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STEVE 'ZETRO' SOUZA: why EXODUS failed to reach same commercial heights as 'big four' bands


During a conversation with former EXODUS guitarist Rick Hunolt for his Zetro’s Toxic Vault YouTube channel, EXODUS singer Steve “Zetro” Souza spoke about why he thinks his band failed to achieve the same commercial heights as the so-called “Big Four” of 1980s thrash metal, namely METALLICASLAYERMEGADETH and ANTHRAX. He said: “Between the release of (EXODUS‘s debut album) ‘Bonded By Blood’, which was May of ’85, and the release of ‘Pleasures Of The Flesh’, which was October 8, 1987, two and a half years went by. At those days, (any band which went) two and a half years without doing an album (was) killed. Everybody who was listening and had their eye up on you had forgot about you already. Although I believe ‘Pleasures’ was a very highly anticipated record because of what ‘Bonded’ had done. People were really, like, ‘Woah. What are they gonna put out next once they get a new singer?’ But (Torrid RecordsEXODUS‘s original record label) didn’t wanna let the band go, and nobody else wanted to take a chance on buying the band except for Combat, so Combat had to pay Torrid for us to go there, so it took a long time to get that to go before the record was (released). There was a lot of things to it, but I think as a whole, being my first record, I was very proud of that album — very much so…

“When ‘Pleasures’ came out, we did a couple of high-profile tours,” he continued. “Thrash metal was now still very, very new. We’re talking 1987, early ’88. We did that with ANTHRAX, and then we went out with M.O.D. headlining, and they were all very, very successful. And I believe people were starting to get this, ‘Oh, what’s this thrash thing? MÖTLEY who?’ … But this rode its way. Even ‘Fabulous Disaster’ we had not done a video for yet. And the very first video that any heavy band did was METALLICA for ‘One’ off of ‘…And Justice For All’. So that was the only first band that was heavy. And that wasn’t until ’88. So we were doing something relatively new. And I think going from ‘Pleasures’ and writing ‘Fabulous’ really solidified it… We put out ‘Pleasures’ in ’87, October 8th, and we did a full world tour, and then we came back, and ‘Fabulous’ came out in January of ’89. So not even 15 months later, really.”

A year ago, Hunolt told Heavy Culture why he thinks EXODUS didn’t break through like the “Big Four” bands did. He said: “First of all, we were just kids. We couldn’t even buy alcohol. We were super young and just crazy, full of crazy energy. We recorded the album, ‘Bonded By Blood’, and it took forever and ever and ever and ever for it to come out — it took forever. So that really messed us up in the world. SLAYERMETALLICA and EXODUS — we were all there at the same time, we all had albums ready to be released, and, of course, ours was last one (to come out) because of record company craziness. So, the follow-up (1987’s ‘Pleasures Of The Flesh’), losing Paul (Baloff, vocals) was super tough.

“I think that when anybody… A good example if ‘Van Halen I’ — to this day, everybody compares everything that they’ve done after ‘Van Halen I’ to ‘Van Halen I’. Same thing that we’ve been dealing with for 30 years — everything that we do after ‘Bonded By Blood’ is gonna be compared to ‘Bonded By Blood’. So there’s always gonna be people that say that, ‘No, no, no. Nothing will ever be as good as ‘Bonded By Blood’.’ And then there’s gonna be people that say, ‘Yeah, their stuff after that is good too.’ It’s always gonna be that way. We have no control over it.

“Hiring a new singer (Zetro) and putting out ‘Pleasures’… And then we had to wait another year for ‘Pleasures’ to come out; it was, like, another year for ‘Pleasures’ to come out. So that was like a double… ’84, and then we waited till… ‘Pleasures’ came out, what, ’86 or something? Late ’85? So, people were just waiting and waiting and waiting. And we’re sitting there going, ‘Goddamn it.’ It was a lot of pressure. Meanwhile, we got METALLICA and SLAYER and ANTHRAX now on board releasing albums every year. And we’re just slowly but surely losing traction. It was tough. But shit happens. We were just kids. We didn’t know anything.

“I think losing Paul was a big deal back then,” Hunolt added. “I think that maybe we made a mistake by firing Paul. And this is just looking back on everything for me; this is just my personal thought. This is the stuff that I think about sometimes. What would have happened if we didn’t fire Paul? I just think that maybe we would have gotten a little bit more traction if we didn’t have that lag in between.

“People love Paul. And Paul was… he’s a legend. He was going through a bad time in his life, and I guess, at the time, we felt that maybe he was holding us back; I think probably that’s what we were thinking. I think that probably we might have thought about getting him better instead of firing him.

“But as far as the ‘Big Four’ goes… Well, I don’t know… Maybe it should just be the ‘Big Five.’ I will say this: I think that everybody has their place in the old-school thrash. If you wanna give ’em a number or whatever, go ahead. I think it doesn’t mean anything. I think that the people that were there and the people that love our genre know where everybody stands. And I know where we stand, for sure. Without EXODUS, I think that thrash metal would be very, very different.”

The original lineup of EXODUS consisted of guitarists Kirk Hammett and Tim Agnello, drummer Tom Hunting and vocalist Keith Stewart. Guitarist Gary Holt joined the band in 1981, while Kirk left two years before “Bonded By Blood” saw the light of day, and joined METALLICA.

Souza is now on his third stint with EXODUS, having previously fronted the band from 1986 to 1993 and 2002 to 2004. A decade following his second departure, Souza returned to the fold in 2014, just in time to appear on “Blood In Blood Out”.

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