Retrospective: Exodus’ “Pleasures Of The Flesh” Turns 25

By Avinash Mittur

In 2012, Exodus is one of thrash metal’s most respected acts. Dozens of young bands cited them as a major influence during the “thrash revival” movement, and many continue to argue for their place in the so-called “Big Four.” In 1987, this was anything but the case for the original Bay Area thrash band. The band had lost their legendary vocalist Paul Baloff and were now standing the shadow of some of thrash’s greatest records like “Pleasure to Kill,” “Master of Puppets” and “Reign in Blood.” Twenty-five years ago on October 7th 1987 Exodus released their second album, “Pleasures of the Flesh.” Sadly, this album just wasn’t the masterpiece that should have been the follow-up to “Bonded By Blood.” Despite decent songs and fine performances by the band, “Pleasures of the Flesh” has not aged well at all and remains a black sheep in the Exodus catalog after twenty-five years.

It’s impossible to talk about this album without mentioning the awful production. The guitars and drums sound like they’re covered in some kind of intangible murk, while Steve “Zetro” Souza’s vocals are practically buried in the mix. Nothing ‘pops’ with “Pleasures of the Flesh,” and the album is just a pain to listen to sonically. Its predecessor, “Bonded By Blood,” featured even worse sound, but it added character to the raw and combustible songs. The abysmal production was really unfortunate considering the killer performances that were recorded on this album. Guitarists Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt offered stunning trade-off solos in nearly every song and further asserted their status as one of thrash metal’s best tag-teams, while Tom Hunting once again showed why he is one of thrash metal’s most creative drummers. Being the new guy at the time, Zetro was forced to live up to the stratospheric standard set by Paul Baloff. Instead of attempting to be a Baloff imitation, Zetro opted to impose his own stamp on the songs. Though many fans looked down upon him and his dissimilarity to Baloff at the time, he was justly rewarded in the years to come; many young fans today still associate his nasal sneer with the classic Exodus period. This was nowhere near Zetro’s best performance on record, but it was a great first outing with the band regardless.

As for the songs themselves, many of them have stood the test of time surprisingly well. The title track remains an unjustly forgotten Exodus classic, while speed-fests like “Deranged” and “Choose Your Weapon” would still induce a fun pit if they were played live today. In 2012 the songwriting on “Pleasures of the Flesh” can be seen as pretty good, but in 1987 “pretty good” just didn’t cut it from the band that recorded “Bonded By Blood.” To put it bluntly, “Pleasures of the Flesh” was filled with decent to great thrash metal songs by a band that had written some of the all-time best in the genre. If “Pleasures of the Flesh” had been released by another band in another time, it might have been hailed as a thrash classic but it just does not live up to the lofty standards set by nearly every single other Exodus record. Time has been kind to the songs off of “Pleasures of the Flesh” though- without the shadow of “Bonded By Blood” hanging over its head, the tracks on “Pleasures of the Flesh” finally can be seen as the good thrashers that they are. The title track, “Brain Dead” and “Seeds of Hate” were later given scorching live readings on “Another Lesson in Violence”- those versions are definitive, and provide a glimpse towards how great “Pleasures of the Flesh” could have been.

“Pleasures of the Flesh” is not an easy album to go through in one sitting at all. Though the songs are of uniformly decent quality, they blend together from “Til Death Do Us Part” onwards and lack enough unique character to allow them to stand out. This flaw combined with the terrible production unfortunately makes “Pleasures of the Flesh” a less than satisfactory listen from start to finish. The songs and performances have merit, but the album just doesn’t hold together well. After twenty-five years, “Pleasures of the Flesh” isn’t nearly the flop that many thought it to be upon its release, but it remains one of Exodus’ weaker outings.