When Pantera abandoned their glam image and sound, Exhorder was their inspiration. Some fans believe that Pantera just ripped them off. All I know is that the connection between these two bands is undeniable. Phil Anselmo was a big fan of Exhorder, he frequented their shows in his home town of New Orleans, and both bands used to party together. What’s even more undeniable is the similarity in how these two bands sounded in 1990. It doesn’t matter if Exhorder inspired Pantera, or if Pantera just ripped them off because we all know one band got the better record label and went on to become legends while the other faded off into obscurity. Despite the connection, what’s important is the fact that Exhorder were the pioneers of groove metal, and their influence is still heard today. They released only two studio albums. One of those albums is “Slaughter in the Vatican”, and it is a gem.
Slaughter in the Vatican was released on October 23, 1990 through Roadrunner Records with Kyle Thomas on vocals, Jay Ceravolo on guitars and bass, Vinny LaBella on guitars and bass, and Chris Nail on drums. It’s a fast-paced, intense groove/thrash metal masterpiece with a punk rock attitude. Though this album and Cowboys from Hell, which was released the same year, have a similar sound, Slaughter in the Vatican is more on the extreme side of metal. It’s cover art stirred up controversy and musically, it’s raw, aggressive and lacks the soul that Cowboys from Hell has. Its sound is appealing to any extreme metal fan. The guitars throughout the album are blisteringly fast with elements of thrash and punk, which then give way to classic, crunching groove riffs that are comparable to metal’s best riffage of that time. The drum work is outstanding and the production is solid. Lyrically, Slaughter in the Vatican contains the kind of hostile impiety you would expect from Slayer and the kind of gratuitous perversion you would expect from early Cannibal Corpse. Needless to say, Exhorder didn’t release this album with ambitions for it to top the charts. Kyle’s vocals are a perfect fit for this particular style of metal, and he sounds great on this album. Kyle has a definitive and balanced sound that falls somewhere between Tom Araya and Rob Halford. If you’ve never heard this album, you’ll be wondering how it slipped under your radar because of its iconic sound, but the answer is simple; Pantera’s polished sound and larger than life image casted too big of a shadow.
Exhorder didn’t work as hard as Pantera. They didn’t tour as much and they obviously didn’t spend as much time in the studio. I believe they didn’t entirely realize what a great thing they had as far as the sound they had created, but Phil Anselmo and Pantera certainly did. Pantera capitalized on it and the rest is history.