Blood brothers

Bay Area metal titans Exodus keep thrashing

Exodus today (from left): Lee Altus, Gary Holt, Steve Souza, Jack Gibson and Tim Hunting.

Exodus today (from left): Lee Altus, Gary Holt, Steve Souza, Jack Gibson and Tim Hunting.

PHOTO by bruce getty

Exodus perform Saturday, Dec. 13, 8 p.m., at the Senator Theatre. Aberrance and Armed for Apocalypse open.
Tickets: $18
Senator Theatre
517 Main St.

If someone told me 30 years ago that the shaggy dudes furrowing their brows and wielding Flying V’s in the posters on my bedroom wall would still be playing the same songs in 2014, I would’ve told you to go sit on a dagger protruding from a toilet.

Well, here we are—older, grayer, wiser(?)—and bands like Slayer, Anthrax and Nuclear Assault are still thrashing with the same intensity of kids half their ages. And Exodus, Death Angel and Testament—all of which put the Bay Area on the map in the mid-1980s as a haven to bang thy head—also continue to release records that shred, rip and pulverize.

“I don’t know if there’s something in the water, or we’re just focused,” said Exodus shrieker Steve “Zetro” Souza, who’s appeared on seven of the band’s recordings beginning with 1987’s Pleasures of the Flesh. At age 50, and with kids of his own, Souza is sweet and gregarious—and dead serious about his music. “If it’s not heavy, it’s not any good. I listen to metal. I’m a metalhead.”

Of course, you can’t talk about Bay Area metal without mentioning the area’s most famous metal export. There’s no denying Metallica’s importance and influence (Metallica lead-guitarist Kirk Hammett actually helped form Exodus in 1980), but being fat and rich doesn’t necessarily translate to metal intensity. And while the mighty Metallica has gotten musically flabby over the past two decades, Exodus has unleashed some lean thrash metal gems, including the latest, Blood In, Blood Out, the first to feature Souza since 2004’s Tempo of the Damned.

Souza said he and the other members had to hash things out after a decade of mudslinging (one has to wonder if there were any Some Kind of Monster moments?). After that, with the new material already written, he came in and went right to work.

“When I came in it was like getting on a bike … vroom!” Souza said of recording the new record. “The riffs kill. They’ll tear you apart. I hear 30 years of Exodus on this album.”

Well, of course he’s going to say that. But one listen to Blood In, Blood Out, and you believe him. “Collateral Damage” and “Body Harvest” are lyrically and musically relentless, with disenfranchised gang vocals, and piles of riffs and lead guitar work adding to the mayhem. Hammett returns to the fold to guest on “Salt the Wound,” laying down a wah-wah-laden solo over riffmeister Gary Holt’s galloping rhythm. It was the first time Hammett recorded with the band since playing on early Exodus demos (apparently he came in, shredded, and the members had a barbecue and drank beer after).

Over the past five years Exodus, along with other bands from the era not named Metallica, are finally seeing their influence blatantly manifest itself in newer bands. Mighty thrash riffs and denim vests are alive and well in bands like Vektor and Skeletonwitch. And Souza doesn’t need to look any further than his own side project Hatriot, which includes his two sons, to see that 1980s thrash is alive and well.

Souza says he’s definitely enjoying being back with the band that gave him his start (he’s also worked with Testament). Exodus is currently touring with Slayer and playing a handful of one-off gigs without them, such as the upcoming Nov. 13 Chico show at the Senator Theatre. Holt is also playing guitar with Slayer, officially replacing Jeff Hanneman, who died of liver failure in May 2013. The members of Exodus are still metalheads through and through, which is why Souza says he’s still able to do what he does. But he doesn’t take it for granted.

“I remember standing on stage during one of our dates in South America and thinking, ‘This is what you wanted when you were growing up—now you’ve got it,’” Souza said, adding with a laugh, “I was a young kid when we started. Now I’m an old kid.”