Dancing With the Damned
CoC chats with Gary Holt and Tom Holting of Exodus
by: Jackie Smit
Exodus is back, and at this point, introductions are not necessary. Yet, as easy as it is to recall their place among the elite few that formed an integral part of the fertile breeding ground that was Bay Area thrash, many won't realise upon spinning their latest effort that _Tempo of the Damned_ nearly didn't happen. Indeed, as the nineties grew older and death metal had all but overshadowed the once-dubbed "heaviest music on earth", the talent that brought the metal genre classics such as _Bonded by Blood_ and _Fabulous Disaster_ was about to be swallowed up by a myriad of personal problems that included the death of a close friend and copious amounts of illegal chemicals. But in a true triumph of the human spirit that would not look out of place on an afternoon talk show, guitarist Gary Holt and his partners in crime managed to pull Exodus' barely-breathing carcass back from the brink of obscurity.

Fast-forward to our present point in time and I'm sharing a couch with Gary and drummer extraordinaire Tom Holting, in a plush hotel in central London. Throughout the conversation, Gary and Tom will both make reference to the fact that for them, Exodus has been reborn -- and in case you're sceptical, a quick spin of their latest platter should be all that's required to set you straight.

CoC: Exodus has gone through quite a lot of problems in the past few years: the drugs, Paul Barloff's passing and so forth. Out of these experiences, which would you say played the biggest role in how _Tempo of the Damned_ eventually turned out?

Gary Holt: Personally, I'd have to say getting off the dope. That took the haze away and cleared that fucking grey cloud that was covering up any creative spark I had. Once that was gone, the ideas were just flying out. The energy came back, the desire to focus came back and that brought the fucking aggression and the fucking electricity back to us, which made the album into what it is. Also, Paul's death -- when I got cleaned up and I could think clearly, the reality of the situation... that was a huge inspiration to make the album as good as it is.

Tom Hunting: I feel the same way. We didn't have any focus and there was no work being done until we got ourselves together.

GH: We worked more on getting more fucking speed than we did writing anything.

CoC: The album was released on the 2nd of February, which is the anniversary of Paul's death. Was this the intention from yourselves or from the label, or is it just a coincidence?

GH: Intentional from myself. Unfortunately it's only being released in the States on March 9. But basically the label told me that they're shooting for a February release and I told them that if that's the case, then why not February 2nd, and they said that wouldn't be a problem.

CoC: So, do you regard this album as your own personal tribute to Paul?

GH: Absolutely.

CoC: What do you think his opinion of the record would be if he were around to hear it?

GH: He'd love it.

TH: I think he -does- feel wherever he is -- he definitely approves of this.

GH: His spirit is still with us. I mean, you listen to some of Zetro's vocals on the new songs and you hear Paul kinda channelling in his ass on a lot of it.

TH: And Paul was a huge influence on Zetro -- I mean, he started the whole thing. Zet would be the first one to admit that.

GH: They both have different styles and it was totally unintentional, but you listen to the new stuff and there's definitely some of Paul coming out there.

CoC: Let's talk about the deal with Nuclear Blast. How did that come about?

GH: This album would never have been done -- apart from our own problems -- if it hadn't been for the generosity and commitment of a lot of people.

TH: We had to reach out to a lot of people.

GH: Yeah, because we recorded it ourselves. I mean, Andy Sneap covered all of his own expenses because he believed in this project. A friend of ours put up his credit card and paid for the studio where we recorded the drum tracks. The studio where we recorded everything else -- the guy put up with us for no money upfront and actually took an active part in feeding us a lot of the time. Those guys all made this album happen. Then we had a finished album and we were in the exact position that we wanted to be in. We had a killer album done, and you're always going to get a better deal if you can provide the label with a fantastic product. We had a shortlist of people we wanted to shop it to and Nuclear Blast were at the top of the list -- they were the label I felt should be our home.

TH: They're doing the right thing with it.

GH: They're metal fans to begin with. They know how to market this music, they have a proven track record and they've given us nothing but respect.

CoC: What about the decision to work with Andy Sneap -- how did his name come up?

TH: Well, he was the only one we wanted to work with.

GH: We worked together the first time on the live album (_Another Lesson in Violence_) and we have a similar musical history. We even played the Dynamo festival with Sabbat in 1987. Andy came out of nowhere to do the live album and I have honestly never worked with someone as well as I do with him. It's at the point now where he is the sixth member of this band.

TH: He came out of nowhere when we did the live album and he said: "I was born to mix this record."

GH: He's our producer and he's like a brother to us. I'll never do an Exodus record without him. He believed so strongly in this record that he covered every cost himself.

CoC: It must be an amazing feeling to know that there are people that believe in Exodus to such a great extent.

GH: Absolutely. The sound that he brought to this record is just killer.

CoC: It's been eight years since you brought out your last studio album. How does your approach differ from the early days?

GH: Well, it's a completely different mindset. We have this renewed energy, which I think is similar to how we felt when we were writing _Bonded by Blood_, which is why I think people are comparing the record to that. We've got a drive to just grind. I liked _Force of Habit_, but when we were making it we were fighting all the time, we were in the middle of what turned out to be a ruinous deal with Capitol Records, and when you're caught up in all the big business bullshit and you're getting no support, that's when it all just falls apart. And now we don't have that pressure. I mean, the album is a success just because we made it -- whether it sells ten copies or fucking ten million. We're a fucking behind the music special waiting to happen. We've got drug addictions, we've got death, we've got bad deals. Hopefully if this album does well, it'll be like a "triumphant comeback". Unfortunately with music, to really be remembered you've got to die real early -- you have to go through the highest highs and the lowest lows and then die the moment you get back on top. Like Stevie Ray Vaughn: he gets clean off the fucking coke and the booze and then he fucking dies in a helicopter crash. It's like a soap opera.

CoC: What would you have done if you were never part of this soap opera, though?

TH: I'd be a shepherd.

GH: A male exotic dancer... male prostitute...

TH: ...cesspool sucker...

GH: ...proctologist... That's a hard one to say. I mean, growing up as a kid, I always wanted to be a palaeontologist, so maybe I'd be digging up dinosaur bones or something.

CoC: So for the record -- are Exodus back for good?

GH: Yeah, definitely. Unless some other crushing blow happens, but I don't see that.

TH: As long as we can do this, we will.

GH: I always said that I would do this as long as I was having fun and we broke up in 1992, because I wasn't having fun. Now, I'm enjoying myself as much as I ever have. I already have ideas for the next album!

CoC: And with all the things that you went through together as a band and have now survived -- do you think that it makes you stronger as a unit and brings you closer together?

GH: Absolutely.

TH: We were sucking on stage, until we took the drugs out of the picture.

GH: We were getting by just winging it. I mean, we had all these hardcore fans who were there, but they weren't even really listening sometimes. And anybody newer would just have seen that we were sloppy.

CoC: On _Tempo of the Damned_ you've once again delved into a lot of political subject matter. That said, I recently read a quote from you [Gary] that said you hated all politicians. Considering the material you write about, would you say that you're making observations or proposing solutions?

GH: I'm making observations. I mean, there are solutions that will never take place. If you take all the big money out of the picture, then maybe politicians wouldn't be the criminals that they are. But now it takes you x-amount of millions of dollars to get elected to public office and all that money has to come from somewhere. And I mean, I wouldn't give you fucking five bucks unless I wanted ten back, or a favour. It's these favours that are fucking things up. On "Scar Sprangled Banner" on the new album, I actually tried to answer the question as to whether I'm a liberal. No, I'm as fucking conservative as you can be. I just don't hang around with these militia fuckers and I don't run around with machine guns. But I mean, I'm no fool -- I know I'm being lied to. What else are we in Iraq for but oil? We had the second biggest genocide in Rwanda and we send what?, a fucking tiny "peace-keeping" force?! Fucking hundreds and thousands of people were being massacred with machetes, but we didn't care because they have dirt, and we don't want dirt. And on "Scar Sprangled Banner" I talk about "America, the violent and indifferent"; I'm talking about myself, not just all Americans. I'm not anti-American. I watched the bombs drop and I didn't think: "Wow, that's fucking wrong". I was watching the firepower, not the liberation of a nation.

TH: These are our opinions though. I mean, a lot of politicians base their entire campaigns on their opinions.

GH: People are taking "Scar Sprangled Banner" out of proportion and saying that I'm fucking anti-American. I'm not anti-American and "Scar Sprangled Banner" is no less anti-government than fucking "Fabulous Disaster" or any of the other anti-government songs that we've written.

CoC: What would you want people to get out of Exodus' music when the new album comes out?

GH: A black eye. <laughs> No, I want them to feel the fucking electricity, I want people to be able to feel something. I want to turn the people into fucking battlebots.

TH: Yeah, killing each other to get to the merchandise stand to buy a T-shirt.

GH: Although, every death is one less shirt sold.

CoC: Any last words from you guys?

GH: We're back. We're not going away that easily this time, so prepare yourself for some musical brass knuckles.

(article submitted 14/3/2004)

11/19/2007 J Smit Exodus: Killing on Adrenaline
12/8/2010 A El Naby 8.5 Exodus - Exhibit B: The Human Condition
11/4/2007 J Smit 8.5 Exodus - The Atrocity Exhibition... Exhibit A
9/19/2005 J Smit 9 Exodus - Shovel Headed Kill Machine
1/25/2004 J Smit 7 Exodus - Tempo of the Damned
8/12/1997 A Bromley 7 Exodus - Another Lesson in Violence
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