REVIEW: EXMORTUS – “Ride Forth”
California-based metal act Exmortus are ready to start 2016 with ‘Ride Forth’ –forty five minutes’ of neo-classical, twin-guitar based heavy/thrash metal, and in the process, adding a fourth full-length release to their already impressive repertoire. Having released multiple demos and a couple of EPs, along with albums like ‘Slave to the Sword’ which made waves across the metal community, Exmortus’ new album builds on that momentum, and is promising even in its first listen.
Typical thrash is built around guitars based on open-string riffing, quick and skank-beat laden drumming, and angry vocals. While many modern bands haven’t done much to innovate with this formula, the old-school thrash revival under artists like Gama Bomb, Warbringer, etc is trying to bring back and fondly remember the glory days of raw-sounding, pissed-off thrash bands. Exmortus, on the other hand, is known to play around with that formula, and turn into a melodic death metal band for a verse, a typical death metal band for some other part, and so on. This is especially true for a lot of songs on ‘Ride Forth’.
The album opens with “Speed of the Strike”, a song featuring galloping riffs that sound like a cross between power metal and classic heavy metal, but the high tempo lends a thrashier vibe to it. Much like this, the other songs on the album follow, but Jadran Gonzalez’s harsh vocals sound like a refreshing change from the traditionally high, soaring clean vocals found in heavy and power metal. The guitar-work, for which Gonzalez and David Rivera are responsible, is the hero of Exmortus’ sound, featuring adventures all over the fretboard where the notes, in a run-of-the-mill heavy metal band, are typically only sung.
The song “Relentless” is eerily reminiscent of early-2000’s Kalmah, and in both cases, genre barriers are casually swept aside, and Exmortus more than make up for the lack of a keyboardist with their blistering guitar solos. This way, each song is a journey on its own, but there’s memorable, triplet-timed gallops every now and then to bring the listener back to familiar territory –“Black Sails” is an example of this.
Michael Cosio’s bass playing is quite prominent in Exmortus’ sound, and as the guitarists often venture into lead playing, the basslines turn up and hold down the fort along with drums. At times, Mario Moreno’s precise and straightforward drumming and Cosio’s bass playing are relegated to playing the standard pattern of the main riff of the song while extravagance on the lead guitars is not compromised. Perhaps a backing rhythm guitar section would have balanced the sound during these instances.
Despite all the criticism Exmortus could receive for their sound, the fact of the matter remains that not enough bands are trying to innovate and transcend sub-genre barriers, and Exmortus deserve credit for their eclectic mix of familiar metal genres. No one can point their finger at the band and say, “That’s a thrash band”, but they’d be more inclined to say, “I thought that was a thrash band!” and the album foreshadows what should be a great, innovation-filled 2016 for metal aficionados.