sounding edge adding to the song's intensity and making it one of the album's highlights.
The high standard is maintained for the next couple of cuts, with "Forward March" featuring more classic riffing from the Gary Holt/Rick Hunolt guitar team and vocals that range from "typical Zetro" to something that can only be described as borderline "rapping" (and no, we're not talking LIMP BIZKIT-style ebonics here). "Culling the Herd", while not a personal favorite, represents a slight change of pace, with Souza sounding, for once, like he's not gargling glass and proving that he can carry a melody when necessary.
Much has been made of EXODUS' decision to go back to the vaults for material to include on this CD, and for a good reason: "Sealed With A Fist" and "Throwing Down" are both reworked versions of songs originally written for and demoed by WARDANCE, the ill-fated mid-'90s act formed by Holt and drummer Tom Hunting, and unsurprisingly, neither fully justifies its presence on here (especially the latter, which at times sounds like second-rate PANTERA). "Impaler", on the other hand, is an early '80s EXODUS classic that was never before properly captured in a recording studio, and one that comes across as far too NWOBHM-inspired to fit comfortably alongside the much more aggressive nature of the rest of the material.
These minor grievances aside, "Tempo of the Damned" is as good an album as one could have hoped for from EXODUS after such a lengthy absence from the recording studio. Arguably the group's finest effort since 1989's "Fabulous Disaster", this is the work of a band who still hold a respectable spot in the metal scene and who still have a lot of good days left ahead of them.