Exmortus was another band I was not familiar with. As such, I listened through Ride Forth with zero context, and let me tell you that I was sure this had to be a bunch of Swedes. They're from California, but you never would guess it from these old-school death howls and riffage normally resevered for Northern Europe. The album features oil-painted cover artwork by Philip Lawvere (Kreator, Celtic Frost) and was recorded with producer Zack Ohren (Immolation, Suffocation) who also recorded their 2014 effort. They were also named the city's "Best Metal Band" by LA Weekly, who described them as "a blistering blend of European-influenced, neo-classical thrash metal." True.
I considered challenging myself to writing this review without using the words "guitar," "riffs," "shredding," or "hooks;" but I think in this case that would be nearly impossible. This is a thrashtastic peice of nostalgia that returns to the roots of where bands like Ensiferum got their sound. The lyrics are filled with references to the old world, and delivered with such forte. Fist-pumping, sing-along choruses that have me already looking for a chance to see these guys live. They only live a state under me, so I hope that can be arranged soon. "We are slave NO MORE!"
But back to the axe work. This is the neo-classical player's wet dream. While there is plenty of thrash and melodic death happening here, the sound often hearkens further back to NWOBHM and classic rock a la Van Halen or Extreme. The leads are just sick and the rhythm section mixed with the cadence of the vocals may lead to a few fan neck injuries. There is even a melody on "Hymn of Hate" that is a reworked excerpt from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I'm willing to guess that a more cultured person than I might catch more nods to other genres and songs (the most obvious being the enthralling cover of Beethoven's "Appassionata"). It was playful moments like this that really solidifed the above comaparisons, particularly reminding me of "Play with Me."
With that said, long-time guitar-players will love this album, but so will people old and new who just love themselves some metal. There are so many potential hits and live bangers here: "Speed of the Strike," "Relentless," "Let us Roam," and even the instrumental, virtuoso masterpiece, "Appassionata." I want to make sweet leather-clad love to these solos. Ride Forth is, in my mind, the first BIG hit of 2016 and shows that even a bunch of West Coast dudes, with the right motivations and dedication to their instruments and craft, can still put out one hell of an album. It's been a while since the region had a true Exodus, but Exmortus may just be the true heirs to the throne. Long live the king.