By Adrien Begrand
At one point on Shovel Headed Touring Machine, longtime Exodus guitarist Gary Holt tells a story about how at the end of one show lead vocalist Rob Dukes took his sweaty socks off and offered them to the crowd, only to see one disturbed individual take said socks, wring them above his open mouth, and ingest whatever toxic chemicals were in there. “I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with some of our fans,” he laughs incredulously. Those hardcore fans are the big reason why Exodus is still around after nearly 30 years, the ones the late Paul Baloff used to affectionately call, “the two I.Q.-ers,” the ones who incited mayhem at Bay Area underground shows, who drove Metallica to declare they’d never have Exodus open for them again, who continue to swear by the band’s long-standing edict of “good friendly violent fun”. With those fans in mind, the band has put together their third DVD release, a three-disc extravaganza that tries to give the die-hards what they want, and in their own inimitable way, succeeds mightily.
The first two discs focus solely on the band’s triumphant performance at Wacken Open Air on July 31, 2008. While the CD is a mildly convenient toss-in, the DVD is the keeper, as Exodus goes on to win over an afternoon crowd, despite playing an hour-long set that places very strong emphasis on their 2004-2007 output rather than their classic mid-to-late-’80s period. Visually speaking, this is no different than any other festival DVD, merely a polished version of the jumbotron images audiences saw at the festival, and at first the atmosphere doesn’t seem all that great, as for every enthusiastic Exodus fan we see, we also get a glimpse of some bored fella or girl who look like they’re saving a spot to see Lacuna Coil. However, it doesn’t take long for the huge crowd to get into it, primarily because a) the band still sounds as good as they ever have, b) the newer material, as much as we love the old stuff, holds up very well, and c) the tireless Dukes puts every ounce of himself (and there are quite a few ounces) into his performance. In fact, Dukes has grown into a perfect frontman for Exodus, a maniacal everyman who just looks glad to be there onstage, whose vastly underrated vocal style effectively adapts to the Baloff and Steve Souza material while at the same time forging an identity of his own. It’s a hugely enjoyable set, highlighted of course by the four Bonded By Blood gems (“Bonded By Blood”, “A Lesson in Violence”, “Piranha”, “Strike of the Beast”), and climaxing with a wall of death that, while being a totally unoriginal idea, turns out to be pretty damned vicious.
The centrepiece of the third disc is the documentary Assorted Atrocities, and at nearly two hours, it’s quite a mishmash, one that feels slipshod compared to Cannibal Corpse’s wonderful Centuries of Torment, which two years ago set the standard for metal band profiles. In fact, it’s so sloppily edited that at first we’re left wondering just how big of a trainwreck this’ll be, as the feature jumps randomly from stories of the band’s origin, to the recording of 2005’s Shovel Headed Kill Machine, to backstage footage from a couple years ago. But the deeper into it we get, the more absorbing the piece becomes, as we get to know each of the band members to the point where we’re genuinely interested in them, whether it’s the eccentric Dukes, gregarious drummer Tom Hunting, Republican bassist Jack Gibson, the dry guitarist Lee Altus, or the overall Mr. Nice Guy Holt. It’s a detailed documentary, which is great for the fans, but it really should have been even more thorough, as we only get brief, token references to past members Souza and Rick Hunolt, and we see absolutely no archival footage from the 1980s, save for a handful of photos.
As for extra features, we get a fair share of them, but most are nothing special, such as leftover interview scenes, performance footage from their 2009 tour, a photo gallery, and a 1985 audio interview that, while mildly interesting, doesn’t let us know which band member is speaking. In addition, we’re privy to a couple of inexcusable, cringe-inducing errors, as captions actually misspell “genius” as “genious”, and most head-smackingly, refer to Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral as “Sangria Familia”. However, like that old record Bonded By Blood, for all this DVD’s imperfections it’s impossible not to grow attached to it, not to mention that ragtag band of thrash metal veterans who refuse to fade away.