In a new interview with Heavy Culture, ex-EXODUS guitarist Rick Hunolt spoke about why he thinks his former band failed to achieve the same commercial heights as the so-called "Big Four" of 1980s thrash metal, namely METALLICA, SLAYER, MEGADETH and ANTHRAX. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "First of all, we were just kids. We couldn't even buy alcohol. We were super young and just crazy, full of crazy energy. We recorded the album, 'Bonded By Blood', and it took forever and ever and ever and ever for it to come out — it took forever. So that really messed us up in the world. SLAYER, METALLICA and EXODUS — we were all there at the same time, we all had albums ready to be released, and, of course, ours was last one [to come out] because of record company craziness. So, the follow-up [1987's 'Pleasures Of The Flesh'], losing Paul [Baloff, vocals] was super tough.
"I think that when anybody… A good example if 'Van Halen I' — to this day, everybody compares everything that they've done after 'Van Halen I' to 'Van Halen I'. Same thing that we've been dealing with for 30 years — everything that we do after 'Bonded By Blood' is gonna be compared to 'Bonded By Blood'. So there's always gonna be people that say that, 'No, no, no. Nothing will ever be as good as 'Bonded By Blood'.' And then there's gonna be people that say, 'Yeah, their stuff after that is good too.' It's always gonna be that way. We have no control over it.
"Hiring a new singer [Steve 'Zetro' Souza] and putting out 'Pleasures'… And then we had to wait another year for 'Pleasures' to come out; it was, like, another year for 'Pleasures' to come out. So that was like a double… '84, and then we waited till… 'Pleasures' came out, what, '86 or something? Late '85? So, people were just waiting and waiting and waiting. And we're sitting there going, 'Goddamn it.' It was a lot of pressure. Meanwhile, we got METALLICA and SLAYER and ANTHRAX now on board releasing albums every year. And we're just slowly but surely losing traction. It was tough. But shit happens. We were just kids. We didn't know anything.
"I think losing Paul was a big deal back then," Hunolt added. "I think that maybe we made a mistake by firing Paul. And this is just looking back on everything for me; this is just my personal thought. This is the stuff that I think about sometimes. What would have happened if we didn't fire Paul? I just think that maybe we would have gotten a little bit more traction if we didn't have that lag in between.
"People love Paul. And Paul was… he's a legend. He was going through a bad time in his life, and I guess, at the time, we felt that maybe he was holding us back; I think probably that's what we were thinking. I think that probably we might have thought about getting him better instead of firing him.
"But as far as the 'Big Four' goes… Well, I don't know… Maybe it should just be the 'Big Five.' I will say this: I think that everybody has their place in the old-school thrash. If you wanna give 'em a number or whatever, go ahead. I think it doesn't mean anything. I think that the people that were there and the people that love our genre know where everybody stands. And I know where we stand, for sure. Without EXODUS, I think that thrash metal would be very, very different."
Hunolt makes a guest appearance on EXODUS's new studio album, "Persona Non Grata", which will be released on November 19 via Nuclear Blast Records.
The San Francisco Bay Area thrashers' next disc will be the follow-up to 2014's "Blood In Blood Out", which was their first release since the departure of the group's lead singer of nine years, Rob Dukes, and the return of Souza, who previously fronted EXODUS from 1986 to 1993 and from 2002 to 2004.
Longtime EXODUS fans will recall that Hunolt — the other half of the famed EXODUS "H-Team" who is on every studio recording from 1985 through 2004 and co-wrote some of the band's best-known songs such as "A Lesson In Violence" and "Deliver Us To Evil" — left EXODUS after the band's highly acclaimed 2004 reunion album, "Tempo Of The Damned". Following his departure, Hunolt was replaced by HEATHEN guitarist Lee Altus.
Back in April 2019, Hunolt rejoined guitarist Gary Holt and other EXODUS members Tom Hunting (drums) and Steve "Zetro" Souza (vocals) to perform several of the group's classic songs during a METAL ALLEGIANCE concert in San Francisco, California. More recently, Hunolt joined EXODUS on stage in August at Psycho Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The original lineup of EXODUS consisted of guitarists Hammett and Tim Agnello, Hunting and vocalist Keith Stewart. Holt joined the band in 1981, while Kirk left two years before EXODUS's debut album, "Bonded By Blood", saw the light of day.
Souza is now on his third stint with EXODUS, having previously fronted the band from 1986 to 1993 and 2002 to 2004. A decade following his second departure, Souza returned to the fold in 2014, just in time to appear on "Blood In Blood Out".