After a lengthy hiatus from recording, New Orleans’ fathers of groove/thrash metal Exhorder return with their third full-length recording, Mourn The Southern Skies. The band’s last full-length, The Law, was released 27 years ago. The road from then to now has been bumpy with several break ups, reunions and new members.
2017 proved the lucky year for a reunion. The band found a new lineup conducive to recording another album. They eventually found a new label to call home, Nuclear Blast Records, where the band feels they’re getting the push absent from Roadrunner Records in the early ‘90s. Mourn The Southern Skies is the perfect companion to their previous albums. Here, Exhorder found a balance between breakneck speed and concrete groove. The production is much louder and thicker than the previous albums. It is bound to satiate the fans that waited so eagerly for new Exhorder songs.
Climbing over the huddle that has blocked the band for so long is a major accomplishment. Exhorder front man, Kyle Thomas spoke to Heavy Music Headquarters about jumping over this hurdle to create another album worthy of the Exhorder logo.
Darren Cowan: Mourn The Southern Skies is the follow up to The Law, which was released in 1992. How does it feel to release this third album nearly 30 years later?
Kyle Thomas: The way you worded that sounds stranger than I ever thought about it that Mourn The Southern Skies is the follow up to The Law. That’s such a foreign concept to me because that album came out so long ago (laughs). It’s almost a brand new band and a rebirth period. I guess you gotta call it what it is. That’s the truth. It’s nice to be back. It’s nice to finally hold in our hands the proper representation of what this band is live. We feel proud about the previous albums, but they just didn’t capture the live sound as we had hoped they would. We got a lot to be excited about now.
You and Vinnie La Bella started the band in 1985. Thirty-four years later you’re recording another album. What does that say about your friendship and musical chemistry?
We’ve definitely had ups and downs over the years — a lot of frustrations. To be fair, there were a lot of pointed fingers, not just at me and Vinnie, but across the board. We felt we never accomplished reaching the level that we felt we should have. Along the way, frustrations boiled over and there were break ups. This time around, we thought it would be best to outsource a lot of the things we thought about to a third-party source, so we hired management with a company called All Independent Service Alliance. This way Vinnie and I can focus on creativity, the writing process, working out the details on the artwork, instead of taking on business matters we’re not qualified to do or have the resources to do like booking or distribution. I think it helped us rekindle our friendship, instead of having to deal with the elephant that’s in the room.
You mentioned lineup changes. Your current lineup was gathered in 2017 and includes Jason Viebrooks (bass), Sasha Horn (drums) and Maziar “Marzi” Montazeri (guitar). What about this lineup was conducive to recording a new album?
The process didn’t change that much. It starts out with Vinnie. Back in the day it was Chris (Nail). They would sit down and get an arrangement together. Eventually, I come into the process where the words go, “maybe we need to extend two measures here.” Vinnie and I usually get the final arrangement together. Then, the tracking starts around the drums. Once the drums are complete, we just start moving on it. I think the fact that this time around we have guys who are equally talented as the old guys were, maybe in different ways for each instrument, but we have a strong lineup. You have to be super talented to be in this band. You can’t just be a guy who dials it in. We’re that technical of a band. Everybody comes in, and for the most part, are ready to perform the task. We go in and start tracking those sounds.
It seems like the bands these members have played in or currently play in are perfect for Exhorder. Sasha Horn plays in Forbidden and Heathen. Viebrooks also plays in Heathen. Marzi plays in Heavy As Texas and formerly played in Philip H. Anselmo And The Illegals. How much input did these members have on the writing process?
To be honest, not too much. Vinnie had so much music prepared from having taken so much time off. We didn’t have a shortage of material. There were a few songs that were written in the last year and a half, but some of it goes back to the late ‘90s and early 2000s. There was definitely a back catalog right out of the gate. This time around, Vinnie had his vision laid out there. There is a song called “Rumination” that Jason wrote, so Vinnie sat down and tweaked it a little to give it more of an Exhorder flair. Right out of the gates, it felt like it fit well enough to be worthy of the Exhorder logo. By the time I had done what I did to it, it definitely felt like it belonged. Otherwise, Vinnie wrote everything. I wrote all the vocals and lyrics except for “Ripping Flesh,” which Vinnie had written before I had even stepped to the plate in ’86.
That song sounds like something that would have come from Slaughter In The Vatican.
It was actually pre-Slaughter from the Get Rude demo. That was the second thing we ever recorded. We did a home studio demo of three songs in early 1986. Then, later that summer we did an 8-track recording of most of the songs that ended up on the Slaughter In The Vatican album. It was called Get Rude. “Ripping Flesh” was the only song from that demo that didn’t make it to any of the albums. This time around, we had this classic song sitting there that we figured would be a great nod to our past. We invited Chris Nail to come in and play drums on the song, so he’s actually on this album, as well. It’s kind of a tribute to the past without feeling forced into another song that we had to hurry up. We already had one song that never got a proper recording that the other songs did. Now we can lay that to rest because it’s had its due.
Mourn The Southern Skies sounds like an Exhorder album. It’s a very aggressive album. “My Time” is especially angry. Your listeners are assaulted with a barrage of vulgarities. You released a video for the track. What made you use it as a lead-in track and as a single?
I think it’s not any kind of rocket science. Aside from the title track, which we had started writing back in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, some of what we had written had made it to the album made it to the album, this was the first of the new batch of songs that are on the album. It encapsulated everything we are now and the direction we’re going in sound wise, style wise and attitude. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to understand that song. Anybody who has had a job can relate to that song.
It’s frustrating when people feel like they’re stuck in that rat race of getting up, going to work, waking up and doing it over and over again. Just like I said in the song. There it is. It speaks to people. People tell me, “God, this song is my life! It’s where I’m at every single day.” Maybe it was time for an anthem. I don’t know. It’s nasty, fast, it has attitude, break downs, heavy riffs—it’s classic Exhorder! There are songs that will be a bit different from it on the album. There are songs that are similar to it on the album, so I think we did a good job of hopping around with doing the thrash/groove with some twists and turns.
The second track “Asunder” also refers to work. You say “The seven-year itch has come for the middle class father to son. Castle built from sand and stone is now crumbling into the dust.” What message are you trying to convey about work and our society?
The ultimate story about that song is less about work. Sure, it does touch on that. It’s funny that you mention it because maybe it has more to do with work than I thought. That song is inspired by some real-life events I read about. I’ve read about people going nuts, coming home from work and killing their wife and kids in their sleep. That kind of thing is really scary to me as a parent. What makes a parent get to the point where they say they’re done with all of what they built? That’s a scary thought. That’s where the new Exhorder comes into play. I never thought about it as a young man because I didn’t have a wife and kids. I find it intriguing and frightening.
You’ve sung for several bands including Alabama Thunderpussy and Trouble. Was this just something you did while Exhorder were on hiatus? Are you involved with another band at this time?
I did take off time over the years when my kids were small. I got back to it. I take time off and go back to it. I was busy from the get-go after Exhorder broke up. I formed what became Floodgate, signed to Roadrunner, put an album out, and did some touring. After that, I kind of had to back out because I got married and had kids. I would gradually record an album. I recorded an album with Pitts. vs. Preps and a band called Jones’s Lounge. Those were never released. We did those independently. Eventually, I talked about getting back into it with Alabama Thunderpussy. After a couple years of struggling through that, that band broke up. I got back into the workforce. My kids were really small then, and it was really tough to travel worldwide with kids.
I joined Trouble back in 2012. We recorded an album and are in the process of recording another one. We’ve done a decent bit of touring. I joined Heavy As Texas, which is Marzi’s project, a couple years ago. We just got off a tour. We’ve done an album. I guess I’m just as needed as much as possible. I try to stay in it. For a minute, you might try to walk away, but it always pulls you back (laughs). It’s in my blood. I could wake up in the middle of the night, seriously tired, and I hear something in my head. Sometimes I break out the notebook in the middle of the night. Sometimes I wish I had written it down in the notebook because I’ve lost it before I go back to sleep. That’s the curse of the musician. When you’re sitting in silence, there is never silence. You always hear something going on in your head.
Exhorder are set to tour North America with Kataklysm. Krisiun and Hatchet will be joining you. How do you feel about this tour and your tour mates?
It looks like a good tour to me. It’s a nice package. Seems like all the bands are good, quality bands that people know, so that’s going to help with turn outs, I think. I have met the Kataklysm guys. We played a festival in Germany with them last year. They seem like super nice dudes. I sat down at the show and talked to a few of them. They were really cool. I haven’t met the other guys in the other bands, but I’ve checked on them. I went to their page and listened to them. They all sound good. Three of the bands are sharing a tour bus, so I hope we all get along (laughs).
Do you have any future tour plans? What’s in store for fans after the Kataklysm tour?
We’re going back to Europe in October to do two German shows, and I think three shows in the U.K. That’s great because Exhorder has never been to the U.K. Then, we do our very first show in Ireland. I’ve never been to Ireland with any band, and being of Irish descent, I’m really looking forward to that. There are definitely great things happening. We have touring that is being scheduled out for next year. We’re going to support this album pretty strongly.
Are you receiving support from Nuclear Blast that you didn’t get earlier?
I’ll tell you this much: They seem a lot more attentive to the project than Roadrunner was. Before we signed with Nuclear Blast, I heard they care for all of their bands, from top to bottom. They don’t pick favorites, push those, and then let the other ones fend for themselves. They are really good about seeing all of their projects are well-attended. So far, they’ve been really good about that. Of course, we have to earn the right to become one of their top bands. That’s going to take some work and time, but I think we can make it happen if we work hard enough.
It seems like there is more attention around Exhorder since you put out on the last album on Roadrunner. A lot more people listen to you these days.
Go figure. I joke around a lot that this is the only job I’ll ever have where I can quit for seven or ten years, come back and get a raise. Every….single….time we break up and come back it’s bigger. The legend of this band just grows. It’s up to us now. The table is set. It’s a low, slow pitch over the plate with a cabbage ball. All any of us have to do it show up and take big swing.
(interview published September 20, 2019)
Watch Exhorder – “My Time” Video