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Welcome to another edition of Versus, the series where we look at two releases in heavy metal history and compare them to each other and see which one was the better record.
In this edition, we have two thrash metal debuts, from two of the most underrated bands in the thrash metal scene. Some would consider them the honorable mentions to the Big 4 of Thrash Metal. Both bands are from the Bay Area of California and have had consistent releases and been touring for over 40 years. Let’s see which release had the stronger impact in this battle i’m calling “The Battle of The Bay Area Underdogs”
In this corner, we have Exodus, with their 1985 debut record Bonded by Blood. The record is the only release to feature vocalist Paul Baloff, who would leave the band after the release and would tragically pass away in 2002 from a stroke. His vocals are a cornerstone of this record, and accent the intensity that Exodus delivers on the album. With the strong guitar playing of Gary Holt & Rick Hunolt, that coincide with the drum playing of Tom Hunting, this album delivers the fury and tenacity that made them one of the consistent driving-forces in thrash metal.
The album opens with the title track. A slow buildup, and then a ramping up pace, getting louder, and then the opening guitar section kicks in. With a galloping like thrash guitar riff to start the song off, begging the listener to keep up with the breakneck speed guitar playing. Baloff’s vocals shine on the record. With great production, adding just enough reverb to amplify his vocal delivery and ferocity. Also, adding to the gang chorus section when his vocals almost issue a call and response feel to it. Making it a live staple for the band. Then, the song includes a great intricate and fast-shredding guitar solo after the chorus, making the song end strong. A legendary track that belongs on any thrash metal playlist and a definite pit starter.
Following tracks “Exodus” and “And Then There Were None” continue the sporadic and driving speed the band delivers on this release. The band continues the call and response feel on the chorus and it works so well matching the intensity of Baloff’s vocals. Guitar playing and solos are on point on these songs and throughout the whole record. Every solo run is impressive, intricate, and the fretboard jumping is insane to the listener and just makes you want to bang your head as fast as the solo plays.
Another standout track, “A Lesson in Violence”, has got that same pedal to the metal feel to it right off the bat. The drums adding more bang to the guitar playing of Holt and Hunolt, then with the addition of the furious and aggressive style of vocals and gang vocals make the song shine. The idea of doing tempo changes throughout the chorus, before switching back to the main verse riff of the song, is so unique and different and I just love that part myself, making it another standout track. Songs like “No Love” and “Deliver Us to Evil”, both continue the booming thrash sound with excellent production and the album’s closer “Strike of The Beast” is a strong closer with an early 80’s thrash sound to it. With vocals matching the intensity, pacing and speed of the guitar playing which ends this thrash classic on a high note.
In the opposite corner, we have fellow bay area thrashers Testament, with their 1987 debut The Legacy. The band actually has some ties to Exodus, the band was originally called Legacy and fronted by future Exodus frontman Steve "Zetro" Souza. Souza, who left the band before the recording of their debut and was replaced by long time front man Chuck Billy, and was a perfect fit for the band. With this release, the band pushed themselves musically and vocally and it shows on this record as well as in the production.
The album’s opener “Over the Wall” kicks the record off with a bang, with a strong opening guitar riff with the showcase of Billy’s vocals are on a new level compared to a lot of their thrash peers. His high shrieks shine over the fast-paced, downstroke playing guitars and match the band’s savagery in their guitar playing. The double bass on the track picking up after the guitar solo is such an extra punch the song needs with the guitars and ends the song with a testosterone fueled fury. Giving you the feeling of getting ready to jump in the pit and see what the rest of the album entails. Follow up track “The Haunting” starts with great dual harmony guitar playing in the opening section and gives off a sound similar to their rivals in this battle Exodus. The guitar solo and playing by guitarist Alex Skolnick shows how impressive his guitar playing is. From sporadic fretboard jumping to sweeping, his intensity is matched to a faster pace when the drums pick up on the song.
The band does play around with their speed and playing on this record. With the track “Raging Waters”, the song has a slower, more mid-tempo feel to the song and Billy’s vocals are clean with less gruff and are higher in the mix, showing his vocal range on the track. With the chorus delivering a speed up/slow down playing section with the vocals is a nice addition, and unique delivery for the song. Adding a new element to their style of thrash. A standout track, and probably the fastest song on the record, “C.O.T.L.O.D.” is just the band firing on all points. Billy’s singing is on point, and matching the frantic guitars. Billy trying to get his lyrics all in one breath while trying to keep up with the guitars, is an impressive feat. The band as a whole is relentless with their intensity and musicianship. Fast paced guitar playing, impressive soloing, and energetic drums, this is a must listen to and my favorite track on the album.
Songs like “Do or Die” and “Alone in The Dark” continue to showcase the talent this band brings with their playing. Skolnick’s playing just gets more impressive and mind-blowing throughout the record and on these tracks especially. The album ends with the anger-fueled “Apocalyptic City”. Starting with a guitar section, with clean guitar playing and accented leads in the background. The band adds gang chorus vocals as well as another great guitar solo and playing with the album ending with the driving riff and one last shriek from Billy which closes the record out and sets the groundwork for what Testament would bring to thrash for the next thirty years.
This one is a tough call honestly. Both bands delivered amazing thrash releases and both bands continued to deliver consistently good thrash records after this release, cementing their legacy in thrash metal history. In the end, I would have to choose Exodus with Bonded by Blood, although by a VERY, VERY slim margin. For me, the vocals were the winning blow for Exodus. Both records delivered impressive musicianship, strong guitar playing, iconic thrash metal songs, but I love Baloff’s vocals just a little bit more then Billy’s vocals. Both records are iconic releases and MUST LISTEN for anyone getting into thrash metal and learning the origins of some of today’s popular thrash metal bands and I feel this might be a very tough call for the readers to decide which was a better record.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this was Versus.
What happened on this day in #ROCK #CLASSICROCK #GLAMMETAL #HEAVYMETAL #THRASH history! #TDIM