Ask Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity or Crowbar, or virtually any band who explores the groove in their heavy approach, and they'll tell you: it all comes from Exhorder. Formed in 1985, the New Orleans–based band released two highly influential thrash-meets-groove LPs for Roadrunner — 1990's Slaughter in the Vatican and 1992's The Law — before calling it quits in 1994. They eventually picked back up for a run of reunion dates from 2008 to 2011. And now, 33 years after forming, Exhorder are back again, and stronger than ever. Their current reunion will kick off with their first-ever shows in New York City on February 9 and 10th at Brooklyn's Saint Vitus, where they'll be performing Slaughter in the Vatican and The Law in full.
With Exhorder ready to pounce on a new era of the band, we cornered vocalist Kyle Thomas (also of Trouble, Alabama Thunderpussy) to ask about the band's motivation, legacy and what's next for the groove-metal pioneers.
AFTER ALL THIS TIME AWAY, WHY IS NOW THE RIGHT TIME TO RETURN?
KYLE THOMAS It's difficult to give one reason for why Exhorder is reincarnating again, so I suppose I should answer this question in multiple ways. Firstly, have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head for a few hours? No matter what you do, you can't shake it — it's there, lurking in the background. For musicians, this is the case both literally and figuratively, and it lasts a lifetime unless you can just beat it out of your system. Secondly, we've got unfinished business to take care of. Nobody that was ever a part of this band feels that we hit our peak both musically and business wise. Just look at all that we have booked this year seven years after disbanding. Before those two years we played only two shows in seventeen years!
I half jokingly told [guitarist] Vinnie [LaBella] that this is the only job I will ever have where I can show up once a decade and get a raise. For whatever reason, the legend of this band grows exponentially every day, and it really makes me sad to a degree that we couldn't keep it going the whole time. We can only imagine where we would be now in the big picture. Conversely, we can either sit around in a pile of steaming "what if," or we can get off of our butts and kick into gear again.
CLEARLY BOTH VATICAN AND THE LAW ARE REVERED BY THE METAL COMMUNITY. BUT PERSONALLY, HOW DO YOU THINK THE WORK OF EXHORDER HAS HELD UP THROUGH THE YEARS? WHAT DO YOU HEAR WHEN YOU LISTEN TO THOSE LPS?
It's funny, because after an album I've been a part of writing and recording is finished and released, I typically never listen to it anymore unless people around me ask me to put it on. I've done some listening in preparation for rehearsals, and as unhappy as I've been with the albums to a degree since they were completed, I think we have a lot to be proud of as well. We've been mostly disappointed that neither album has truly captured the vibe of a live Exhorder performance.
This can mostly be attributed to what we had to work with at the time. Our recording budgets were very small. I think we recorded Slaughter in the Vatican for $5,000, and The Law for $10,000. Without the luxury of the digital age, it was challenging for both the band and the producers to get great tones, and we didn't have the time to spend getting the takes we wanted. I remember recording the vocals for the entire album of The Law in only nine hours, and mostly on one track. Very little doubling was involved except for effect and emphasis. Vinnie sent me a demo track of a song that will most likely be used on a new a Exhorder album, and this demo smokes anything we've released to date. That's just the nature of the digital age, and it's a good thing. I know I kind of branched here, but when I listen to those albums, I mostly hear young musicians making a mean batch of lemonade from the lemons they were handed, but the lemonade could always be a little sweeter.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY ABOUT EXHORDER AND WHY?
There are so many, and for so many reasons, but the best times for me were the friendships. From the first couple of years from our start in [drummer] Chris [Nail's] bedroom rehearsing on hot summer days, to traveling the world and seeing things in a different light with guys I will forever consider brothers. That is something that not even playing to thousands of ravenous fans can compare with.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU PLAYED NYC? DO YOU HAVE SPECIFIC MEMORIES REGARDING THAT EVENT?
For me personally, the last time I played in the New York area was with Trouble a few years back at Saint Vitus Bar. What a great venue! It has the intimate setting that is tough to beat and a great ambiance. As far as Exhorder goes, we've never actually played in New York. The closest we ever got was Newark. The fact that we will be playing two sold-out shows before we have ever even set up for a sound check in the biggest city in the United States is very humbling. Our gratitude will show once we hit the stage. We will give everyone a time to remember, and that is guaranteed.
THERE ARE MANY BANDS THAT HAVE TAKEN THE EXHORDER BLUEPRINT AND MADE IT THEIR OWN. WHO DO YOU THINK HAS DONE RIGHT BY YOUR LEGACY?
Man, I don't know that any one band has done that to the very last detail, but I know that our thumbprint has had a resounding effect on music today. When I wrote and recorded "Constitution Down" with Joey Jordison of Slipknot [for the Roadrunner United album The All-Star Sessions], he let me know before we started working together what an impact we had on him as a young musician playing in garages with friends. I've also worked with Chris Ojeda of Byzantine and am lucky enough to call him a friend now, and he has pretty much said the same thing. Some of the guys in Lamb of God enjoyed Exhorder as well, and there are countless others — but you get the point.
Chris Nail's drum style paved the way for a lot of today's drumming. Very few people could accomplish what he did back then, and today it seems they are everywhere. Vinnie's riffs and song structures can't be duplicated, period. Let me just say that getting Marzi Montazeri on this team is something we are very excited about because the guy is a freak of nature on the guitar, and he is in absolute awe of Vinnie because of the difficult time he has had learning how to play the Exhorder material. Mark this down and remember that Kyle Thomas said this today: Vinnie LaBella is one of the most criminally overlooked guitarists when the greats are mentioned. He can rip leads as well, but his riffing and songwriting simply cannot be beat in my eyes. I'm so grateful to have him in my life again as a player, but mostly as a friend and brother.
WHATS NEXT FOR YOU GUYS? CAN WE EXPECT ANY NEW RECORDED MATERIAL?
It's funny that you mentioned that — or did I mention that? Yes, you can expect that! We are currently focusing on playing a lot of great shows for people around the world right now, and new Exhorder is in the plans for 2019. We are looking as forward to that as anyone.