The Art of Atrocity

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I won’t blather on about how Exodus is one of the greatest thrash bands of all time or that over their last several albums they’ve proved to be better than ever at delivering violent thrash metal. We all know this and if you don’t, you better find out soon, lest you miss out on the excellence that is Exodus. Instead, we thought that an update on the band after the release of the outstanding DVD, Shovel Headed Tour Machine: Live at Wacken (and other assorted atrocities) and before The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit B – The Human Condition drops in May. I caught up with iron man guitarist Gary Holt at his band’s Tyrants of Evil tour stop in Seattle.

Tonight is the Seattle date of the tour with Arch Enemy. How has it gone so far?

It’s only three weeks, we have three more shows left, so it’s fairly short; short and cold, but now we’re out of the freezing weather so I’m happy about that. But it’s been going great and it’s been sold out most places. It’s been really good for both bands because us and Arch Enemy, we share some of the same fans, but we’re getting some of their fans and their getting some of our fans. The shows have been really killer, a lot of violence going on and some nights have been straight nuts. It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve been really good friends with those guys for a long time. We played the occasional festival together, but this is the first time we’ve ever toured together. We’ve been having a really good time. So we’re just doing this run with Arch Enemy and then we have the Megadeth/Testament thing in the States and we’re not planning on going to Europe until the new album is out, which should be late May.

Let me tell you what we really need here in the States; a co-headlining tour with Overkill like you did in Europe.

Yeah, we’re looking in to doing something. When the album comes out we’re going to hit the States first, so we’re bouncing around ideas right now for a headline tour and doing something cool like that.

Let’s talk about this DVD a little bit. Quite honestly, I think Shovel Headed Tour Machine is just plain fantastic.

Yeah, it came out really good! It wasn’t even an intentional DVD. We played Wacken and the show was so sick. I mean they film everything anyway and they give you the little watermarked sample and it was like, man, we really need to put this thing out, it’s really killer! What a show! Then Rob had been chasing us around with a video camera for years. He’s the sober guy in the band [laughs], so he’s the one that’s not going to leave it lying around and lose it [laughs]. He did all the editing for both discs with a guy named Craig Cefola. It just came out really good. I’m not one to like watching any of my own shit, I don’t even listen to my own records when they’re done, but I did watch this and I was laughing, crackin’ up, and it was engaging and funny. I thought it was a little different than the typical heavy metal documentary and Rob did a great job.

So there was no intent on your part to film the Wacken performance for official release as a DVD, live album, or anything else.

No, no. As soon as the show was over they said here’s a sample. You sign a release to allow them to film, but had we never received the sample we probably never would have gone ahead with it. But we just thought it was phenomenal, so we purchased the footage, audio and video both obviously, and it started from there.

It was probably to your benefit that you didn’t know going into the performance that you’d ultimately be officially releasing it.

Oh yeah! Whenever you know you’re being filmed you always fuck something up [laughs].

Rob is definitely a madman during that performance.

Yeah, 80,000 people will do that to you! [Laughs] It’s a pretty fuckin’ phenomenal experience.

There is a ton of material on Disc 3, the documentary portion. How long and involved was the overall process of assembling it?

Oh, quite a long time. It was kind of Rob’s baby all along, so we just let him run with it. He’d send me stuff and I’d look at it see what I didn’t like and what I liked. The funny thing is that now in my old age I’m a little more concerned with certain things in the DVD that I used to not be concerned about. I’ve got two kids and it’s like “Daddy’s too drunk in that scene,” and they don’t need to see their dad just sloppy drunk; a little drunk is ok [laughs]. Twenty years ago the thing would have probably been pornographic in nature [laughs]. Exodus has always been a band known for the indulgences [laughs]; sexually, drugs, alcohol, all of ‘em [laughs].

Is Rob still filming all the time?

I think he has kind of shut it down for a little while after this, but I’m sure that when the next album is out he’ll be following us around and waiting for us to fuck up [laughs].

So Rob showed the uncut film to an audience of friends at a place in the town where he lives, right?

Yeah, it was basically something he did for all of his friends in New York where he lives. It was just a moment for him to gather all his friends and drink beer. We did a proper premiere in Hollywood just a few weeks ago and it was a lot of fun. We had a good time. A good amount of head bangers showed up and they had the first crack at getting the DVD. We just watched the documentary and everyone was laughing and applauding and seemed to think it was really good, which was cool. It kind of felt weird sitting in the Steve Allen Theater watching my own documentary surrounded be people.

I’m sure people like Martin Scorsese showed up too, right?

Yeah! [laughs]

It is nice that you can get the performance and documentary DVDs, along with the audio CD of the gig without having to buy two separate products.

Yeah, exactly. You can throw it in your car or your I-Pod or whatever, so it makes it convenient.

There is a part of the DVD on which Rob was talking about consistently getting out of sync with the band with vocal patterns on one song early on and I’m totally blanking on which song that was.

Oh, well he used to always get off on “Deathamphetamine” [laughs], but he’s got it down now. It took him a while. The song has a little strange hitch in the middle riff in between the lines and it’d throw him off a little and I’d end up hollering at him [laughs]. Like “Come on, get with it man!” [laughs]

On this current tour are you premiering any new songs?

No new songs yet. We’re holding off on that right now. We just finished recording. Andy [Sneap] went through three different mixes, but I think we got the one now. We’re not even going to play anything new on the Megadeth tour. We’re going to probably just play a little collection of classics on that since it’s a more retro-oriented tour with Dave and Co. playing Rust in Peace stuff and Testament is probably playing all the classics, so we’re probably just going to stick to that. But shortly after that we’ll be kickin’ the shit out for everybody.

Did you tour at all with Megadeth in the 80s?

Not in the 80s, no. The first time was in 2003 when they made United Abominations. I mean we gigged way, way back in the beginning; one offs here and there all the time, but never toured.

So will you ever be heading back to the Pearl Room or is that a lifetime ban?

That’s a two-part question. One, I couldn’t care less and, number two, I hear it shut down anyway, so fuck ‘em! [laughs]

Oh, I didn’t even realize that.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve been told; the Pearl Room is no more. So fuck them. The funny thing is that after that show we put out some clips of it and then the guy played the nice card. We always loved playing there and we always looked forward to it. We loved the Green Room there where you had your own private bar and pool table and stuff. Then we heard he was just talking shit and we’d never play there again. Well, fuck it, if we’re never playing there again, here are the clips. Enjoy!

It was quite the classic metal moment, I must say.

Yeah, ya know, sometimes shit happens when you get ex-jocks beating on 14 year olds with acne. Too many bands just don’t do anything to stand up for them. I’m sure we’re not the first band that has looked down from the stage and saw a 120-pound kid in a denim vest getting choked out by a 300-pound monster. We’re not going to stand for that. It’s not cool under any circumstance. They swore that they wouldn’t do it and they did. It was mostly one guy.

On Let There be Blood, I was one of the reviewers that thought it was one of the few cases where a band actually bettered and did justice to the original work. At the end of the day, how split were fans and critics about the re-recording of Bonded by Blood?

Well, you have three camps. You have one camp where they loved it, you have another camp where either they won’t admit that they liked it because there is nothing not to like, but they’re defensive about the debut and I understand that. That’s ok. How can you get mad at someone who loves your first album so much that they consider it untouchable? It’s like the Bible to them. Then you have the other camp of people who just hate us anyway [laughs]. That’s the camp that I say fuck off to and I couldn’t really care less. I even did an interview with this guy in Poland who is a good friend of mine and he didn’t like it, so I kind of flipped the interview around and started interviewing him and asking him why. He said that Rob’s vocal performance is too one-dimensional. I asked how many dimensions did Paul Baloff have on it? That’s not a knock on Paul because it wasn’t meant to have a second dimension; it was all out violent thrash. Then he says well that’s true. Then I asked what would he think if Rob added a second or third dimension. And he said that he would have thought he was fuckin’ with the original too much [laughs]. Exactly! Then he absolutely agreed that he just loved Bonded by Blood and didn’t like the idea, but it had nothing to do with how we did it. I think we did it with all the energy and fire that it deserved. We didn’t sterilize it, we didn’t change the arrangements… The only thing different from the original is a couple of solos and the tuning. We have been tuning down since before Paul died. You get purists that say it’s not Exodus and Paul Baloff is rolling is rolling his grave and it’s down-tuned. So is the live album, suckers! We all liked it. There is only one Bonded by Blood and it was never meant to replace it and I tell people that it’s like a companion piece. There is a modern updating, the production, and I think as a result the songs still sound completely relevant. They sound current and strong and they don’t sound dated one bit. It’s not anything but a better production really. A couple of the faces have changed, but we didn’t stick a power metal singer in there on “Strike of the Beast.” We were just trying to show the world how we do these songs today, which is the best example of why we did it. It’s a bit of homage to the original and this is how we play them now, this is how we send live, and if you don’t like it that’s fine. It wasn’t meant to reinvent the wheel.

As for the next album…

Exhibit B: The Human Condition. It’s really, really sick. It’s really different from the last one and it’s really different from the two before. But it’s 100 percent Exodus. Out of the last three, this one is faster, but it’s also a little more melodic, and it’s also a little bit more old school. Some of Rob’s vocal patterns are just so old school; it’s killer. The production is a little more, let’s say, less sterile. Not less sterile, but less digital perfection, more organic. It’s really, really lively. There is by far more melody on it as well. Thematically, it’s a little different. Musically, the intro to this album links to the outro of the last album and this one ends on a take from the intro to the last album. The two tie together really well. The last one centered a lot on religion and this one is, as the title says, about the human condition; cruelty, ignorance, and inhumanity and brutality. Just the things that man has shown to be so adept at doing. Nuclear Blast is chomping at the bit to get the album released. We’re shooting for May 18th.


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