Standing tall as a long-running paradigm of British hardcore, the Exploited — a name emblazoned on the backs of countless leather jackets — is musically harsher, darker and cruder than the Edinburgh band’s ’77 forefathers. With an unstable lineup led by spike-haired shouter Wattie Buchan, these gruff yobbos vent unrestrained and bottomless anger against their enemies — the army, warmongers, Margaret Thatcher (pictured on one album cover, cited in the title of another and the subject of assorted songs) and other symbols of government authority.
Although hampered by muffled sound, Punks Not Dead is full of angry, gritty anthems of pain and frustration, including “I Believe in Anarchy,” “Blown to Bits” and “Royalty.” On Stage repeats much of the same material but has bootleg-level audio quality, worsened by the clear-vinyl pressing.
Troops of Tomorrow has a crisp, clean guitar sound, and the lyrics are a bit easier to understand, but the improved production doesn’t mean the Exploited has gotten slick — the rough and tumble assault is still wild-eyed and unstoppable. The title song was written by the Vibrators; “Sid Vicious Was Innocent” is one of the record’s more interesting arguments.
An entirely new lineup — Karl, Wully and Billy — joins Wattie for Let’s Start a War. The production backslides into the murk a bit, but the band’s fervor pushes forward and Wattie’s singing is, if such a thing is possible, rawer and less melodic. A variety of tempos offers hope for a brighter future, but there’s really nothing new going on here.
The Dracula cover and title of Horror Epics suggests a flirtation with the Damned’s old horror turf, but the title track veers more towards Black Sabbath, with the rhythm guitars displaced by Willie’s thundering drum attack and moaning lead guitar figures; echo on the vocals furthers the comparison to mid-’70s metal. Several other songs are variants on that style; the whole outing benefits from Wattie’s growing production prowess. The lengthy numbers are standard Exploited issue, but a tiny hint of experimentalism is creeping in amid the stylistic complacency. The best tune — and certainly one of the band’s catchiest ever — is “Maggie,” which repeatedly calls the Prime Minister a bad name.
Live at the White House was recorded in Washington DC in April 1985 and features a selection of the Exploited’s most popular tunes. The four-song Jesus Is Dead 12-inch captures yet another lineup with clarity and venom. (Willie’s drumming is again a highlight; Nig’s spectacular guitar playing is a welcome addition.) For the first time, the Exploited’s instruments are clearly articulated and separated in the mix; what a difference real dynamics and seemingly well-rehearsed arrangements make. A solid, fiery punk record with powerful lyrics about a drug bust, televangelism and “Politicians.”
Willie and Nig also dominate the fuzzier-sounding Death Before Dishonour, in which a slashing metal edge shows the Exploited waffling between forms. Although the music is essentially indistinguishable from any in the band’s past, little bits of unexpected business (a fake Reagan speech on “Power Struggle,” a brief drum solo on “Police Informer,” the female chorus on “Sexual Favours”) break up the monotony from time to time.