Excel – The Joke’s On You
Released by: Southern Lord Records
Released on: November 18th, 2016.
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Originally released by Caroline Records in 1989 and produced by Randy Burns, Excel’s second album lives again thanks to this remastered edition being released by Southern Lord. Made up of Dan Clements on vocals, Adam Siegel on guitar, Shaun Ross on bass and Greg Saenz drums, this southern California based four-piece do crossover right. Blending skate punk, thrash and occasionally even some traditional metal, Excel formed in 194 and released their first album, Split Image, on Mike Muir’s Suicidal Records (it was remastered and reissued by Southern Lord in 2014) after being included on the Welcome To Venice compilation in 1985. The band kept it going until 1995 when they disbanded but they did get back together in 2012.
The album opens up with Drive, a two and a half minute long start/stop hardcore track that blasts through your speakers like a punch to your dick. This is fast, heavy, thrash-punk, the kind that makes you want to smash some windows and flip off some cops even if it gets noodley for a short spell just past the half way mark. Shadow Winds is a bit more groove-centric, with a thicker, more pronounced bass from Shaun Ross and a nuttier drum sound to it. The song hits a solid stride, working in maybe some Sabbath influences here? It’s sort of got that gallop to it that a lot of Sabbath’s more instantly recognizable songs have. It’s even got some heavy riffs that feel a little Iommi-ish. It’s a more experimental track than the opener (though it heads back into thrash territory the closer we get to the ending), and longer too at almost four and a half minutes.
You’re Fired is three and a half minutes of straight up hardcore, fast and angry and gritty with a distinct breakdown any time the chorus erupts. What impresses about this track is just how tight this band is even when they’re playing well past the speed limit. Tapping Into The Emotional Void has an atypical opening wherein an acoustic guitar is used. Drums come up in the mix, pounding out a simple rhythm, and then thirty or so seconds later things get decidedly heavy. This is a bit of a grinding dirge, it gets faster in the second half but this is less about speed and more about atmosphere and weight. On that level, it’s one of the more impressive and interesting tracks on the album.
Affection Blends With Resentment once again lays down a really heavy groove, making you want to shake your ass and bang your head at the same time, throwing in some gang vocals for the chorus that give it a bit of a NYHC vibe and working itself into a serious mosh by the mid-point of its four minute running time. Sealing Insane has some killer riffing right from the get-go and the drumming on this track from Greg Saenz is just absolutely fierce. Clements vocals are great throughout this whole record but here he really nails it, hitting that right balance between blasting/belting and clearly discernable anger. My Thoughts, like the track before it, runs about three and a half minutes and it’s a more traditional thrash/skate punk crossover track. It’s speedy, pissed off, kind of snotty – but again, the guitar work here is more polished and unique than you might expect. Adam Siegel’s style is at once really unique and completely appropriate for this genre. I Never Denied is quite a bit longer than anything else on the album. Clocking in at almost five and a half minutes it’s fairly epic but it’s also one of the catchiest tracks. There’s some perfectly channeled angst and anger in this one, with Clements really just raging about the world he lives in – which is pretty much a universal theme in eighties thrash and crossover, and for good reason. This one has a pretty heavy D.R.I. influence with maybe some early Corrosion Of Conformity working its way into the sound.
The weirdest track on this album by far is their cover of The Police’s Message In A Bottle. You’ll recognize it as soon as you hear that opening guitar lick. Obviously it’s an angrier, heavier take on the song but they play it pretty straight. This shouldn’t work. It has no right to work – but it kind of does. Given Question brings things back to where you’d want them to be, blasting out a snotty hardcore track with lots of gang vocals and a super repetitive but completely great riff anchoring the rest of the band for three minutes. The Stranger ends the album proper with a four minute mid-tempo mosher. The drums here sound massive and the guitars sound nice and crushing. It pretty much encapsulates everything that’s great about this band.
The last track, Blaze Some Hate, wasn’t included on the original Caroline pressing of the album, it was released on its own as a 12’ single, but given that it is from the same era Southern Lord have included it on this reissue. It’s a three and a half minute long blaster, with a huge guitar sound and some seriously intense playing from the rhythm section. It starts off in the mid-tempo speed zone but it builds pretty quickly. A great track and a nice bonus on this reissue.
Remastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege (who has been handling the Poison Idea and Integrity remasters), the sound quality here is great. It sounds nice and clean but not so clean that fans will be upset. The levels are perfect, giving the vocals and all the instrumentation equal representation. All in all, this is a pretty kick ass reissue of a seriously great record.