Written by Alex Stojanovic
Persona Non Grata
Slipping Into Madness
The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)
The Years Of Death & Dying
Cosa Del Pantano
The Fires Of Division
Release Date: November 19, 2021
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Steve "Zetro" Souza - Vocals / Gary Holt - Guitars & backing vocals / Lee Altus - Guitars
Jack Gibson - Bass / Tom Hunting - Drums & backing vocals
In 2018, Slayer announced their farewell tour, which lasted from the summer of that year, to the end of 2019. Following the conclusion of the tour, the Bay Strikes Back tour in Europe in early 2020 with Exodus, Testament and Death Angel, and the onset of the pesky ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Gary had plenty of time to finish writing the album, and recording finally commenced in the fall of 2020, with a summer 2021 release scheduled. However, this would result in the final setback the band would face before the album finally saw the light of day in November 2021, and that was Tom Hunting's stomach cancer diagnosis. If cancer decided to mess with a member of Exodus, it stood no bloody chance of winning, proven by the fact that Tom had successfully kicked it in the face, and is now on the mend. That deserves all the applause in the world.
Getting into the album, right from note one of the title track, you can tell that just like on all their past albums, Exodus mean business in the most lethal way possible. It's also worth noting that the biggest differences between Persona Non Grata and Blood In, Blood Out are Zetro's vocals. If you listen to his vocals on Blood In, Blood Out, they sound like he's almost forcing his vocals into that higher range, because that's how Rob Dukes initially sang them. As a result, it feels like he wasn't really in his comfort zone. On the new album however, the songs were written with Zetro's vocals in mind, and they don't sound forced, even when he's hitting the higher register. He also dips into some more lower register vocals as well, which he hasn't done much on studio recordings. It results in what is possibly Zetro's best vocal performance in many years.
Speaking of high register, one of Zetro's most intense vocal performances is on "R.E.M.F.". Given the subject matter of the song, it's no surprise that he's unleashing a lot of unbridled rage, especially at the end of the choruses. However, it's during the final chorus where he screams like a psychopath that's about to explode. Lyrically, Exodus are going after everything and everyone that deserves a good scolding. Some prime subject examples include drugs on "Slipping Into Madness", one of my personal favourite tracks, and is the only track that Lee Altus wrote the music for. There is also "Prescribing Horror", which is without a doubt one of the darkest lyrical tracks, tackling the issue of Thalidomide and how it helps to ease the morning sickness of pregnant women, but leads to thousands of birth defects. The sound of the babies crying at the end of the song is undoubtedly haunting.
Exodus are obviously no strangers to guest spots on their records. Blood In, Blood Out saw them have guest vocals from Chuck Billy of Testament, as well as Kirk Hammett, which has been one of the most talked-about guest spots on an Exodus record, simply because of the fact that Kirk was the founder of the band, but left before they recorded Bonded By Blood. On Persona Non Grata, they brought in Rick Hunolt to play a solo on "Lunatic-Liar-Lord". I just want to say that the main riff in that track sounds like it gives a nod to "Riot Act" from The Atrocity Exhibition...Exhibit A. Of course not every song hit the target. "Clickbait" sounds like it would've been more fitting as an Overkill song, but it just doesn't work as an Exodus song. Given that it has more of a punk vibe, this would've been a perfect song for Rob Dukes to sing, given that he comes from a punk background. Speaking of which, wouldn't it be awesome if there was an Exodus song or full-length record with both Zetro and Dukes singing together? Now imagine how epic that would be. Given that they're all on good terms, I don't see any reason for it not to happen.
Much like the albums that came before it, some songs are a bit more lengthy than others, resulting in an album that reaches exactly at the hour mark, while others in the past went past that. The ambitious undertaking of making long records can have both positive and negative results, but with the amount of confidence Exodus oozes when it comes to making long songs and records, they obviously know what they're doing, and know how to keep it engaging for the listener. They have long songs in their catalog that are clunkers, and I feel that on this album, there are some sections in some of the longer tracks that could've been trimmed by a few bars, particularly in the intros, bridges and solo sections. While we're on the subject of song lengths, "The Beatings Will Continue" is the shortest full Exodus song that's not an instrumental since "Shovel Headed Kill Machine", and it packs one of the meanest punches on the whole album. It's short, fast, menacing and it's the perfect straightforward thrash song.
A new Exodus album is something we always look forward to, but I don't think we realized how much a new album was needed until now. With the pandemic still going on, and given how angry it has made a lot of people, Persona Non Grata has been a saving grace for a lot of us because we can unleash the rage that was building in all of us through the course of lockdowns and ever-changing restrictions. Gary Holt and Lee Altus' razor-sharp neck-slicing riffs, Zetro's menacing snarl, Jack Gibson's bulldozer bass, and Tom Hunting's rampaging drums, all combined with the dark and brutal lyrics, have given us one of the best therapy sessions to help us cope with the times we live in now. We will all look back on this record in the future and thank it mightily for saving us from the point of insanity. A couple of these songs may have had their live premiere at the recent Bay Strikes Back show in Oakland. However, when the tour picks up again in the spring and more songs from this record are played live, better prepare yourselves because these songs are a great indication that the pits are going to get VIOLENT! EXODUS IS FUCKING BACK!
Highs: Persona Non Grata serves as one of the best therapy sessions for the crazy times we live in.
Lows: "Clickbait" would've worked better as an Overkill song.
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