The next time somebody moans to you about long it takes GUNS 'N' ROSES, METALLICA or TOOL to make a record these days, feel free to remind them that EXHORDER are about to release their first album of new material in 27 years. Admittedly, Vinnie LaBella and Kyle Thomas's seminal crew didn't exist in any meaningful form for much of that period, but that really makes it even more remarkable that "Mourn the Southern Skies" is already getting a lot of people very excited. Because even though it's undeniable that the groove metal sound EXHORDER nailed down on "Slaughter in the Vatican" in 1990 was later made vastly more successful by other bands, discerning metalheads know the sound of O.G. brutality when they hear it. Preview single "My Time" went off like a nail bomb when it hit the airwaves (are airwaves still a thing?) a couple of months ago: if enormous riffs and explosive intensity are your thing, you may well be blasting it right now in anticipation of the full album. As returning statements go, "My Time" could hardly have been more potent, with Kyle Thomas once again proving that he's one of the great modern metal vocalists while spitting out more attitude and fury than any man his age should be able to conjure. And yes, it's undeniable that fans of a certain Texan quartet will be at the front of the queue for more of this stuff, but "Mourn the Southern Skies" should exterminate those lazy comparisons once and for all. Nearly three decades after they called it quits, EXHORDER have returned as an all-conquering heavy metal beast.
If you're familiar with the first two EXHORDER records, you may still not be prepared for just how absurdly heavy and destructive their third effort is. Vinnie LaBella is wielding a ridiculously powerful and crushing guitar tone here: from "My Time" onwards, this is a masterclass in how modern metal should sound, with a perfect balance struck between bowel-eviscerating bottom end and glass-shattering clarity. But the real revelation is that Vinnie LaBella has spent the last 27 years stockpiling and tinkering with material of extraordinarily high quality. The roots of EXHORDER's sound remain the same, of course: raging thrash metal, blistering hardcore punk and the ubiquitous rumble of Sabbath are all present and correct. But while "Slaughter in the Vatican" and 1992's "The Law" were primarily myopic, relentless affairs, this incarnation of EXHORDER has depths and nuance to spare, with the band's penchant for loping grooves brought firmly to the fore and several forays into out-and-out doom territory adding extra layers of menace and muscle.
Aided greatly by Kyle Thomas's endlessly compelling vocals but also by Vinnie LaBella's self-evident exuberance, this thing swings like an elephant's ballbag and kicks like a steroidal mule. It starts with a steady stream of newly minted gems — "Asunder" and "Hallowed Sound" are both hulking bruisers, predicated on scything thrash riffing and swampy swagger, while "Beware the Wolf" is a heads-down speed-snorting rager with a bad attitude. Later on, EXHORDER pull out a re-recorded version of early days tune "Ripping Flesh", originally released on the band's first "Get Rude" demo in 1985, it was fist to the eye socket back then, but today it sounds vastly more terrifying and extreme, LaBella's guitar tone threatening to slice faces off as Thomas's temple-veins burst like geysers. It's all so pumped-up and belligerent that you may find yourself wondering why it took the band so long to get their shit together. And then there are the epics: "Yesterday's Bones" is all slow-burning, bluesy sludge and BLACK LABEL pomp, with tasty lysergic undercurrents and a stunning solo from LaBella, while the closing title track lurches and stomps across nine-minutes of supremely dirty and atmospheric southern-fried doom, melancholic essence oozing from every pore and progressive flair on full display. It's a stunning finale.
There was a time when the only things most metal fans knew about EXHORDER were that they sounded like, you know, that other band, and that they wrote bad things about the Pope. Roughly 53 minutes after you press play on "Mourn the Southern Skies", the most important thing to know about EXHORDER is that they've just made one of the finest metal records of 2019.