Of course, we all know the bigger bands they are in now, but what about the “other” bands?
The ones that your favourite musician was in before joining their current band that has delivered what observers like to refer to as success?
The black sheep of the relationship.
Starting today and continuing every Wednesday, HEAVY brings you the stories of the bands that preluded – or in some cases co-existed – the juggernaut that launched the main careers of some of the world’s most popular artists.
While there are some that are well known – such as Gary Holt (Exodus, Slayer), Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), and Rob Trujillo (Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica), there are some that may shock and surprise you. Like Alice Cooper’s High School Beatles tribute Parody Act or Iggy Pop’s early band the Iguanas or Bruce Dickinson’s flirtation with Samson...
HEAVY has dug deep for some of these, but the one thing every tale has in common is each band helped shape the performer you see, know, and love before you today.
Today’s edition of Metal Mistress focuses on the familiar journey of one Gary Holt, a man who has been blessed to play with two of the biggest thrash bands on the planet in Exodus and Slayer…
Not many guitarists still going today can lay claim to having helped pioneer a movement that has become one of the greatest forces in metal.
Except Gary Holt.
For more than four decades, Holt has been at the forefront of a genre that has revolutionized the music world, in that time playing with two of the six thrash metal bands considered to be the greatest of all time.
Although his tenure as guitarist for Slayer was short-lived – only because the band chose to retire after their 2018 – 2019 Farewell Tour – his continued involvement and subsequent leadership of Exodus will see the name Gary Holt go down in history as one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of not just the modern era, but ever.
He has played on or been involved in numerous albums from other bands, including Destruction, Heathen, Hypocrisy, Metal Allegiance, Witchery, and more, but his main passion was, and always will be, Exodus.
The initial seeds of Exodus were sewn in the late 1970s when high school friends Kirk Hammett, Tim Agnello, Tom Hunting, and Keith Stewart started playing backyard parties and school-related shows. They played mostly cover songs of 70s hard rock bands and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) but gradually started developing their own material.
By 1981 a few of the members had left for various reasons and Exodus found themselves playing as a power duo until Hammett met vocalist Paul Baloff at a house party and the two started a friendship based on their mutual love of punk rock and 70s metal. Baloff joined the band and things began to gather momentum rapidly.
In that same year Holt – who was also a friend of Hammett and roadied for the band – replaced guitarist Tim Agnello and Exodus recorded a three-track demo tape which contained the songs Whipping Queen, Death and Domination, and Warlord which was released the following year.
This was to be Hammett’s only recording with Exodus until 2014 when, on the recommendation of his manager/producer, Hammett left Exodus to join a then-unknown Metallica.
“They used to put on their own parties,” Holt said when asked in a Metal Hammer interview if he knew of Exodus before joining. “These legendary fucking alcohol-fuelled ragers with names like The Ripper and Jug Night. You paid five dollars and there’d be, like, 15 kegs of beer and 20 jugs of whiskey. Just these legendary soirées.”
After the departure of Hammett Holt kept Exodus going, taking the reins as unofficial leader and becoming the band’s main songwriter.
Already, in their few short years together, Exodus had been plagued by member changes, a problem that has continued to affect the band ever since.
Exodus recorded their debut album, Bonded By Blood, in the Summer of 1984, but was not released until the following year due to creative differences and setbacks. Although that album is hailed universally today, there are many who think that year-long delay in releasing the album cost Exodus initially due to other thrash metal outfits of the same era getting their albums out first.
Allmusic reviewer Eduardo Rivadavia would later write in his review for the album: “Had it been released immediately after it was recorded in 1984, Exodus’ Bonded by Blood might be regarded today alongside Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All as one of the landmark albums responsible for launching the thrash metal wave.“
Bonded By Blood accelerated things quickly, leading to supports with Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies, Megadeath, and even an opening for Metallica.
But then the member curse struck again.
Baloff was fired from the band for alleged bad behavior due to alcohol and substance abuse. He was replaced by Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza, formerly of Legacy, an early incarnation of what was to become Testament).
Exodus released three more studio albums and a live recording before putting out Force OF Habit in 1992. The album was a slight departure from the thrash-focused sound of the band, containing several slower and heavier songs, such as the 11-minute Architect Of Pain.
They toured on the back of that album, but broke up soon after.
In the meantime, Holt had started a groove/thrash band called Wardance who recorded four demo songs but separated after the music didn’t really get off the ground.
Exodus reunited briefly for a short tour in 1997 with Baloff again in the band as singer and released the live album Another Lesson In Violence, which was recorded in front of their home crowd at Trocadero Transfer.
After breaking up again the following year, Exodus reunited again in 2001 with the 1997 line-up for Thrash Of The Titans and the response was that overwhelmingly positive talk quickly turned to recording a new album.
Then, on February 2, 2002, Baloff died following a stroke. Exodus were already booked for shows, so Souza was brought back in to initially just finish touring commitments.
When asked by Metal Hammer about Baloff, Holt had this to say.
“He was exactly like you’d think he’d be: a madman. Kirk met him at some show in Berkeley, and so he’d come to see us play. He was cool as fuck, I got on with him immediately. Paul came to one of our rehearsals one day, but the band had cancelled it and no one had gotten hold of him. So, me and him went to the park near my parents. We hung out and did some drugs and listened to metal and had a good time. He was the real deal, there was nothing fake about Paul. When he said, ‘Posers must die!’ at shows, posers got really nervous, they started sweating. Then they started slowly walking back towards the door, ‘cos he would have beaten the shit out them.”
Holt was determined to complete the new studio album, and the resulting Tempo Of The Damned was released in 2004.
Souza left again later that year with Matt Harvey and Steev Esquivel (ex Defiance, Skinlab) completing the rest of that tour, with Rob Dukes eventually being confirmed as the new vocalist.
Exodus re-released their debut album under the name of Let There Be Blood in 2008, with Holt saying “After many years in the planning and discussion stage, we have finally completed the re-recording of ‘Bonded By Blood’. We have decided to call it ‘Let There Be Blood’ and it is our way of paying homage to [late singer] Paul Baloff by showing how relevant these songs we had written together still are. We aren’t trying to replace the original; that’s impossible anyway. We are just giving these songs the benefit of modern production. It’s something we talked about before Paul’s death and it’s always been important to us to do. We were super excited about entering the studio once again to record these classics, and now it’s back to writing the next studio record!”
In 2011 Exodus toured as opening act with Rob Zombie and Slayer for the Hell On Earth tour, on which Holt filled in on guitar for Slayer after Jeff Hennemann contracted necrotizing fasciitis caused by a spider bite. He also filled in for the next tour in 2012, with Rick Hunolt (who left Exodus in 2005) and Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O’Brien playing the shows where he had commitments with Slayer.
In an interview with The Metal Voice Holt said “I didn’t audition Kerry King called me up, I was on the 7000 Tons Of Metal cruise and my good mutual friend of mine and Kerry’s, my tattoo artist Bob Tyrell, who was on the boat and Kerry texted Bob, ‘have Holt call me when he gets home gets back to shore’. I called him up, and he explained what was going on with Jeff (Hanneman) and asked if I wanted to help him out and fill in, and I said sure, I had time off. I didn’t realize it would be a five-and-a-half-year endeavour riddled with tragedy in the middle of it. I thought it was a two-tour thing until Jeff took his rightful spot back. That didn’t happen, and unfortunately I’m still here. I rather Jeff be here, this is Jeff’s spot.”
When Hannemann passed away in 2013 Holt was confirmed as Slayer’s new guitarist, but assured Exodus fans his priority remained with his original band.
Holt stayed with Slayer until their retirement, writing guitar parts for their final album Relentless in 2015, but did not receive a writing credit on the album except for the guitar solos.
Holt once explained the main difference for him between playing in Exodus and playing with Slayer.
“I had one responsibility in Slayer, and that was to just go out and play and kill the songs. I didn’t have to make any decisions, I didn’t write anything, I didn’t have to deal with shifting line-ups. The biggest surprise I got was how many solos I had. Some songs I’d do three leads. They let me do my own thing – I just went out there and played the role of guitar hero.”
Slayer’s retirement – after nearly 40 years – felt right for the band, with many lauding their decision to get out at the top of the game before they started their inevitable decline.
Guitarist Kerry King, however, thought different, saying openly he thought Slayer had pulled the curtain down too soon. Holt agreed in an interview with Metal Hammer, saying, “I’d have to agree. We were still playing at the top of our game, we were totally killing it. The band had a lot of years left in it, but I guess when it’s time, it’s time. When you decide to walk away from something, walk away. I can’t tell anybody they made the wrong decision. Better to go out on top than go out unable to play your own songs, and this shit isn’t easy. Playing Angel Of Death at 70 years old would be fucking hard. But it was time for me to come back, let’s put it that way. I was really missing my first family.”
On June 8, 2014, Exodus announced that Souza would once again be taking over frontman duties, this time from Dukes. He stepped in on vocals for new album Blood In, Blood Out, Exodus’ first album since 2004. Founding member Hammett made a guest appearance on the track Salt The Wound, marking his first recording with the band since their 1982 demo.
Persona Non Grata, their most recent album, was released in 2021, with Holt promising in an interview later that year that there would not be another seven year gap between albums.
Between Slayer and Exodus, Holt has played in two of the most respected and loved thrash metal bands in history. He is also the only person to have played on every Exodus album.
While his musical output is impressive, it is what he has done for heavy metal at large in his playing tenure that will mark him as one of the greatest guitar players ever.
Although his legacy is already assured, Holt still has much to offer music, with Exodus slated to play on the Bay Strikes Back Tour alongside Testament and Death Angel from April 2022.
When asked by Metal Hammer if Exodus had helped create thrash metal, Holt had this to say. “Absolutely. I’ll own that. We created the violent scene. Hell, the last time we played a proper show with Metallica was a New Year’s Eve show at Bill Graham’s Civic, and we stomped them into the dirt. We were getting wasted after the show, and James was laughing and saying, ‘Haha, that’s the last time you guys’ll ever support us.’ And it was the last time we ever supported Metallica.”