I was introduced to Exodus when I saw them open for Arch Enemy in 2010. Of course, bringing a legendary thrash metal band as an opening act wasn’t the best idea for Arch Enemy, because roughly 1/3 of the people left after Exodus finished their set. I heard this band and was blown away by the amount of brutality these guys delivered. The next day I played the first Exodus record I could find on the internet (I now own it on CD along with two other Exodus records), and it was called Shovel Headed Kill Machine. Since then I have grown to love this record all the way from the brutality to the production to all of the extremely unique qualities it has. Although Exhibit B became my favorite Exodus record when it was released, Shovel Headed Kill Machine is more of a monument for the thrash metal genre itself.
As far as each individual musician goes, I can’t see any FLAWS, though there are some areas that LACK some skill and creativity. No, I take that back, the areas that lack are in skill, not creativity; the creativity part of this album surpasses my expectations by miles. Since the vocals are what I like to talk about most on this album, I’ll save that for last. To me, the “old school thrash” sound has more of a rock n’ roll feel to it; sort of like if you took Motorhead and turned up the speed. Of course, with the exception of Slayer (who ALWAYS seems to be the exception) and a handful of other thrash bands that started in the mid-to-late 1980s like Kreator, the majority of the old school thrash metal bands had that sound, which included Exodus. As the 20th Century turned into the 21st Century, several thrash metal bands evolved their sound into what’s known as the “modern” thrash sound. Some examples would be Overkill, Destruction, Testament, Venom, and Sodom. Exodus was one of the bands that kept that old school sound a fairly big part of their music.
But then again, by the time the band came out with Tempo of the Damned in 2004, their sound had evolved into something unique. It definitely wasn’t old school thrash, but it wasn’t the typical tremolo picking and fast double bass that thrash has come to be. These bands that have evolved into their own sound (Artillery, Tankard, Metallica, Sepultura, Death Angel, etc.) are the thrash metal bands that I find most enjoyable to talk about, because they each have different things to talk about them, there isn’t just one slightly flexible description that fits all of them. So, back to where I was before: when Tempo of the Damned came out in 2004, it was more than obvious that Exodus had moved on from the old school thrash metal sound and created something of their own. Shovel Headed Kill Machine, on the other hand, works as a time machine.
Of course, because they can’t create something that’s a COMPLETE resemblance of the old school sound, it’s a modernized-version of the sound that Bonded by Blood and Fabulous Disaster gave off. Here’s how it’s different: it’s just simply heavier. There’s no other difference, yes, there are certain contributors that cause the increase in heaviness (which I will talk about in this review), but really, if this monster was released in 1988, it would be considered simply as “a really fucking heavy thrash metal album”. What are these contributing factors that I just referred to? Well, the guitars have an insane amount of distortion that has a lot of crunch. And just about any fan of extreme metal knows that a crunchy guitar distortion makes for a heavier sound. Also, the amount of bass that this album carries is enough to flatten the Eiffel Tower. And if there’s one thing that I say in most of my reviews, it’s that “more bass=more heavy, more brutal, more awesome”.
The drummer is the hardest musician for me to describe. Not because I can’t think of adjectives extreme enough to describe his skill and creativity, but because it’s just hard to ACCURATELY describe his style. He plays with a lot of power and has these random explosions of just completely tearing up the drum set. The most noticeable thing that he does is those random kick drum explosions (you can really hear them in Raze). I don’t know why he chooses to do that, because it’s just weird and not something that you’re used to hearing. But yet again, it’s so awesome that I can’t imagine the music sounding good without it. Of course, the hot topic whenever it comes to Exodus is Mr. Dukes. His vocals are literally THE most unique in the ENTIRE thrash metal genre. Most of the time he’s pretty much borderline screaming. And in fact, he actually does scream quite a bit. I don’t know if he does these vocals on purpose or if it’s just his natural really nasty yell; but whatever it is, it adds brutality and infinite energy to Exodus’ music.
Shovel Headed Kill Machine isn’t my favorite Exodus album, but it can’t go untouched by ANYONE that chooses to give this bay area thrash metal band a listen. Bonded by Blood isn’t the only good Exodus record out there, man! There’s more to it than just that! I would recommend this to all thrash metal fans and also people that are looking to get more into the genre than just the major essentials (i.e. Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Kreator, etc.). I would give Shovel Headed Kill Machine 18/20.