With the untimely passing of founding vocalist Paul Baloff in 2002, and the subsequent, short-lived reunion with his original successor, Steve Zetro Souza , for 2004's acclaimed comeback LP, Tempo of the Damned , Bay Area thrash metal kings Exodus were forced to audition a new frontman for the first time in 20 years before moving on with their resuscitated career. Rob Dukes , a relative unknown, was duly hired and thrown almost immediately to the mosh pit wolves via 2006's Shovel Headed Kill Machine -- acquitting himself rather well thanks to his vocal and temperamental similarities to his predecessors, as well as the reliable ultra-thrash high standards of that album's songwriting, overseen as ever by Exodus ' longstanding creative leader, guitarist Gary Holt . But, when the time came for the rookie singer's sophomore outing as Exodus ' mouth-of-war, 2007's tellingly titled The Atrocity Exhibition (the group's eighth studio album overall), Dukes was handed a far more challenging homework assignment by taskmaster Holt involving by some of the deepest and most thought-provoking lyrics of the band's career, not to mention their most musically ambitious and eclectic collection of songs since 1992's underrated Force of Habit . Yet, rather than following that album's fatal mistake of discarding some of the band's most defining bludgeoning thrash sounds, Atrocity endeavored to tie the album's songs together with a loosely conceptual theme centered around religiously motivated strife and warfare, as well as slower tempos, while taking advantage of Dukes ' ability to sing melodically and incorporate additional flavors amid those signature thrash attributes. Taken as whole, the end results may well qualify as Exodus ' personal Master of Puppets (possibly inspired by Machine Head 's similarly emboldened The Blackening CD, released just a few months prior), as familiarly single-minded speed thrashers like &"Riot Act" and &"Bedlam 1-2-3" simply bookend a slew of multi-faceted epics of unprecedented instrumental and dynamic diversity like &"Funeral Hymn," &"Iconoclasm," and the ten-minute title track itself. Sure, first generation fans may still view Dukes ' alternating clean and dirty vocals on &"Children of a Worthless God" as no small travesty, but the fact is the strategy works in the context of the song's emotionally charged message, and -- let's face it -- makes for another welcome talking point. Finally, the return of founding drummer Tom Hunting may help old-school fans cope with these experiments, since, like Dave Lombardo for Slayer or Phil Rudd for AC/DC , Exodus never sound quite right without him and his personal combination of sheer chops, untold power, and all-important "feel." And, like it or not, into every long-term career, change and risk-taking must come sometimes, and, given a few more years (not least for Dukes to further establish himself), one feels that The Atrocity Exhibition will stand up as one of Exodus ' deepest, and most intriguing albums. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi
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