Exodus – Persona Non Grata
Released: November 19, 2021
Steve “Zetro” Souza | Vocals
Gary Holt | Guitar
Tom Hunting | Drums
Jack Gibson | Bass
Lee Altus | Guitar
The artwork has the one thousand words I need for this review. There is blood, there is suffering, there are demons and cops in riot gear. There is a tri-headed angel sitting on top of a throne of bodies. There’s dark clouds above. It is equal parts horrifying but beautifully captures a sense of loathing and pain. It is Exodus’ eleventh studio album and it is not for those with a weak stomach. The title has its own sense of drama: Persona Non Grata is latin for someone who is “unwelcomed” or “unacceptable”, which is perfect for the art, but also the album’s themes of disgust and society’s degradation. But it works for the community too — what metal fans don’t feel cast aside at times? So in that persona comes unity, a community to belong to, partly because you are anti- something but also because you share a sense of justice and righteousness that good thrash metal embodies. This is all quite deep but ultimately it comes down to the fact EXODUS ARE FUCKIN’ BACK!
Exodus at their best are always good for a bit of bedlam and the title track doesn’t disappoint. It’s an old school trash attack at lightning speed with Zetro’s unique vocal screech combining with a deeper growl to hit hard. It is just flat out fire. It is a pretty unrelenting seven and a half minutes but it is one of only a handful of tracks longer than six minutes.This economical approach really works in the album’s favour and gives them a bit more scope for the longer songs to stand out against some punchier tracks. ‘R.E.M.F.’ is therefore a great follow up to ‘Persona Non Grata’ as it gets straight into the chaos. Perfect beat for getting a case of severe whiplash. In this vein is first single ‘The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)’ – the shortest song in the Exodus cannon. They pack a lot into three minutes and it is a ferocious, sarcastic take down on the use of police to subdue protests. It isn’t entirely PC but asks those cracking down on rioters whether they think protestors will “grin at the abuse.” It is a different take on the situation, rather than a clear condemnation, Holt is tackling the violence by questioning the end result. ‘The Fires of Division’ is another tight track that explores similar subject matter and is a seriously hard song with more death metal vocals on the bridge.
Unlike the recognised Big 4 of Thrash, Exodus are little closer to the underground and it shows. Some songs are seriously loose and feel like they could fly off stage at any moment. Zetro’s wildman delivery certainly helps. How else does one explain the intensity of ‘Slipping into Madness’? Gary Holt’s riffs are an adrenaline shot to compliment Zetro’s vocal histrionics, and his combination with Lee Altus is up there with the great pairings in metal. On this track Jack Gibson’s rumble gets a featured role in the bridge before the guitars get their solos. Despite really being Holt’s band for 40 years, everyone involved gets their licks in and adds to the personality of the songs. The backbone is the tight drumming of Tom Hunting, who keeps the whole thing together on songs like ‘Elitist’ (which is more hardcore sounding on verses) and ‘Clickbait’. I mean if ‘Clickbait’ doesn’t have you thrashing like a maniac nothing will. Dealing with news outlets that promote false or misleading news headlines for “clicks”, it is a straight ahead energetic speed metal anthem with another catchy chorus.
One of the notable aspects of Exodus’ sound, at least this millennium, is that they don’t shy away from exploring other forms of musical violence. ‘Prescribing Horror’ is a gloomy, gothic track that evokes horror movies and may well be a reflection of Holt playing ‘South of Heaven’ with Slayer every night for several years. The baby crying is heartbreaking, an unsettling sample that takes this out of a casual listen and demands your attention. ‘The Years of Death and Dying’ is a mid tempo track with a heavy iron-clad riff that has Holt soloing during the chorus. The chorus is a full on hook for chanting back at the band that will be a sweet addition to the setlist. I could decide whether I should air guitar or sing along. How the hell am I meant to keep a hand on the steering wheel? [Note: Wall of Sound does not condone playing air guitar while driving, it is a stupid thing to do when you can air guitar safely on the bus.] There is a short acoustic jam (‘Cosa Del Pantano’) that leads into ‘Lunatic Liar Lord’. Heathen guitarist (and Exodus touring member) Rick Hunolt joins Holt and Altus for a triple guitar thrash-fest that runs nearly 8 minutes. It goes hard and fast for a few minutes but also sits back with some melodic and demonic riffage too. Zetro’s voice really sounds powerful on songs like this, where he isn’t trying to keep up with the tempo and can annunciate the lyrics with some well placed backing vocals. ‘Antiseed’ is a great closer than shifts between fast and slower tempos, a violent and dangerous track that has a serious snarl in the chorus.
Ultimately, Persona Non Grata has been worth the wait. There is all the good shit that you expect from Exodus and little filler. Andy Sneap has done an awesome job on the mix and the whole thing sounds contemporary, full blooded and undeniably sharp. What stands out most is just how hooky the album is, from the riffs to the choruses. Maybe the prolonged gestation has allowed the band to sift through riff tapes and hone their lyrics to the point that this album is a powerful statement that both celebrates their legacy and enhances it.
Exodus – Persona Non Grata tracklisting:
1. Persona Non Grata
3. Slipping Into Madness
5. Prescribing Horror The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)
6. The Years Of Death And Dying
8. Cosa Del Pantano
9. Lunatic Liar Lord
10. The Fires Of Division