Slayer's 'Reign In Blood' is generally regarded the greatest thrash album of all time, the perfect blend of aggression, speed and metallic rage, closely followed by Metallica’s ‘Master Of Puppets’, Exodus’ ‘Bonded By Blood’ and Dark Angel's 'Darkness Descends'. However, the occasional album managed to shake the foundations of the thrash genre, if not threaten the leading lights. Exhorder's 'Slaughter in The Vatican' caused one of those rare musical earthquakes.
'Slaughter In The Vatican' is everything good Thrash should be– heavy, fast, uncompromising and vicious. Exhorder came out of New Orleans, the home of much highly original, but often twisted music, and for sheer headbutt you in the face, kick you in the head nastiness, Exhorder is hard to beat. If you think this is just hype, consider the fact that one of the band members was once jailed for attacking another. We're not talking handbags at dawn, but kicking down his door, shotgun in hand, intending to kill.
Thankfully, guitarist Vinnie LaBella's attempt to kill drummer Chris Nail was unsuccessful. If it had been, some of the most inspired extreme thrash ever recorded would not have ever emerged from the Louisiana bayou. By now, Exhorder virgins are probably wondering "but what the hell makes it so good?" To be honest, it's hard to tell exactly, but a combination of factors adds up to a final product far greater than the sum of its parts.
The first thing you notice about Exhorder is the rhythm guitar sound. The word chainsaw comes to mind. A chainsaw with guitar pick-ups attached, trying to cut through half inch steel plating, that is. Next are the drums. As hard hitting as anything Dave Lombardo or Gene Hoglan ever produced, Chris Nail's performance stomps all over both of them. Coming from New Orleans with its fine Cajun and jazz traditions, it was inevitable Nail's surroundings would influence his style. The off-beat syncopation and deft drum fills here almost have you hitting the rewind button to hear them again, so you can check you really heard what you think you heard. Unlike other drummers who mix up styles, Nail loses none of his brutality, nor do any of the time changes distract from the overall effect.
Kyle Thomas's throat shredding vocals are reminiscent of a more tuneful Roger Miret, of Agnostic Front fame. Rather than barking tunes about hardcore unity though, Exhorder deal in a hatred of organised religion, violence and um… literature. The album title conveys a bit of the band's disdain for the church, but rather than descending into comic book Satanism like Deicide, the lyrics are pure venomous hatred.
"Desecrator" is the pick of the whole album. It is the perfect mix of brutality, both musically and lyrically, and builds from a threatening, moody intro to an out and out hardcore thrash–out by the end of the song. "Anal Lust" and "Homicide" are pure violence ("Bestial lust/Slit her throat because she's a lousy fuck"). The rest of the album seems to be inspired lyrically and thematically by Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft.
While Exhorder were overlooked during their career, their importance has since been recognised. If you have not heard the band, you may think it is all hype. There is no way to explain Exhorder without actually hearing the band. If you are familiar with the band, then you'll understand fully.