Exciter - Thrash speed burn 3.5/5

Reviewed: 7-11-08


1. Massarce mountain
2. Thrash speed burn
3. In mortal fear
4. Crucifixion
5. Demon's gate
6. Hangman
7. Evil omen
8. Betrayal
9. The punisher
10. Rot the devil king

Raw. Primitive. Uncompromising. These 3 words encapsulate the virtues that Exciter have been championing for more than a quarter century. Their first 3 CDs ('Heavy metal maniac', 'Violence and force', and 'Long live the loud'), all released between 1983 and 1985, were landmarks of speed metal, fusing a Metallica-type thrash assault with a punkish dirty Motorhead-by-way-of-Venom vibe, and also bearing some similarities with their fellow Canadian contemporaries, Anvil. After 'Long live the loud', however, Exciter hit a brutal run of bad luck, with the 3-piece act suffering several major line-up shuffles, a disastrous foray into more commercial musical waters, and finally a flame-out that resulted in the band hanging up their bullet belts and lederhosen for a few years. A short-lived reunion of the most critical founding members (Dan Beehler - drums/vocals, John Ricci - guitars) commenced in 1992, but imploded shortly after the underrated 'Kill after kill' CD when Beehler and Ricci apparently sustained a permanent falling out. (Ricci told me a few years ago that the 2 of them have not been on speaking terms for some time.) But this time, Ricci soldiered on, recruiting uber-talented Halfordesque screamer Jacques Belanger for a pair of successful studio albums in 1997 and 2000. Sadly, line-up instability continued to plague Exciter, with the mercurial Belanger quitting the band on a seemingly-weekly basis and finally leaving the Exciter camp for good circa 2006. Give Ricci credit, though: He's a persistent bugger, and he promptly enlisted Kenny "Metal Mouth" Winter to fill the vacant vocalist spot. 'Thrash speed burn' is the first output of this Ricci/Winter incarnation of Exciter, and the band's 9th full-length CD overall.

Anyone expecting any stylistic change from Ricci & Co. at this stage of the game should read this CD title again. 'Thrash speed burn' is an apt moniker indeed for this collection of 10 songs, most of which careen along at high velocity and sound for all the world like they could have been exhumed from a time capsule buried circa 1985. The raw production values, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, simplistic musical arrangements, and wailing vocals are all Exciter trademarks found in full force. This thing has all the subtlety and nuance of a sledgehammer blow to the head, or a bottle rocket from hell. But that's just how an old-school Exciter fan would want it. Major props to Ricci for sticking to his guns. Exciter may have a limited repertoire, but they know where their strengths are and hammer away in the sweet spot of those strengths for nearly the entire CD. "Hangman", "Massacre mountain", "The punisher" and "In mortal fear" are all future Exciter classics that compare favorably to anything in the band's lengthy discography.

But let's stop right here and ask the most important question: How does 'Thrash speed burn' stack up to the Exciter CDs of yore? Well, it'd be foolish and unfair to expect this sucker to outmatch such genre benchmarks as 'HM maniac', 'Violence and force', and 'Long live the loud', so forget that comparison. A more apt and fair yardstick is the pair of Belanger-era CDs. 'Thrash speed burn' fits comfortably in terms of style, sound and quality with those releases. To be sure, Winter lacks the pure singing ability of Belanger, but he's a good fit vocally, offering some of the screams of Belanger and some of the grit of Beehler. No complaints about Mr. Metal Mouth here. The songwriting here is a bit patchy, especially on the too-slow, drawn-out "Crucifixion" and the painfully repetitive first half of "Evil omen", before the track speeds up and Winter starts shrieking about the black hand of hell, which is very cool. Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine any longtime Exciter banger being disappointed by 'Thrash speed burn'. Ricci knows where his core competencies lie and has delivered a CD that fully exploits those skills, with no curveballs, dilution, detours, or experimentation. Whether this sound will catch on with today's thrash-crazed youngsters remains to be seen. Exciter always lacked the polish and chops (albeit not the intensity) of their Bay Area brethren, but here's hoping they can find an audience with the Fueled by Fire/Bonded by Blood/Evile crowd. They certainly deserve one.

With your indulgence, I'll step on my soapbox here for an ardent plea from a longtime fan: I know Ricci is sick to death of hearing questions about Dan Beehler. But the fact remains that Beehler and Ricci possess a certain musical chemistry that neither has ever been able to recapture without the other. As strong as 'Thrash speed burn' is, I can't help but think it would have been better with Beehler's involvement. And now that Beehler has exhumed his own solo band (the unimaginatively named Beehler) and is playing Exciter standards at German festival gigs with original Exciter bassist Allan Johnson in tow, the time seems ripe for them to join forces and show the metal world one last time how amazing the original Exciter were and still can be. Maybe Ricci's right and it'll never happen, but what if Ricci, Beehler and Johnson could bury the hatchet and take one more spin with this marvelous creation called Exciter that they built through their blood, sweat and tears so many years ago? It'd be a dream come true for this grizzled heavy metal maniac.




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