2013-exodusExodus in The Button Factory, Dublin, 12 August 2013

They were one of the pioneers of thrash metal in San Francisco’s Bay Area in the early 1980’s, but for some reason Exodus never rose to the same prominence as their contemporaries Metallica or Slayer. One problem has been an inability to maintain a single line-up for very long. Founding member Kirk Hammett departed before they’d even put out their first album, and of their current touring lineup drummer Tom Hunting is the only original name left, with guitarist Gary Holt seemingly having made his move to Slayer to replace Jeff Hanneman permanent.

This discontinuity is only emphasised with a lead singer – Rob Dukes – who has taken Exodus in much heavier, aggressive vocal direction since he joined in 2004. And it is Dukes whose presence looms the largest as soon as Exodus take to the stage.

Hunting may have been the first member of the band onstage, mounting his drum kit and leading the audience into a chant of “ex-oh-dus, ex-oh-dus,” but once Dukes appeared he dominated the show. Kicking off with The Ballad of Leonard and Charles and Beyond the Pale (both taken from the band’s most recent album ‘Exhibit B: The Human Condition,’) Dukes made it clear that he is most comfortable with the songs from the albums he appeared on.

The set continued to mix a smattering of older songs with newer ones, but the actual music quickly took a back seat to Dukes’ reckless aggression. He cheered the audience on as they moshed, crowd surfed and formed swirling circle pits. Before he launched into Piranha, he asked why nobody had dived off the stage yet, and as the song hit its squealing heights there was a stream of stage divers hurling themselves out into the sea of moving bodies.

As the relentless pace of pure thrash increased Dukes egged the fans on even further, drawing the ire of the venue security in the process. Dukes made Exodus’ position clear: we don’t care if you go mental, anything goes as long as nobody gets hurt .

Only as the show approached its end did Exodus get around to playing some of their better known ’80’s material, with Lesson in Violence and Bonded By Blood following in quick succession. By the time Strike of the Beast came along The Button Factory had become engulfed in pure chaos. To signal the band’s finale Dukes called for a wall of death that ran the length of the venue. The show ended in a crazy frenzy that threatened to drown out the music entirely beneath the sheer chaos of all the uncoordinated, uncontrollable movement.

The sheer chaos of the gig may have been impressive, but the actual music was significantly less so. The setlist was a carbon copy of Exodus’ last visit to Dublin in 2010 – and still managed to leave out a lot of their classic songs that made the band’s name in the first place.

Not that Exodus have forgotten their roots. The songs they did play still sounded like music being made by kids who couldn’t afford properly working equipment or even play their instruments that well – even though this is no longer the case, it still sounds like it. Dukes’ growling vocals replace  on-stage charisma and actual talent with pure unadulterated aggression, while the instrumentals all blended into a scuzzy mash of distortion.

This may have been how thrash sounded at the moment of its inception, but that’s still no excuse for playing a set that was little more than a soundtrack of chaotic noise to mosh to rather than a nuanced collection of songs to actually savour. The gig was impressive for the sheer level of self-destructive chaos it unleashed in its audience, but the actual music left a lot to be desired.

But the night wasn’t a complete waste. Anybody who arrived early was treated to two highly impressive upcoming Irish metal acts who’ve learned a lot from Exodus and the big four of thrash. Edenfire opened the show with a short set of intense riffs played lightning fast.

Twisted Wrath impressed us the last time they took on a big support slot for Michael Schenker, and since then they’ve only gotten tighter. They blasted the audience with thunderous numbers like Madman’s Chorus and Smoke, songs with enough of a melodic hook buried just beneath the surface to ensure that they weren’t just bashing away at their instruments. Their forthcoming album should be a very exciting prospect for any Irish metal fans.