KYLE THOMAS Talks The Boost PAT O'BRIEN Has Given To EXHORDER: 'He's The RANDY RHOADS Of Extreme Music'

February 26, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

Cult New Orleans thrashers EXHORDER formally welcomed former CANNIBAL CORPSE guitarist Pat O'Brien into the fold when 2024 got underway. O'Brien had spent the previous two years playing live gigs with the band and lent his lead skills to their new "Defective Omnium" full-length, but it was also a comeback of sorts for the guitarist: In 2018, he was arrested for burglary and assaulting a police officer while his Florida home was in flames. It turns out that O'Brien's assimilation into EXHORDER was what both parties needed, thus solidifying the band's lineup after the 2020 departure of co-founding member and guitarist Vinnie LaBella and giving O'Brien a comfortable, safe place to restart his career.

The lone constant throughout EXHORDER's career is vocalist Kyle Thomas, a man capable of rabid, rapid-fire snarls (see: 1990's legendary "Slaughter In The Vatican") and soulful, if not doomy forays, which he displays throughout "Defective Omnium" in between some old-school punk throwbacks. "Defective Omnium" is perhaps EXHORDER's best since the fabled "Slaughter", and also carries a foreboding message for humankind, something the always polite Thomas shared with BLABBERMOUTH.NET as album promotion was ramping up.

Blabbermouth: Was "Defective Omnium" the least stressful EXHORDER album to make?

Kyle: "I would say probably. For the first couple of albums, we didn't have a lot of money. We had limited time. 'The Law', we weren't as well prepared — that was all stressful. I really wasn't as involved in the full process on 'Mourn The Southern Skies' as I was on this one. There were some stressful parts about the production of that album. When you are one of the producers — and we co-produced the first two, so I was a little involved on that side, but this one, Jason [VieBrooks, bass], Sasha [Horn, drums] and I produced it ourselves. A lot of the burden that I'd never had before fully was on our shoulders. But I was ready for it because I've co-produced many of the albums I've been on, watched the process, and always learned from whoever was ultimately the head producer. I took a lot of notes. [Laughs] I think the most stressful thing about this album was the wait. We completed the recording process and mix. By the time spring [2023] was coming to an end, it was all done. Mastering was done in the summertime. We've kinda been sitting on this thing since summertime. We're just ready. The more you listen to it, the harder it is to be objective. We just want to know what people think. Now that we've got 'Year Of The Goat' out and it's having some modest success, to say the least, since it was released last week, that has taken some of the stress away from us. Now we know, okay, we're doing the right thing. We're on the right path."

Blabbermouth: We can throw Pat into the mix now, but is this the best blend of individuals you've had in EXHORDER?

Kyle: "It's definitely the most chill environment we've had. When you start as a group of teenagers, I think there's a lot of jockeying for position. When you're kids together and you get to be adults, it's harder to stay on…I don't know. I think it's harder just to take each other seriously. I don't know what it is. Again, it's kind of that jockeying for position thing. It's like siblings. Sibling rivalry never totally goes away. I'm the youngest of four. If I'm with my siblings, we're going to start bickering. [Laughs] I love them all dearly, but that's what happens. But, yeah, last year was the first full tour we did since Pat joined the band and our quarters went from being on a Bandwagon, which is a poor man's bus. It's comfortable and has all the amenities of a bus, like bunks, lounge, refrigerator, bathroom, shower — it's nice. Post-pandemic things are a lot different dynamically across the board. We scaled down. Jason bought a van. We're pulling our own trailer and van. We didn't do a full crew because, again, the dynamics make it hard to afford all the stuff. We decided to blue-collar it — just the four of us, and my daughter came out to sell merch for us. Five people in this van with a captain's chair and a fold-out bed, you would think that would cause problems down the line, and it gets stressful at points on the long drives out west. But we all got along. We were all chill. Let me tell you: Pat is about as cool as the other side of the pillow. I don't know that I've ever met a more chill human. He sat there quietly on this little practice guitar with nylon strings. It barely makes noise, but you can hear [mimics Pat's guitar] the whole time. My daughter slept all day. [Laughs] She didn't make any noise. It's comfortable and peaceful. Yes, it's nice."

Blabbermouth: You and I talked a few years ago when Pat started making live appearances with EXHORDER. You just alluded to this, but how has it been with him on the road as well as on the record since he played some leads?

Kyle: "When we first started working with Pat, we had most of the album written. We were probably still tweaking things here and there. Jason and Sasha worked together a lot. I worked at home with EZ Drummer 2, helping them build my songs. Jason had about eight. I had about four. Then, once I presented them, I sent them to Sasha so he could work on his drum parts and do them his way. Maybe remotely, we all worked together at points, but the three of us did write it together. When Pat came in, he just said, 'Well, first of all, you already have an album written. But I don't want to come in with the burden of writing an album for anybody. I want to come in and play some solos, that's it.' He said, 'From your demos, there's no point for me to learn the songs in a hurry and track them for you. Y'all are doing great.' Jason and I did the rhythm tracks on the album. Pat did the solos — I can't wait for people to hear what he did. I think he's probably having a resurgence as a lead player. I always tell people, 'He's the Randy Rhoads of extreme music.' I'm not exaggerating — he's that good. Go listen to the stuff with CANNIBAL CORPSE and NEVERMORE. It's different from what we do, but he fits each project perfectly for what it's designed for. I think when he got to us, he wasn't sure he should do it more with a CANNIBAL CORPSE approach. He was scratching his head, then Jason told him, 'Listen to the first five SCORPIONS records and come into the studio and it will be great.'"

Blabbermouth: You mentioned you and Jason are handling the writing now. Were you looking to pick up from "Mourn The Southern Skies", or did you look all the way back to "Slaughter In The Vatican"?

Kyle: "I'm a huge fan of never trying to imitate someone that was in a position that I'm going to assume the role of. For instance, with TROUBLE [whom Thomas also fronts], I pay homage to the songs and do them in the spirit of the original versions of the songs, but it would be disrespectful and not fair of me to pretend to sing like Eric Wagner or pretend to do his stage thing. At the same time, I never wanted to come in and do something totally different just to make it my own. So, in that process, Jason and I agreed that we weren't going to try to write like any of the previous writers in the band. But, it was very important to us that everything we wrote was worthy of being under the EXHORDER logo. These are EXHORDER songs, as written by the first version of the band."

Blabbermouth: Where did the punk influence on the record come from? You or Jason?

Kyle: "Both of us. The songs that are more punk probably started with Jason. For EXHORDER, a lot of people may not know this, but we started on the punk rock scene in New Orleans, not the metal scene. For me, it was easy to take what Jason and Sasha kicked over to me to ice the cake. That's where I cut my teeth. It was important to us to bring that punk element back into the band. We may have even gone a little bit further than we've gone on the punk side before, as far as the feel of the songs and style of the songwriting. But I think it was really important. Maybe we never tipped our hat enough to the punk stuff in our earlier material, considering they were the first ones to embrace us here in Louisiana. We also consciously felt like it was important to have more thrashy stuff than 'Mourn The Southern Skies'. We also continued where the record left off with the doom and groove vibe, with a lot of melody and harmony. We wanted to write an album that we liked and wanted to listen to, but something that was going to be a journey for whoever was listening. Something for everybody. Every EXHORDER fan — if they like the old stuff more than the new, or the new more than the old stuff, they will find it on this record."

Blabbermouth: As a vocalist, then, how do you make this all work?

Kyle: "I guess it's about having the right tool for the job. Some songs have a different feel and vibe. The slower, doomier songs are probably going to have more of a clean chorus setup, whereas the punk songs are more down and dirty in the trenches. It wouldn't suit the song if you went too far out of the box from the song. Again, even some of the clean stuff I'm singing has a little more grit I'd put on, like for a TROUBLE record or ALABAMA THUNDERPUSSY. Each band has its own identity. I think it's good to give a proprietary edge to each one. That way, I'm not a cookie-cutter singer and songwriter. Serving the song is very important and a lot of people fail to keep that in mind when they're writing. It's very important to give each song what it's due in the spirit of whatever band you're doing."

Blabbermouth: For what it's worth, the doomy Kyle Thomas does it for me.

Kyle: "[Laughs] Well, I owe that to the three years I spent doing choral training in high school. It wasn't extracurricular. It was part of my curriculum. I went to that class every day for two years, so I spent half of my high school career singing one hour a day under the direction of a choral instructor. By the time I got to the semester where I went to a university, I was in the advanced corral. Our final grade was performing Beethoven's 'No. 9' with the New Orleans Symphony for two shows. Standing on risers in a tuxedo at 19 years old behind a 60-piece symphony to a sold-out crowd for two nights in a row is probably the most amazing musical experience of my life."

Blabbermouth: Then look at what you went on to do — sing in a heavy metal band!

Kyle: "I joined EXHORDER when I was 16, but I was a bass player. I had no desire to sing. I was doing singing in between getting another bass gig. Everywhere I went, they had another bass player, or it was, 'We want you to sing.' I was like, 'It's not what I signed up for!' But I tried to get better at it and it turns out that it agreed with me a lot. I ended up excelling in the choral atmosphere. It took a while. You can hear it at the end of 'The Law' on the song '[Cadence Of) The Dirge' on how I'm starting to infuse that kind of thing, but it wasn't until I got into FLOODGATE. Then, later on, in some of the albums I did in the early 2000s, I started to go for the Ian Gillan/Glenn Hughes [DEEP PURPLE] high notes. There's a place for it in EXHORDER. That's where it was headed. For people who might have thought we made a change with 'Mourn The Southern Skies', not really. We picked up where we left off from where we were heading after 'The Law'. If the third album had come out in 1994, people would have been crying we were changing our style."

Blabbermouth: You said in the press release that we are the "virus" to Mother Nature. Is that the theme of "Defective Omnium"?

Kyle: "There is a theme, which is the bleak, absolutely destitute path that the earth is on by virtue of what we have done to it. I don't look at coronavirus as a virus. I look at it as an antibody the earth created to get rid of us. We're the virus; we're the fleas. The earth is trying to get the fleas off. Whether it's in 100 years or 300 years, we're going to be gone, just like the dinosaurs, the saber-tooth tiger, and the mastodon. Our ride is coming to an end. We're not destroying the earth. The earth is going to get rid of us and reset itself. 'Defective Omnium' is Latin that translates to 'failure to all.' We're all complicit; we're all accountable for the state the world is in, the state humanity is in. People are desensitized. That's why we have the song, 'Desensitized'. They're detached from empathy toward other people. It's a self-serving world we live in now. We're not taking care of the earth. We got the wildfires, which is a natural thing; you've got that, and global warming, whether you believe it or not, is something you have to think about. The glaciers are melting. It's all real stuff that's happening. I'm not a scientist and I'm surely no expert in much of anything. I'm a jackoff of all trades. [Laughs] I'm at a point now where I don't have a lot of faith in where this is going."

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