The last few years have seen a variety of bands long thought dead rise from the grave to kick asses and melt faces once again. Time away from their bands, renewed interest thanks to readily available older material on the internet, and astronomical leaps forward in technology have all brought fans clamoring for the return of their favorite long gone bands. In the late 2010s, thrash legends Exhorder came roaring back to life with renewed touring and a new album to boot. Needless to say, fans have been ecstatic to have Exhorder back in the mix and releasing crushing new thrash anthems.
Originally formed in New Orleans in 1985, Exhorder put out two memorable albums, 1990’s Slaughter in the Vatican and 1992’s The Law before going on an extended hiatus. In 2019, the band blasted back with Mourn the Southern Skies, a comeback record that instantly put to bed any fears of Exhorder slowing down or letting up after so long away. Recently I talked with vocalist, guitarist, and lone remaining founding member Kyle Thomas. For fans of the band hoping Exhorder sticks around this time, our talk should give some hope for the faithful.
First off, what got you into metal in the first place and who were some influential bands for you?
Kyle: The earliest heavy music I can remember starts with the Beatles. I can remember hearing “Come Together” while I was still in diapers. It stopped me in my tracks, and I remember gyrating to the groove. Otherwise, it was Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top, KISS, Queen, and lots of other heavy classic rock that I connected with in the early ’70s. From there, it was Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, etc. that I gravitated towards as I approached my teen years.
What was your band experience like before Exhorder?
Kyle: I played bass. That’s all I gave a shit about- becoming the world’s baddest bass player ever. I had started on trumpet in third-grade and got really good at it, but I didn’t love it. Bass I loved. I had a couple of bands and a few jam partners along the way, but it wasn’t until I met Jimmy Bower when we were teenagers that I really got to jam in a band situation that counted. He played only drums back then. We were a solid rhythm section for sure. But I ended up getting stuck with the microphone, which I never set out to do, ironically. I just learned to accept it over time.
How did Exhorder get started and what were the early years like both trying to find your sound and develop as a band?
Kyle: I met the other four original members going out to punk rock shows in the mid ’80s. They had a handful of their friends try singing, with not much luck. I went to Chris Nail’s family home in the late spring/early summer of 1986, and auditioned with “Deliver Us to Evil” by Exodus. It’s been my job to lose ever since. We played a handful of covers on occasion mostly for fun, but that summer we wrote together and recorded half of the songs on the Slaughter in the Vatican album. That’s how far back that album goes.
How influential was the New Orleans musical community in the development and growth of the band?
Kyle: Extremely. We all were deeply affected by the traditional style of New Orleans music. The funk, the blues, jazz- you name it. It’s just part of being a New Orleanian. Watching local metal and punk bands as we were developing our sound also played a big hand in it. We’re all a product of our influences. It’s impossible not to be.
How did getting to record the debut, Slaughter in the Vatican come about? How much of a learning process was that first one and what did you learn from the process that you used in future recordings?
Kyle: Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I quickly learned what not to do. We were young and inexperienced, and stubbornness also had a heavy hand in the early sounds we captured. Low budgets for the sessions didn’t help much either. Every album I have ever made after the first two Exhorder albums was deeply influenced by learning from the mistakes we made. Never move forward until it’s right, or you’ll be sorry for all eternity. The Slaughter in the Vatican sessions were a nightmare. We loved the demo we made, the label(s) we worked with didn’t. By the time we re-recorded it, the tempos were too fast and the tones were awful. We ended up recording over everything we did from top to bottom one or two times before we could live with the final product. Only the tempos remain from the beginning of the sessions, and most of them are wrong.
The cover for that one is one of my all-time favorites. Who came up with the design and how happy with the final artwork were you? Did the cover ever cause the group any trouble?
Kyle: That cover is tame by comparison to the cover of the demo. Again, label choice- not ours. And by today’s standards, it’s nothing shocking whatsoever, whereas it got us the “PARENTAL ADVISORY- EXPLICIT LYRICS” sticker back then. I just remember we thought it was a bit chicken-shit to call the album Slaughter in the Vatican, and be worried about who got their feelings hurt. Originally we had Pope John Paul II, who is now a Saint, actually hanging from our logo by rope, dead as a doornail. Women and children crying and praying at his feet, while the Vatican burned in the background. I’ve learned to love the album cover design for what it is over time, but don’t be fooled- it wasn’t loved by anyone in the band at first. And that is no fault of the artist whatsoever.
Your follow-up album, The Law, feels like a natural evolution for the band in terms of sound. Was it a conscious effort to switch it up a bit on that one or just a normal progression for the group? Was recording that one an easier process than the debut?
Kyle: That album was just as much of a nightmare as the first one. We didn’t have enough new material because we weren’t prepared for it in time. Consequently, we ended up robbing our first demo of two songs and doing “Into the Void” by Black Sabbath as some low hanging fruit to fill space. It was a part of our live show, and always was a hit for us. But every other song on that album was still being written in the studio, and there was a lot of time wasted experimenting with guitar tones. Too many young mistakes that ate into the budget. I ended up having only nine hours to record my vocals in. I got the job done, but my takes would have been way better if I had been given days to do what I needed to do, like everyone else got. To me, it is overall a sonic disaster. I rarely listen to any of my discography much after an album gets released, but I loathe hearing that album because of its faults.
Following The Law, the band split up. What caused the first breakup and, in 2008, what led you guys to getting back together again?
Kyle: Shit, you think that was the first breakup? We broke up once before that in early 1988. Let’s just say one band member got “bad info” about another band member from a girl. There was a drunken altercation at rehearsal that ended up with the police showing up and someone spending the night in jail. We reformed later that year with Jay Ceravolo joining as a new member. After The Law, we broke up because some people stopped showing up for rehearsals or taking phone calls, and thrash was in deep shit anyway in 1993. I couldn’t wait to get out of the band then, I was so unhappy. I ended up leaving and forming what became Floodgate, and signing with Roadrunner for that album in 1995. We always seemed to want to get back together in Exhorder over long periods of time passing, but the same old problems always returned. This band seemed doomed for most of its existence. It’s so nice to have such a happy lineup these days. Zero conflicts.
What led to the hiatus after the first reunion and how did you decide to bring the band back in 2017? What did you look for when you were looking for musicians to bring Exhorder back with? It’s a killer lineup that you ended up with!
Kyle: Again, time makes you forget things from the past, or dulls better judgement perhaps, ha! Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, who knows? The most important criteria was that we needed people that were professional and could do the job. You can’t have just anyone in this band. It has to be virtuoso type players due to the complexities of the arrangements and parts. As far as what leads us to the long periods of time in between, let’s just say that relationships are fragile, and egos as well. Just because you write well and play well with someone doesn’t mean that everyone is going to get along. You get enough alpha type people in small quarters for long enough, you’re going to have problems sooner than later. Not everyone is wired up for the long haul, I guess.
What is the music writing process like for this version of the band? Is it different from the old days? How about the lyric writing process?
Kyle: Well, for starters, it’s not much different. Contrary to popular belief, most everyone had a hand in the writing process on every album. It blows me away how many people think it was one person. That couldn’t be more untrue. But when everyone that writes truly cares about what the rest of the team thinks and can handle critiques, you’ve got a winning formula for longevity. The writing process between myself, Jason[VieBrooks], and Sasha [Horn] on this album really has been pleasant and productive. Lyrics always come last. I get my vocal ideas after the music is finished, and then I fill in the gaps with words.
What was it like to record that first album back, Mourn the Southern Skies? Was it an adjustment after not having recorded an album with Exhorder in decades and being with different members? It’s a hell of a great album and I imagine that you must be really happy with it.
Kyle: It’s much more representative of what this band sounds like live than the other two were. That was always a huge source of frustration for me. The albums didn’t really sound like “us.” I read here and there about people complaining that Mourn the Southern Skies didn’t sound like classic Exhorder guitar tones. Everything you ever heard before that outside of our demos was absolutely NOT classic Exhorder guitar tones. That is what ate me up so long over the years about our albums misrepresenting what we really were. And no fault of the producers, don’t get me wrong. They made those albums less of a nightmare than what they could have been. But yeah, to me the third album is our best one to date. Can’t wait to deliver another one of equal quality.
How badly has the COVID pandemic affected the band?
Kyle: Well, imagine having a career where you’re not allowed to work for most of a two year span. That’s how the pandemic affected us. It’s still not back to where it was, and may never be. Promoters are scared shitless of slow ticket sales, wanting the band to take a reduction. Well, multiply that by 24 shows and what does it get you? Not what was agreed upon contractually and projected in the original budget. I can appreciate a promoter being scared of losing a couple of thousand dollars, but multiply that by 24 and see who gets fucked the most.
How much have you guys gotten the chance to play live since the pandemic and what was it like to finally get to return to playing live shows?
Kyle: We did Psycho Las Vegas last year for the return gig. It was amazing. Then we did the U.S. tour in the early winter. That had its moments, but we had to deal with a lot of the promoter woes I mentioned earlier. In the end it was a success and we didn’t lose money, but it definitely changed the landscape of how we do business in this band, from how we travel and sleep to what will be tolerated by anyone that is contracted to work for us. That tour should have been one of the most fun and happy of my life, and it ended up being one of the worst. Lesson learned, problems solved. We just did Maryland Deathfest recently, and are about to do five festival shows in August in the U.S. and Europe. We haven’t traveled abroad yet post pandemic era, so I’ll let you know in September, haha!
What’s next for Exhorder? What are your plans for the rest of 2022 and then your goals for the future of the band?
Kyle: We’re writing a new album, and recording will commence in the fall most likely. It’s safe to say we are aiming for a 2023 release. As long as the interest in this band continues to grow as rapidly as it has been the last few years, I’m down to keep rolling.
Keep updated on Exhorder on their site, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube.
Photo at top: Mourn the Southern Skies album cover.