Interview: Exodus guitarist Gary Holt talks about his tribute to Paul Baloff, angry music and “Exhibit B: The Human Condition”

When Gary Holt – the founder, chief songwriter and co-lead guitarist for the perpetual motion machine that is Exodus – began writing material for the band’s new album, he decided to pay tribute to one of his biggest musical inspirations.

That inspiration, of course, is Paul Baloff, the legendary singer who fronted Exodus when the band recorded its classic debut, “Bonded By Blood.”  Although Baloff recorded only one studio album with Exodus – Baloff died of a stroke in 2002, while the band was in the planning stages for a new alubm – Baloff’s spirit was what kept Exodus going, even after his death.

For Baloff, Holt  wrote “Hammer and Life,” an anthem salutes Baloff’s energy and passion for life and music. The song appear’s on Exodus’ blazing new album, “Exhibit B: The Human Condition.”

“I never meant to write a song for Paul using all of his classic one-liners,” Holt said, during a recent interview to promote “Exhibit B.” “I wanted to use something more valid.”

The song, Holt said, was a way of acknowledging his debt to Baloff.

“Speaking for myself, he has been a big part of my inspiration to keep doing this,” Holt said. “He is forever the spirit of the band. We’ve had three different singers … but Paul is always there. He lives long in Exodus lore.”

Exodus is deservedly venerated for the band’s role in the creation of the San Francisco thrash metal scene, but the band has resurged phenomenally since Holt rebuilt the band with lead singer Rob Dukes. With Dukes at the mic, Holt and Lee Altus on lead guitars and bassist Jack Gibson and drummer Tom Hunting completing the lineup, Exodus has reemerged as one of the best bands in thrash metal.

While the “Big Four” – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer – are given credit for being the leaders of thrash metal, discerning thrash fans acknowledge Exodus was every bit as important as the others in the creation of thrash. Although Exodus broke up between 1992 and 2002, the band always stayed true to extreme metal; while Metallica toyed with alterna-rock on “Load” and “Reload” and Megadeth flirted with the mainstream on “Cryptic Writings” and “Risk,” Exodus never attempted to compromise their way to commercial success.

Metallica and Megadeth have returned to their thrash roots, which is good … but in terms of musical style and dedication, Holt and Exodus never went away.

For Holt, Baloff’s memory is what helped Holt carry on with Exodus after the shock of Baloff’s death.

“‘Hammer and Life’ to me just kind of represents Paul’s spirit and some of the things he did for me – coming out of the dark days and becoming stronger than before.”

“Exhibit B” is a bludgeoning thrash opus that is both incredibly punishing and heavy while being as intricate as anything produced in the band’s career. Lyrically, the album is equally blistering, with songs about human atrocity (“Nanking”), global destruction (“Good Riddance”) and school violence (“Class Dismissed”). Holt writes most of the music and lyrics. Despite the bleakness of the material, Holt is not as bitter and misanthropic as his lyrics might make a listener suppose.

“Class Dismissed” is a controversal song, told from the killer’s point of view. But the band is not advocating school violence as much as commenting on contemporary society.

“It’s something that has become such a part of American culture – the good, old-fashioned school shooting,” Holt said. “It is something that is becoming quite prevalent in our gun-happy culture.”

Holt said tackling tough subject matter such as school violence and religious hypocrisy is cathartic for him.

“It gives me a chance to rant and rave, get it off my chest and go on with my life,” he said. The music hopefully serves the same purpose for fans – providing an avenue to release tension and stress, Holt said.

“Our shows are still about having fun,” Holt said. “Even though we’re touching on dark material, we’re still smiling and having fun and so is the audience … We hit the stage and it’s like a bomb goes off.

“You would be hard-pressed to find people playing music like ours that are constantly depressed,” Holt said. “(For audiences) to leave a show depressed, that’s why we have Morrissey.”

Even after almost three decades in metal, Holt said he still has passion for creating music and playing live for the fans.

“This is the hardest job in the work if you don’t love it,” he said. “It’s all about performing live. We all have our bad days … but when you get back on stage, it picks you back up.”

To hear complete songs from “Exhibit B,” visit the band’s MySpace page. Also, here’s the demo version of “Hammer and Life” and “Class Dismissed.”

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3 Comments

  1. […] Interview: Exodus guitarist Gary Holt talks about his tribute to Paul Baloff, angry music and &#8220… […]

  2. […] Interview: Exodus guitarist Gary Holt talks about his tribute to Paul Baloff, angry music and &#8220… […]

  3. Exodus definitely should be held in just as high of regard as any of the other four, especially Anthrax! I love Anthrax but I hold them responsible for laying the roots for the crap that is nu-metal or rap metal crap, whatever you wanna call it!


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