It's too bad the days are gone when metal bands tried to make their album covers look all tough and sinister and ended up with borderline laughable results instead. After all, what metalhead of a certain age bracket doesn't get all warm and fuzzy thinking about the cartoon-evil artwork for classics like RRROOOAAARRR, South of Heaven, Ignorance, Fistful of Metal, and Bestial Devastation? And, of all the lovably goofy covers out there, surely Exodus' Bonded by Blood — with its Siamese twin demon caricature that looks an awful lot like founding member Kirk Hammett — would make the top of the list. But judging books by their covers aside, the painting that graces Exodus' latest, The Atrocity Exhibition, Exhibit A, says a lot about the band's desire to keep up with the Joneses in the race to appear as creepy (read: relevant) as possible by 2008 standards. It also says a lot that there's a sticker boasting how the artwork has been banned, but when you open it up, it'll barely prick your conscience, compared with what else is out there. Luckily, however, in this third installment since the band's reformation, drummer Tom Hunting returns to the fold to show how essential he is to that trademark Exodus sound — as much as guitarist and bandleader Gary Holt, who was the only original member to appear the last time around. As soon as the galloping crunch-crunch-crunch riffing gets under way, you know it's back to business, and that means the usual railing against God and government with a twist of misanthropic sadism we've come to expect from Holt. Though the presence of Rick Hunolt, Steve Souza, and Rob McKillop will no doubt be missed live, choice cuts from the band's landmark first three albums should stoke that jones for a classic Bay Area thrash sound that even predates Metallica.


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