The previous three EXMORTUS albums have been all substantially different from each other, but it was 2014’s Slave to the Sword that made me a die-hard fan of the band, cemented by seeing them live. What I originally listened to for the three singles grew and grew on me and never stopped until it became one of my all-time favorites. So it was that when I put on Ride Forth, their new album (January 8 on Prosthetic Records), I was pleased to note that EXMORTUS hasn’t strayed too far from that sound.
Since their debut, the band’s songwriting has showcased an incredible amount of riffs, licks, and fills, all played with flawless precision at blazing speeds. Even more impressive is that this dense, technical style exists without compromising strong melodies and memorable vocal lines. For a band toeing the thrash/death metal divide, EXMORTUS manages to draw from the strengths of both genres without falling into their respective pitfalls. No repetitive riffs or mainstream concessions to be found here. The only real weak point of Ride Forth is that it lacks a solid single to draw you in the way “Foe Hammer” did for the last disc. I knew from the outset that this would probably be a “grower,” and I can hardly criticize a metal band too much for not writing singles. Nevertheless, it was clear from the outset that this record eschews some of the melodic fills and noodling that EXMORTUS has done so well in favor of leaner, meaner songs.
After a long day that left me frustrated, angry, and feeling powerless I put on Ride Forth for another listen and suddenly everything clicked. The first three tracks of the album serve as a raucous war cry, a pounding, thundering call to arms. “Lo and behold, we are slaves no more!” Drummer Mario Moreno recently said that the music was intended to convey a sense of power that the listener could feel and experience as well. My real-life worries were quickly drowned out amidst the clash of steel and warlike imagery.
Opening track “Speed of the Strike” strikes a knife-edge balance of melody and aggression that should appeal to metal fans of any taste. “Relentless”, where the aforementioned line is from, and “For The Horde” bring some memorable choruses along with a seemingly bottomless well of riffs. It’s the fourth track “Let Us Roam” that suddenly begins to mix things up with some chunkier riffs amongst the shredding. This paves the way for “Black Sails”, which transitions from the intro to a killer bass section that calls to mind early IRON MAIDEN before setting off into an AMON AMARTH-esque chorus that stirs emotions of adventure and discovery and is sure to be a crowd favorite.
I could hardly believe that, after calling back my favorite album and mixing up the songwriting substantially on “Black Sails” that my favorite moments on Ride Forth were yet to come. But “Hymn of Hate” quickly showed me, with the catchiest chorus paired with a Neoclassical solo of abruptly staggering beauty. Speaking of classical, EXMORTUS covers another Beethoven song, “Appassionata” on this record, which merits another 700 words on its own. New bassist Michael Cosio will have made his presence known to even a casual listener by this point, but I will say with all honesty that I don’t think I have ever heard bass played like it was on this track, brought higher up in the mix to showcase a true virtuoso performance.
“Death To Tyrants” moves from the intro to an unexpectedly straightforward driving riff you might hear on an ACCEPT record, before picking up in the middle with a series of increasingly spirited solos. By the time “Fire And Ice” arrives to finish the album off, one may expect to be wearied by the longest track thus far. But through expert timing and perfectly-timed changes, EXMORTUS again delivers as they have from the start; a dense and varied album rewarding multiple listens through the power of sheer songwriting and riff-writing prowess.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Speed of the Strike”, “Black Sails”, “Hymn of Hate”, “Appassionata”, “Death To Tyrants”