By Avinash Mittur
In 2012, Exodus is one of the heaviest thrash metal groups currently active. The last eight years have seen the band releasing the most mature, brutal and violent material of their career. When one thinks of their original frontman Paul Baloff though, it’s hard not to imagine the big guy being an amazingly fun and joyous presence in the middle of a Bay Area slaughter. In 1997, Gary Holt, Rick Hunolt, and Tom Hunting reunited Exodus with Baloff returning to the mic and recruited Jack Gibson to fill the vacant bassist position. In many ways, this was the last time the band was all about “good friendly violent fun.”
In the years following this reunion, the members of Exodus were forced to face some of the worst experiences of their lives, including divorce, drug abuse, and death. Since then Exodus’ songs have just never been the same. For better or worse, Exodus finally grew up- the band that once wrote a song about the joys of moshing now writes tracks about the atrocities of war and religion. “Another Lesson in Violence” then, is truly a gift to the heavy metal world for so many reasons. Released exactly 15 years ago on July 8th 1997, not only is the last official document of Paul Baloff’s time with Exodus, it’s a snapshot of the last time Exodus could really be considered just a group of friends who loved to play loud, fast music and have fun. Besides these heavy connotations, at its core “Another Lesson is Violence” is a plain all killer, no filler live record. There isn’t a subpar song on the entire album, and the performance is ferocious and masterfully captured.
When the opening riff of “Bonded By Blood” kicks in, most fans will hear the hallmarks of a modern day Exodus show. Down-tuned riffing, Jack’s growling bass and Tom’s pounding drums are all on display here. And then Baloff starts singing. Right away the fun vibe of old-school Exodus returns. His laughably terrible singing is what grounds these songs and his one-liners and ad-libs are just too awesome and funny. More than any other Exodus album, “Another Lesson in Violence” shows what a charismatic, down to earth and downright silly man Paul Baloff was. Baloff didn’t establish himself as Exodus’ all time greatest singer because of his vocal abilities (or rather, his lack thereof), it was because of outlandish performances like the one recorded on “Another Lesson in Violence.” There are way too many memorable dialogues from him on this album to recount them all, but nearly every song features a hilarious introduction and plenty of random one-liners throughout them. Some of my favorites include his intro to Impaler (“This song is older than shit, heavier than time!”), his philosophy on the metal community (“Heavy must stay together! All others must die!”) and of course, his thoughts on posers (“Those people need to be found, thrown out and destroyed!“). More than any YouTube clip of the original Bay Area thrash shows, or any poorly recorded demo tape, Baloff’s antics on “Another Lesson in Violence” truly make me wish that I was old enough to experience his shenanigans back then.
Besides Baloff’s ridiculous nature captured on this album, the music itself is an absolute force to be reckoned with. There’s no need to talk about the songs on this album in too much detail- everyone already knows that the songs on “Bonded By Blood” are among the best in the thrash metal genre. Eight of those nine legendary tracks are featured on “Another Lesson in Violence,” and the state of the art production does nothing to dull their impact and power. For the first time, Tom Hunting’s drums were given the quality sound they deserved, and his insanely precise attack and unique fills were now easy for anyone to hear. Just check out his jackhammer performance on “Seeds of Hate” and you’ll rarely return to the original version from “Pleasures of the Flesh.” With this album, Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt also boasted some of the heaviest guitar tones in thrash, and their new sound provided a spit-shined polish to these songs. The band as a whole were on fire for the recording of this album; every song is graced with tight, destructive performances. Even Machine Head’s Robb Flynn, who guests on “A Lesson in Violence,” turns in a perfect show for this rabid San Francisco crowd, “almost a full house of fucking insane maniacs” according to Baloff. The energy and enthusiasm from this audience is palpable, and the band happily confirms this again and again. Yet another prime Baloff monologue accurately describes the band’s thoughts: “We did our first show Wednesday night in Sac and man, I think I’ll just forget that one! You guys just make the scene dude! They suck, you rule!”
While the songs from “Bonded By Blood” were now given a razor-sharp sound, the three tracks from “Pleasures of the Flesh” were truly given the biggest upgrade. The original album was plagued with a downright terrible production, a bad mix and some absolutely cheesy reverb effects. “Bonded By Blood” was also given a pretty horrible production, but it added an endearing quality to that album, where “Pleasures of the Flesh” only suffered. “Another Lesson in Violence” proved that those songs were top notch however; the band’s run through the title cut to “Pleasures of the Flesh” remains one of Exodus’ most devastating tracks. Andy Sneap did a fantastic job mixing this album, and from an audio engineering perspective, this is one of my all-time favorite efforts from him.
At any other band’s live performance, I would have complained about the long breaks in between songs. On “Another Lesson in Violence” though, I couldn’t imagine listening to this record without them. They add so much to the atmosphere of this record, and only help to transport the listener to the show that the breaks are 100% essential to the album. The band’s chats with the audience and Baloff’s monologues are genuinely fun, and once again remind us what a different band Exodus was back then. “Another Lesson in Violence” is a fantastic record to listen to and appreciate for the music, that alone guarantees a high place in the Exodus canon. However, it’s also a document of a truly unique time in the band’s history, and it’s the single best record of one of thrash metal’s greatest frontmen.
Whether you were there in 1985 or 1997, or you’re listening to “Another Lesson in Violence” in 2012, there’s no denying the energy, fun and sheer charisma that Paul Baloff lent to Exodus. After fifteen years, “Another Lesson in Violence” remains a badass record, but its significance will continue to grow with every year that the heavy metal world forges on without Baloff. This is essential listening for any thrash fan, and especially for Exodus fans that still don’t understand why Paul Baloff is rightfully considered one of the best frontmen in heavy metal history.