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Once the kings of the Bay Area metal scene — the birthplace of thrash — Exodus were unceremoniously demoted from their post with the arrival of Los Angeles' Metallica in 1982. And while they proceeded to eke out a hit-and-miss career of their own over the next few decades, all the while influencing at least two separate generations of younger thrash bands, Exodus were ultimately fated to be the ultimate also-rans of the genre they helped spawn.
Formed in 1981 by singer Paul Baloff, guitarists Gary Holt and Kirk Hammett, bassist Geoff Andrews, and drummer Tom Hunting, Exodus were heavily influenced by Motörhead and New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Iron Maiden and Raven, whose lessons they combined with the raw D.I.Y. aesthetic of the prolific Bay Area punk scene to create thrash metal. Their handful of demos recorded between 1982-1984 became wildly popular on the all-important underground tape-trading circuit of the time, and solidified the band's standing as the Bay Area's first thrash champions. But they would soon lose their numero uno standing as well as their guitarist Hammett to the aforementioned Metallica, who then raced ahead of all competitors in their mission to bring thrash to the world. Wounded but undaunted, Exodus drafted guitarist Rick Hunolt and replaced bassist Andrews with Rob McKillop before signing with Torrid Records, for whom they recorded their Bonded by Blood debut in 1984. But the album languished unreleased for over a year due to business problems, and by the time it was finally unveiled by Combat Records in 1985, the would-be genre benchmark already sounded dated and its impact was severely dulled by the quick evolution of their peers.
These hardships also led to the ousting of vocalist Baloff, whose carefree, larger-than-life attitude (and often drunken behavior) made him an easy scapegoat for his more driven bandmates. His replacement was ex-Testament singer Steve "Zetro" Souza, who arrived in time for 1987's disappointing Pleasures of the Flesh — an inconsistent album that did nothing to advance Exodus' cause. Incessant touring served to strengthen the band's new lineup, though, and 1989's meticulously conceived Fabulous Disaster was a critical triumph, bringing the group to its commercial peak. The successful world tour that followed brought another dramatic setback, however, when drummer Hunting was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, which first sidelined and then forced him to quit the band at tour's end. Still, Exodus were on a roll, and their momentum led to a new contract with Capitol Records, which immediately rushed them back into the studio, with former Anthrax drum tech John Tempesta manning the skins, to lay down tracks for 1990's Impact Is Imminent. But the absence of a competent producer and a carelessly assembled collection of songs resulted in a dull, forgettable album that was doomed to commercial failure from day one, squandering Exodus' recent accomplishments and pretty much closing their window to success. Longtime bassist McKillop left soon after (replaced by Mike Butler) and despite the renewed quality of 1992's Force of Habit (certainly their most diverse album ever), the members of Exodus decided to go their separate ways when the grunge revolution sidelined heavy metal bands of most any stripe.
But then, ten years after his departure from the band, Paul Baloff rejoined most of the classic Bonded by Blood lineup for a series of gigs in 1997. A live album entitled Another Lesson in Violence was issued by Century Media to memorialize their homecoming show in San Francisco, and the band continued to perform sporadically over the next few years until tragedy struck: Baloff suddenly passed away on February 2, 2002 after suffering a massive stroke and slipping into a coma three days earlier. Guitarist Gary Holt — long Exodus' de facto leader — still wanted to carry on, however, so after reuniting most of the band's "semi-classic" Fabulous Disaster formation, also featuring Hunolt, Hunting and Souza, plus bassist Jack Gibson, work began on the band's sixth studio album, 2004's Nuclear Blast-released thrash-fest Tempo of the Damned. The record didn't bring Exodus fame and fortune, of course, but it did meet with widespread critical acclaim and firmly reestablished the band's career with the help of its still peerlessly energetic live performances, now being witnessed worldwide by thousands of impressionable fans, too young to have seen the original legends of thrash — Exodus, Metallica, Slayer, etc. — during their glory years.
In fact, not even a final falling-out with Souza and Hunolt could derail the Exodus juggernaut now, as they moshed back into the studio to record 2005's Shovel Headed Kill Machine with vocalist Rob Dukes, guitarist Lee Altus (once of competing Bay Area thrashers Heathen), and drummer Paul Bostaph (ex-Forbidden, Slayer, Testament, etc.). Two years later, they were back at it again, with a returning Tom Hunting behind the drum kit for another new studio album, The Atrocity Exhibition...Exhibit A. Let There Be Blood (a re-recording of 1985's seminal Bonded by Blood debut) arrived in 2008, followed by Exhibit B: The Human Condition (2010) and Blood in, Blood Out (2014). Exodus continue in their quest to instruct new-millennium audiences with their one-of-a-kind "lesson in violence," simultaneously reaping undying respect (if not monetary reward) from the hundreds of purist young thrash bands, created in their image, that sprang up worldwide toward the end of the 2000s.
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1981 in San Francisco, CA
'80s, '90s, '00s, '10s