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EXODUS Live in Springfield, VA

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, December 9, 2014 @ 1:26 PM

At Empire

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I’ve seen the “Big Four” (METALLICA, SLAYER, ANTHRAX and MEGADETH, just in case) a combined total of probably about 70 times. Add TESTAMENT — arguably, the Big Fifth — and we’re probably closing in on 80. Yet I’d only managed to see EXODUS — the Big Sixth? OVERKILL fans might argue differently — all of twice: opening for ANTHRAX with CELTIC FROST in 1987 in the basement of the Springfield, Mass., Civic Center and doing a short “oldies” set opening for MEGADETH with TESTAMENT in 2010 at the 9:30 Club in D.C. with Rob Dukes on vocals. And, truth be told, neither performance was really all that memorable, which might explain why.

But a chance to see EXODUS — with on-again, off-again frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza back once again at the mic following the June dismissal of Dukes — do a headline show on an off-day from the SLAYER/SUICIDAL TENDENCIES tour at a small club just outside The Beltway was too tempting to pass up. And for the most part it was worth it – it was certainly better than my previous encounters.

EXODUS blasted through a brisk 13-song set that was more than twice as long as the half-hour the band has been playing in the opening slot with SLAYER – though before a crowd that was probably one-tenth the size. There were maybe 250 people at The Empire, but they mustered plenty of enthusiasm for a Monday night/Thanksgiving week crowd and there was a near constant pit up front offering some good friendly violent fun for those who chose to mosh it up.

The sound was Empire's sadly typical wall of mud – when the new owners took over the club, formerly known as Jaxx, a couple years ago they made a bunch of welcome cosmetic changes, but the sound system just ain't been right since. So a lot of the subtlety and finesse of the lock-step tandem riffing from Gary Holt and Lee Altus that is an EXODUS' hallmark was buried in the bass/drum heavy mix – as were Souza's vocals, though he was able to shout his way through enough to be heard.

Glass half full, however, the mix really let us hear just what a phenomenal drumming machine Tom Hunting is. His galloping double bass rolls and frequent machine gun-burst fills were spot on and effortless as he drove the band through a set that emphasized velocity and didn't spend much letting people – or band members – catch their breath.

After a dog's breakfast of local bands as openers, all but one of whom I got there late enough to miss, EXODUS hit the stage running at about 10:15 with a one-two punch of the opening numbers from the band's latest album Blood In, Blood Out: “Black 13” and the title track. Oddly, despite Souza giving a couple sales pitches for the album later on, they were the only new songs that were played. The band skipped its previous album, Exhibit B: The Human Condition, all together, though a couple tracks – the pummeling “Iconoclasm” and “Children Of A Worthless God” - from its prequel, The Atrocity Exhibition ... Exhibit A got a good run through to represent the Dukes era.

Souza handled those tunes with the same gritty ease as he did “And Then There Were None”, “Piranha” and the furious show closer “Strike Of The Beast” from the band's Paul Baloff-fronted 1985 debut, Bonded By Blood. He also showed the command and natural charisma that could elude the sometimes belligerent Dukes, serving as an engaging and welcoming – if profane, with his “You guys want to hear some fucking shit?” between-song raps – presence instead of one seemingly bent on combat.

Souza definitely had the crowd wanting more “fucking shit,” and the band obliged with “Scar Spangled Banner”, “War Is My Shepherd” and “Blacklist” from Tempo Of The Damned and the obligatory “Toxic Waltz” and the title track from Fabulous Disaster, which of course had people losing their shit.Despite the mush the sound system made out of their rhythm guitar parts, Holt and Altus' smoldering solos and tradeoffs were able to soar above the din and were as shreddingly impressive as always. The guitar tag team, feeding off Souza, played with enthusiasm and gusto, despite the rather modest surroundings Empire had to offer.

Indeed, the band as a whole seemed happy to be there and genuinely enjoying themselves. EXODUS very easily could have just taken the evening off and earned a well-deserved break watching Monday Night Football or something. Instead, the band made it a memorable night for the couple hundred folks who were there and gave them a good ass-kicking they were probably still feeling on Turkey Day.

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