Exhorder never got a fair shake. Not from the circa 1990 metal hungry public obsessed with the American big four of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax and definitely not from their own label, parent company Roadrunner Records. And "Slaughter in the Vatican" itself is plagued with problems described by the band themselves. Recording at Morrisound and bullied into mastering their album in basically the exact same vein as Sepultura's "Beneath the Remains". In fact, they were saddled with the task of using the exact same equipment, and then informed of the sound they were expected to go for, against their better wishes. I have no idea what kind of distinction they had originally intended in their sound, but I honestly can't imagine "Slaughter in the Vatican" sounding any different. It's already close to perfect.
Were I to make a list of my favorite thrash albums throughout the years, adhering strictly to the genre in its purest form, along with "Epidemic of Violence" by Demolition Hammer, "A Shedding of Skin" by Protector, and Sodom's "Agent Orange" you'd find this hailed high above the rest. What we have with this classic is a damn sledgehammer given musical form. This one is a neckbreaker that doesn't relent from track one until the end of track eight. If it were to assume human form, it would immediately be arrested and convicted for aggravated assault and the intention of causing grievous bodily harm. It is the sound of violence in its strictest guise and a defiant punch to the groin of any and all that embark upon its musical journey.
To start, the guitars carry the distinct Morrisound heft. Down tuned and burly and oozing with low end gravitas. Vinnie LaBella and Jay Ceravolo have constructed riffs not just for days but for fucking months. They rage and slam with a proficiency undeserved by the genre and their interplay is integral to the album's success. From the concussive assault of whiplash inducing tracks like Homicide, the Exhorder theme song, and the title track Slaughter in the Vatican they innovate like a locomotive flying off the rails, with bludgeoning groove. And the slower tracks like Desecrator and Legions of Death kill with their focused, razor sharp and measured attack. The duo also handled all bass duties for the record, and it's distinctly pummeling as well, rumbling like a Sherman along with the drums. Nice and clear, and fortunately left unmuddled by the Scott Burns production.
Speaking of drums, Chris Nails' skins pounding is unmatched. Galloping grooves and tight, measured blasts make up the album and his battery is fucking relentless. An absolute machine giving the album its frantically over the top pace and indisputable energy, few drummers could match him aside from maybe Vinnie Daze of Demolition Hammer or Lee Reynolds of Morbid Saint. He's a mechanical ripper that brings everything he's got to the table here and the result is jaw dropping.
Now much ado has been made of the similarities between vocalist Kyle Thomas and Pantera's Phil Anselmo, and it would be a lie to say that there's no grounds for such comparisons, but Kyle's range tops that of Anselmo's during the time period. He wails and squalls like a madman, belting out enraged diatribes like a man stricken with tourettes. His lyrical content making absolutely every concerted effort possible to offend and blaspheme the status quo. Make no mistake, this is a railing against the church unlike any other for its time. His tirades profanely eloquent and sharply barbed against just about every accepted societal norm. Take the last verse of the track Exhorder:
"I am the sadist that dwells in your mind
You run back helpless, I cheat you blind
I can desecrate the highest class of human life
Lure and seduce the ever faithful preacher's wife"
His vitriol is almost comical in its intensity, but it never wavers for one second. You have to admire his conviction to unapologetic brutal thrash ethics and defaming the upper crust.
Twenty-five years old, this slab of classic hate is just as addictive as it was when it initially streeted. Still, it's a cult album that doesn't appeal to the friendlier party thrash of bands like Anthrax or Exodus and is distinctly more brutal than Metallica has ever been, and makes "Seasons in the Abyss", also released in 1990, sound absolutely tame in comparison. Obviously this is a must for fans of thrash and heavy, subversive metal in general. Absolutely mandatory listening in this reviewer's opinion.