Interview: Exodus guitarist Gary Holt discusses “Let There Be Blood,” working with Warbringer and “Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit B”

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UPDATE, JUNE 21, 2010: Wanna read Noise Pollution’s latest interview with Gary Holt? Gary talks about “Exhibit B,” the influence of Paul Baloff and lots more. Click here.

In thrash metal, there are only a handful of guitarists who have the pedigree of Exodus’ Gary Holt.

More than 20 years ago, Holt was one of the pioneers of the San Francisco metal scene. To this day, the band’s debut album, “Bonded By Blood” is considered a thrash classic, worthy of ranking alongside great thrash discs like Metallica’s “Kill Em All” and Megadeth’s “Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying?” 

Metallica, of course, is the best known member of the San Francisco thrash scene, but it can be argued that Exodus – with Holt as the band’s foundation – has been both the most dedicated to metal and the most willing to expand musically without sacrificing power and brutality… which is another Gary and the band still shred like screaming, nuclear-powered banshees, while never stagnating musically. 

But last year, the band – Holt, lead singer Rob Dukes, guitarist Lee Altus, drummer Tom Hunting and bassist Jack Gibson – returned to Exodus’ early roots when they released “Let There Be Blood,” a modern updating of “Bonded By Blood.” Although fans can disagree on whether “Bonded By Blood” needed a reboot, any metal fan who hears “LTBB” can agree on at least one thing: Exodus is a band at the height of its power, with supreme musicianship and vocal roars that would crumble concrete.

The band is now on the road with Kreator – another metal legend. On May 14, the Exodus, Kreator, Belphegor and Warbringer will play Headliner’s Music Hall in Louisville. Tix are $20 and be purchased at TicketWeb.

When “Bonded By Blood” was recorded, the band was fronted by vocalist Paul Baloff, one of the most unique lead singers in metal history. When the band reformed to acclaim after years away in 2001, plans were made to record a new album – but those plans fell apart for a time after Baloff died of a stroke in 2002.

Although Dukes has been performing the songs from “Bonded” since joining Exodus in 2005, Holt said Dukes was initially intimidated at the prospect of recording the songs Baloff made famous.

“Rob knew he’d be under the microscope recording Paul’s tracks and he was nervous as hell,” Holt said. “I said, ‘listen to the record, but don’t let (your performance) become a parody.’

“I thought Rob did a perfect job, to where he was paying homage (to Baloff) without being a caricature,” Holt said. “He brought his own personality to it.”

For Holt and Hunting – who both played on “Bonded By Blood” in the early ’80s – rerecording the tracks for “Let There Be Blood” was a tribute to Baloff and a reminder of the good times they’d shared.

“We always loved playing those songs, but we rediscovered how much we love playing them,” Holt said. “What really I discovered, when Tom and I were laying down drum tracks, (were) good memories of the original recording.”

As a thrash icon, Holt recently passed on some of his knowledge to the next generation, when he went into the studio with Warbringer to produce the band’s upcoming album “Waking Into Nightmares.”

“They had all talked about who they wanted to do it and my name came up,” Holt said. “They came in really well-prepared … More than anything, I worked on getting their songs together and on John (Kevill’s) vocals.”

Although many of the thrash revival bands have been content with mimicking the early ’80s sound, Holt said Warbringer did not show signs of being caught in a rut with “Waking of Nightmares.”

“They’ve definitely stepped outside the realm” of traditional trash, Holt said. “They’ve progressed.” Such forward movement is necessary for the young thrashers to survive, Holt said.

“If you’re going to try to put out two or three albums of old-school thrash (that was) done by people 20 years before, you can only take it so far,” Holt said. But the dedication young bands show to the early thrash sound that Exodus helped pioneer is flattering, Holt said.

“I take it totally as a compliment – but a lot of kids today don’t think Exodus is a pure thrash band. They think we’ve progressed too far from 1985,” he said.

Exodus hasn’t remained rooted in the early thrash sound emulated by other bands, because, as musicians, the band has moved on, Holt said.

“You can’t recreate something that special (like “Bonded By Blood”),” Holt said. “It was the perfect album and perfect era. To try to go back and recapture that would be fraudulent.

“I love playing the new songs live,” Holt said. “The new stuff is a little more brutal and different.”

The band has already recorded four songs for their upcoming album, “The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit B.” Holt said the band will return to the studio sometime in the fall.

“We’re shooting to be back in the studio to resume the record probably in October,” Holt said. “We’re shooting for a March release. Most of the summer we’re going to be writing. I’ve got a ton of stuff and Lee has some stuff.”

To hear full tracks from “Let There Be Blood,” “The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A” and other Exodus albums, visit the band’s MySpace page.

And, for fun, here’s the video for “Riot Act,” off “Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A.”

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