Being an Exodus album, Exhibit B: The Human Condition opens somewhat unexpectedly with a subtle intro, including Mexican-tinged acoustic guitars and beautiful strings. But as a heavy guitar riff and pounding drums take over, and a violent speed attack sets off, there is no doubt that it is the thrash titans from San Francisco we're dealing with here. The opening track, The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles (about the gruesome acts of a serial killer duo), also offers a great passage with classic, mid-tempo Exodus, complete with gang-vocals, as well as blistering guitar soloing. A tremendous album-opener.
Like a frothing beast, the second track, Beyond Pale, instantly goes for the throat. Via relentless aggression and force, it is nicely transported to a simple but very good chorus. Dealing lyrically with the mindset of a killer, it has a menacing atmosphere, strengthened by Rob Dukes' vicious vocals, and includes some very cool twists and guitar work. Third number, Hammer And Life, brings more enjoyable mid-tempo groove. With the bass effectively accompanying the razor-sharp guitar riffing, the track is pure joy for the neck. We are also served, again, outstanding guitar leads and melodies.
With renowned guitarists such as Gary Holt and Lee Altus, it is no surprise that there is vast ability in this department. That said, the pair's contribution this time must be especially highlighted, as they deliver some fabulous axe work - of the brutal as well as tasteful kind. Just like guitar extraordinaries Dave Mustaine and Chris Broderick starred on Megadeth's brilliant Endgame, so do Holt and Altus on this album. Firstly, they demonstrate yet again that there are not many components as defining in thrash metal as that of the Exodus guitar sound; super-solid, fat and steady, this monster riffage is most probably something that Holt And Altus could perform in their sleep.
Secondly, the guitar solos played by Holt and Altus are not only impressive and pleasurable but also nicely seamed into the songs. Thirdly, the melody work is terrific, with a string of memorable parts, and the duo also intertwine a number of times in delicious twin harmonies - aspects very prominent compared to previous albums. One prime example can be found on Downfall - perhaps the best song on the album - where superb twin harmonies open and finish the track.
The predecessor had quite a few lengthy songs, with some fairly progressive features, and this is the case now as well. Numbers such as Class Dismissed (A Hate Primer) - which clocks in at 7 mins 15 secs - and March Of The Sycophants (6 mins 44 secs and another highlight on the album) are dynamic compositions, twisting and turning and changing tempo. There are also many smaller things on the album which makes it interesting. The Sun Is My Destroyer, for instance - the longest track at 9.21 and another versatile number - features evil guttural backing vocals by Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy, Pain) as well as some unorthodox guitar tweaks and cool drum fills. Speaking of drums, Tom Hunting does a first-class job as well on the album.
But don't worry; there is plenty on here to satisfy a thrash purist too. For example, Burn Hollywood Burn displays that hateful aggression and intensity Exodus are so skilful at capturing, while closer Good Riddance is a violent skull-crusher glowing with fury. Singer Rob Dukes also deserves praise here; this album sees his most convincing effort to date since joining the Exodus attack. His delivery of the lyrics - generally dealing with the darker sides of mankind and its various criminal and careless behaviours - is inspired; one can really sense the brutality and spite in songs such as Nanking, about atrocities during a 1937 Japanese occupation, and the aforementioned Burn Hollywood Burn, which slams the reality TV phenomenon.
Whether one prefers straightforward or more varied numbers - or both - the fact is that the quality of the songs on Exhibit B is overall of a high standard. Personally, I felt that the two previous records from Exodus - although being really good - lacked a bit of that extra spark. This is a definite step up - put simply, a great album. And with Andy Sneap producing the disc it, of course, sounds awesome.
Exhibit B also wets the appetite for experiencing the Exodus live show again. It is easy to picture rabid headbangers going mental in the mosh pit during those numbers from the album that end up in the live set - I will definitely join in the fun, that is for sure!