In the burgeoning hardcore scene of New Orleans in late 1985, heavy metal musicians and fans becoming disenchanted with the glam influence on their beloved genre began to migrate to the punk shows. There was far less pretense and way more action than even the heaviest of metal shows had to offer. After disbanding their heavy metal act named Sabotage, Vinnie LaBella, Andy Villafarra and David Main had come across a mohawked drummer more deeply rooted in punk than the metal that they had been playing for several years. Chris Nail was under instruction in school for his drumming and was a welcome change from the self taught, more primitive style drummers they were used to seeing. Immediately they began work on some music that none had ever written before- music that would vacillate between breakneck speed and slow, heavy churning grooves. It was evident that something unique was brewing under the roof of Chris' parents' home.
Again it was the punk rock shows that brought the up and coming songwriters to the final piece of their puzzle. In the late spring of 1986 after walking away from the weakening heavy metal bands that he once fronted, Kyle Thomas met the quartet at a humid show and was set to audition for the vocal spot. From the first note it was clear to all that the same goal was shared- create a music so heavy and aggressive that it could rip skin from the bone with a musical flair to be rivaled by few. The jam room which doubled as Chris' bedroom would soon be the canvass for a demo cassette that the band would record later that summer, but obviously a name had to be chosen. A name that would be powerful and clever at the same time. Chris suggested using the word "exhort", a verb defined as "heavy persuasion." Liking the powerful aura that the word carried, Vinnie then suggested that a play on the words "exhort" and "order" fuse to make a "forceful persuasion" of the band's juggernaut sound. It was agreed by all that the band's name would forever be "Exhorder".
All throughout the summer of 1986 the band diligently worked to hone their creations into a full set. By the end of summer the time had come to share their creations with the eagerly awaiting and the obliviously unsuspecting. Exhorder landed a slot on a benefit show at a neighborhood bar called Robert's Playhouse in one of New Orleans' roughest neighborhoods. The place was packed full of mostly punks and quite a few of the metal defectors, as well as the standard regulars of the neighborhood. Exhorder exploded like a cannon from the first note and Robert's Playhouse witnessed a special moment that day. In its first "forceful persuasion" Exhorder had lit a giant match underneath the New Orleans music scene. Some of the hardcore purists were not happy about this crossover that was imminent in their world, but many were enthralled by the combination of angst, attitude and sheer power that the band possessed. After an opening slot with the local hardcore royalty known as Shell Shock soon after their debut, it was more than obvious that Exhorder would no longer need to be a support act in New Orleans. The time had come to build their own scene, and now the only thing missing was a product.
Having built up enough money from venturing into the world of headline performances, Exhorder booked session time at Stonee's Studio. Stonee's was a simple eight track backyard studio that other New Orleans bands had recorded in, so Exhorder went in and tracked six songs for a demo entitled "Get Rude". Raw and unrelenting, Get Rude was an immediate underground must have. What the demo lacked in production it made up for in attitude. Truly living up to its name, Get Rude became the band's unofficial mantra and the feeling was contagious. The demos were selling out at shows, and tape traders sent copies all over the world. Exhorder was becoming an up and comer in the underground, and national publications had started taking notice. However, the live sound was not quite captured on Get Rude so the band began working on the next level- one that would forever etch their place in the book of metal history.
With a legion of fans now awaiting every show, Exhorder turned back to writing. Within several months, "Death in Vain", "Slaughter in the Vatican" and the all time crowd favorite "Desecrator" came to be with a venomous fury. These songs and the best cuts from Get Rude were taken into Ultrasonic Studios in 1987 to finally capture the Exhorder sound as it was witnessed in a live scenario. Just as the sessions were beginning to really come into shape, an internal conflict within the band caused the first official breakup of Exhorder. As fast as everything had come to the quintet, it had vanished even quicker. Had Exhorder played its last note?
Slaughter in the Vatican
Several months passed without Exhorder. Chris and Kyle remained busy with school, and David Main had grown apart from the band even before the actual breakup. Vinnie, however, remained focused on finishing the Slaughter in the Vatican demo and had enlisted Jay Ceravolo to help finish the lead work and provide a second set of ears. Jay had been a close friend of the band from the beginning, and usually had not been far when the band was working. After several unsuccessful attempts to fill the void created by the absence of Chris and Kyle, talks began to retain their duties. Eventually they returned to the fold, and the the lack of interest from David that had been growing in the last year made it an easy transition for Jay to become the newest member of Exhorder. Many hot summer nights of rehearsal got the band back into prime form, and soon Exhorder returned to regain their throne as the top drawing act in town. The shows were bigger than ever, and now they began swapping out shows with bands from the Houston and Dallas areas. Within a short period of time the Texas shows were beginning to grow to the size of the shows in Exhorder's hometown. With the latest demo finished, a buzz about Exhorder had begun to grow tremendously. Not only had the tape trading underground noticed, but word had spread to record labels and they were beginning to contact the band. Having lost out a deal with Mechanix due to the band having been broken up, a label called Three Cherries had decided to branch inot the metal market and opened a subsidiary label called Mean Machine. Exhorder inked a deal with Mean Machine in 1989 and officially became a signed act. The time had come for the world to hear the music of the band that New Orleans had helped build into a monster.
Originally the plan was to release the Slaughter in the Vatican demo as an album, but it was deemed to be insufficient sonically and it was determined that the album should be re-recorded. A session was booked at Southlake Studios in neighboring Metairie, Louisiana. From the start, the session was a disaster. All of the tones for guitar, bass and drums were horrendously brittle and hollow. Tempos were faster than the demo, causing the songs to lose some of the signature groove that the demo showcased. Eventually Three Cherries went bankrupt, ending the short chapter in the Mean Machine era. In order to recoup some of the money that Mean Machine invested, Three Cherries sold Exhorder's contract to R/C records, a division of Roadracer/ Roadrunner Records. It was now determined that the solution to fixing the album would be to improve the drums with samples and re-record guitars and vocals. The band traveled to Morrisound studios to complete this mission, working with famed producer Scott Burns. When the session was done, the album sounded better but now R/C felt that now the drums should have been redone as well. Andy and the band had now become displeased with each other, and parted ways leaving the bass tracks to be re- recorded by the guitarists. With the Slaughter in the Vatican album rapidly becoming Frankenstein's monster, Chris Nail completed the almost impossible task of overdubbing his drum tracks at Morrisound Studios. Finally the album was complete, but in Exhorder's opinion it was now the shell of its predecessor, the demo that had burned like fire over the last couple of years. The hardcore thrash masterpiece was now cloned into a death metal production with absolutely no live feel. Unfortunately there was no coming back, but even with the iniquities that the band so despised about it, today it is hailed as a thrash metal must-have by fans and critics worldwide. Exhorder toured Europe to support the album and continued regional performances. It was soon becoming time to record album number two, but a monkey wrench had now been thrown into the plan. An unhappy Andy Villafarra had now quit Exhorder permanently.
For so many years Exhorder had written and recorded the songs that Get Rude and Slaughter in the Vatican gave to the music world, and it seemed normal that the band re-record them again and again in order to get them to sound the way that they hoped to present them. Having released the songs on a label worldwide, it was now time to move on from them. For the first time Exhorder was behind the eight ball with a label eager for album number two. There was almost no new material to speak of, having only I Am the Cross as a finished song. With a ton of pressure on him and his longtime writing partner in Andy Villafarra now gone for good, Vinnie now dove into writing an album under the gun. In the meantime new bassists were being auditioned to fill the huge gap that Andy left, and eminently the spot was landed by Franky Sparcello. With the band complete once again and a handful of new songs, Exhorder dusted off a few older songs and a knockout remake of the Black Sabbath crusher Into the Void which had been performed live for several years and hit the studio. Southlake Studios again had been chosen against the band's wishes, but the switch to producer Rob Beaton convinced the band that with him at the helm the studio would suffice.
Again, the band was plagued with issues in the tonal quality of the sessions. With time running out, Exhorder settled on the best sounds they could obtain under the circumstances and began tracking the album. Though the drum tones were much improved, after mixing began some of the guitar tones were eventually scrapped. Again Exhorder had another album that gained critical acclaim and a growing fan base, yet dissatisfied them overall. They had yet to capture the live sound that the demos had roared with, and it was now too late and time to hit the road. European and States tours were booked, as well as the Milwaukee Metal Fest. The band's performance there was captured on the Live Death CD, and easily was the shining moment in all of their live shows. It seemed that the band was on the verge of a huge breakout, but the hurdle never seemed to get cleared. Tours were imploding with bad luck as well as the band's notorious behavior factoring in. Death Metal was also on the rise, with thrash metal on a steady decline. Friction and tensions began to mount, causing confrontations between the band members.
With extreme amounts of unpleasant experiences multiplying, Exhorder returned home from Europe barely together by a thread. The band that for so long had been cutting edge and paved the way for most of the New Orleans metal scene now had a dwindling turnout at their shows. A new album was now a question mark with the members barely able to work together successfully. Vinnie had become elusive, Chris moved on to play with Basil's Favorite Hat, and Kyle formed Penalty with brother Kevin Thomas which eventually became Floodgate. Having parted ways with Franky, Jay and Vinnie finally started working together again and attempted to build a new version of the band. This project never came to fruition, Vinnie eventually moved on to business in the tattoo industry and Jay formed Fall From Grace. Exhorder was now officially a defunct act, closing the doors on a classic and legendary era of New Orleans music history. The world would have to hang on to their two Exhorder full length releases and the lucky few that witnessed the live explosiveness of an Exhorder show would be left to tell their tale as folklore. This time there would be no phone calls to convince the band to work again. The hurt endured by the band over the last few years in their existence would be too much for them to overcome. There would be no more Exhorder.
From the Ashes
Many years passed before it was ever even discussed as a remote possibility to reunite Exhorder. More water passed under the bridge in that time frame than one could imagine, but it is true that time heals all wounds. In late 1998 Exhorder hit the stage as a surprise guest at some Floodgate and Fall From Grace shows, with Kevin Thomas handling bass duties. Due to the manic response from fans worldwide to word spreading about a reunion, the band members began warming up to the idea, but not overnight. It wasn't until 2003 that a full on reunion performance was officially announced, with Franky Sparcello returning to the lineup. The band decided to return to their roots and booked back to back shows at Zeppelins, a venue formerly called the Showboat where Exhorder's second show ever was performed. Both shows were packed beyond capacity, and were a huge hit with the loyal and hungry fans that either waited eleven years to see their next Exhorder show or had never seen the band ever. Strangely enough, it would take until May of 2008 for a full fledged reunion announcement to be made official. Now that all of the members of the band are finally all back in New Orleans, it has taken until May of 2009 for the band to start meeting as a unit to plan rehearsals, performances and merchandising.