Shred heads rejoice and raise your swords (or axes) to the sky! Exmortus is back with a brand new album entitled Ride Forth and it has riffs, lots, and lots of face melting riffs. Ride Forth is the Whittier, California quartet’s follow-up to their most successful release to date, 2014’s Slave to the Sword. Slave to the Sword was actually the first album I ever heard from Exmortus. I had heard of them before, but I never actually listened to their music until I heard a few songs on Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal and went out and picked up the record. I was hooked right away, they were so familiar but so different at the same time. Their sound is very unique, it’s like a mixture of genres all working together to create some kind of neoclassical thrash metal with an old school heavy metal twist. The best way I can think to explain them is; if you take classical music and play it on guitar through an amp, add some thrash style drums, some death metal style vocals, with an old school heavy metal theme to the lyrics, you’ll get Exmortus. There is an insane amount of talent in this band and they don’t hold back when it comes to showcasing their incredible skills. The guitar work of David Rivera and Jadran “Conan” Gonzales (who is also the lead vocalist) is nothing short of spectacular. Their neoclassical, twin guitar style shredding is absolutely ridiculous. The incredible guitar wizardry is definitely the focal point of Exmortus’ music but the rhythm section is just as noteworthy. Mario Moreno’s drumming is precise, fast and flawless, and once you hear their cover of Beethoven’s classic composition “Appassionata,” you’ll agree that Mike Cosio is a great new addition to the band on bass. Their unique sound, combined with the success of Slave to the Sword has earned them a solid following and some great touring opportunities. They even starred in a Virgin Mobile commercial in 2014.
Exmortus was formed in 2002 by lead guitar player and vocalist, Jadran “Conan” Gonzales, and drummer, Mario Moreno. After years of fighting in the heavy metal trenches, trying to find permanent members and releasing loads of demos and EP’s, the band was picked up by Heavy Artillery Records and they released their debut album, In Hatred’s Flame in 2008. At this time, Jadran Gonzales had not yet taken on the role of being the front man of the band, so the vocals were performed by Balmore Lemus. In 2011, Exmortus released their second album, Beyond the Fall of Time which was also on Heavy Artillery Records and was the debut for Jadran “Conan” Gonzales as the front man. In 2014, Exmortus made some big waves in the heavy metal community and started to see their hard work and dedication pay off. They released their third full-length, Slave To The Sword on Prosthetic Records, which earned a lot of airplay on radio stations around the world and even was on Sirius XM’s Liquid Metal’s Devil’s Dozen countdown as well as their most requested chart for the majority of the year. This naturally opened a lot of doors for the band with touring opportunities alongside some of metal’s biggest acts like: Cattle Decapitation, Voivod, Bonded By Blood, Nuclear Assault, Exhumer, Warbringer, Michael Angelo Batio and Marty Freidman to name a few. Like I mentioned earlier, they even starred in a commercial for Virgin Mobile where they sing about how awesome the phone is before destroying all of their instruments. Slave to the Sword was also the debut of the incredibly gifted second lead guitar player, David Rivera. The chemistry between Jadran and David is truly something to behold, it’s like they’ve been playing together their whole lives. Their twin guitar attack is reminiscent of teams like Glenn Tipton and KK Downing of Judas Priest, or Dave Murray and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden. Now to start off 2016, Exmortus has returned with a brand new full-length entitled, Ride Forth and it’s packed full of mind-blowing musical talent and a shitload of riffs. Did I mention the riffs?
Ride Forth was produced by Zach Ohren, who also produced Exmortus’ last offering, Slave to the Sword. The production is undoubtedly clear and mixed so that each instrument is distinguishable, however, it lacks balls so to speak. I found Slave to the Sword had a stronger and more raw feel to it while Ride Forth seems flat and feels like it’s missing that extra power and dirtiness that gives it character. The drums, though technical, precise and fast as hell, just sound flat and dull. Mario Moreno really is a spectacular drummer and it’s a bit of a shame that the drums didn’t have a more full and aggressive sound to them because the double bass drumming is just relentless throughout this whole album. While the production is a little disappointing the song compositions, for the most part, are well done. Songs like “Speed of the Strike” (the opening track), “Hymn of Hate,” and “Fire and Ice” would sound just like classical pieces if you were to remove the vocals, double bass drumming, and distortion. In fact, if you randomly picked any song on the record you’d hear some kind of heavy classical influence in the music. These songs, in particular, have a very Yngwie Malmsteen style approach to the guitar work. They’re just jam packed full of scales, arpeggios, squeals and fretboard shredding in a very melodic and clinical way. “Appassionata,” an instrumental Beethoven cover song, is, of course, the most classical sounding track and is easily my favorite song on Ride Forth. Every member has their skill set on full display on this one. Mike Cosio’s bass playing is pretty mind blowing on this track to say the least. Tracks like “Relentless,” “Let Us Roam,” ”For the Horde,” “Black Sails,” and “Death to Tyrants” while still heavily influenced by classical music have a more Manowar meets Amon Amarth type feel to them. They have a more traditional formula to the song structure and overall sound. None of these songs sound alike but they clearly have a different feel than “Speed Of The Strike,” Hymn Of Hate,” Fire And Ice,” or “Appassionata.” That’s one thing that drew me to this band initially, the diversity in their songwriting. With the recent rebirth of thrash metal, a lot of bands like Warbringer, Evile, Havok, etc., have stuck to the classic sound without venturing too far off the beaten path. Not that that’s a bad thing at all, I personally can’t get enough of that classic thrash style and attitude. What Exmortus does is a little more risky and adventurous. They venture off the path but not too far that they lose the balance between all the different styles they incorporate on top of their thrash metal foundation.
My only negative critique of Ride Forth would be the flat sounding production and I was also hoping Jadran “Conan” Gonzales would add a little more range to his vocals. His vocal style is similar to Jeff Walker (Carcass) which is awesome if you sing for a band that sounds similar to Carcass. Exmortus, on the other hand, has so much more diversity to their music that I think some more range would really benefit their sound and add even more complexity and appeal overall. The raspy low growls just don’t fit the atmosphere of certain parts of songs in my opinion. On the positive side, I think Ride Forth is a very solid release for Exmortus. Each track stands on its own and no two songs are alike. The musicianship is nothing short of spectacular and the compositions are unique and complex. I love the album cover with the horsemen of the apocalypse charging into battle. It has a very classic heavy metal feel which suits Exmortus’ style to a tee. Ride Forth features nine tracks and is available through the Amazon banner link on the homepage. If you’re a fan of old school heavy metal and fast, technical, melodic music then Ride Forth is a must for your collection.
Shawn “Short-Fuse” Carter