-- Exoto gets shredded --

Stijn Daneels
Review written and conducted by Stijn "Metal Shredder" Daneels.

In early 2017 I came into contact with Chris Meynen, founding father of the newly revived old-school death metal band Exoto. I quickly fell in love with Exoto’s sound and Chris’s signature snarly vocal style and I bought their freshly remastered 1994 album “Carnival of Souls” directly from him. Two years later we finally met personally at the inaugural Detonation: A Day Full of Metal festival and quickly arranged to do an interview on a later date. And finally that shred came Saturday July 6, 2019 when Exoto played alongside Primal Creation and Dead Head at the Elpee Music Bar in Deinze.

Chris and I had a lengthy shred discussing Exoto’s new EP “Absolution in Death,” Exoto’s 1996 demise and eventual rebirth in 2016. The band’s new lineup, revitalized sound and future ambitions and we also talked about the successful Metal For Boobies charity festival and about Chris’s late close friends Brett Hoffmann and Didier Mertens! It’s a long, compelling article! So grab a drink, play some Exoto tunes (which you can find at the end of this article) and enjoy!

BMS: Hi Chris, I had a great time seeing you perform here at Elpee in Deinze tonight. How did the show go for you?
Chris: Hey Metal Shredder! We had just as much fun on stage as you had right in front of us! We received a warm welcoming, there were plenty of people who had fun with our music and the sound guy did an awesome job! This was our first performance in this Elpee venue and we’re looking forward to playing here again!
BMS: Yeah, I’ve seen plenty of great bands here over the years and I’m glad you’ve had a good time here as well. Now, tell me something about the production of your latest EP, “Absolution in Death.”
Chris: Sure thing! In late 2016 we did the first gig as Exoto 2.0, featuring a completely new lineup with me being the only remaining original member. There were some lineup changes during that period which delayed my initial plans for recording new material. Eventually in late 2018 Exoto’s new lineup was solidified and so the time was ripe to play many more live gigs, remaster the vintage Exoto stuff and write new material.
Originally we had planned to release a full-length but we took a close and critical look at the twelve songs we had written at the time (early 2019) and selected five of those tracks to record. We recorded the EP in the Project Zero Studio owned by Bert Vervoort and Yarne Heylen from Carnation. Our drummer, Morbid Tpa, was Carnation’s original drummer and still kept in touch with his former band mates and so he introduced us to Bert and Yarne.
BMS: Ah yes, I’ve already heard great material coming from that studio. New material from the likes of Hudic, Cathubodua, When Plagues Collide and of course the Carnation folks themselves! Great choice! Now, I’ve noticed that it only took you 2 months between producing and releasing the “Absolution in Death” EP. That’s quite efficient!
Chris: Yeah, we didn’t waste any time. The EP’s overall production went very smoothly, especially since Morbid, our bassist Kevin and I already had plenty of studio experience and we guided our freshly recruited members, guitarists Puppy and Jorrit through the recording process so they also managed to do their parts well on schedule despite their lack of studio experience.

In addition, we also did a lot of homework before we did the EP’s production. We found a young, small but dedicated record label called Dead By Dawn Records. Owned by Laura Kerkhofs, a friend and business associate of Yarne’s and while Yarne was producing the EP, Laura listened along and quickly offered to sign us to her fledging label. And so it came that we produced “Absolution in Death” in March 2019 and released it in May 2019. Just two months of hard work for everyone involved.

BMS: Excellent! And I must say that we at Belgian Metal Shredder also had a blast reviewing this little gem (check Glenn Terra Shredder's review of the EP: http://belgianmetalshredder.be/reviews/152). We had already listened to the earlier Exoto material in the past and felt this new material to have a similar yet refreshing vibe!
Chris: Thank you for those kind words! You know, when I reinstated Exoto I wanted to give everyone in the band an equal amount of freedom and power within the band. I only stepped in when a member behaved inappropriately or if the proposed material didn’t match Exoto’s core sound. So when making the new Exoto songs we went into many different directions while maintaining a sort of consistency within the material.
BMS: I see, very democratic! Tell me, Chris, earlier you told us that a few years ago you restarted Exoto, what was your primary motivation for this reincarnation?
Chris: Back in the early Exoto years (let’s say between 1990 and 1996) we were young and very ambitious. Me and the other guys at the time were working on Exoto basically 24/7. Eventually we reached a critical point in our band’s career. We received offers to go on large, major tours that could’ve made us really big but it also meant that we all had to quit our jobs and put everything on the line for Exoto. Most of us, me included, were naïve enough to be willing to go down this road, but Filip, our guitarist and oldest member, already had raised a family and had his second child on the way and he wanted to keep Exoto as a hobby.

I honestly admit that, while I fully respected Filip’s decision, I also was beyond furious! After all, Exoto had been my whole life up till that point and now suddenly, at this critical hour, I saw it all crumble down in an instant. So turned my back to the metal scene for over a whole decade until 9 years ago when I began working as a security guard at Graspop Metal Meeting and being there among all those metalheads as well as seeing all those established and up-and-coming metal acts I eventually regained my love for extreme music. So around 2012 me and the remaining original Exoto members agreed to do one year of reunion concerts before retiring the band once and for all. We did this farewell tour and all had a great time, but deep inside I still wanted to continue as a musician. At first I established an entirely new band since I had agreed to retire Exoto. That short-lived project was called Bloodless and while it didn’t add up to much I did get to know our current guitarist Puppy. Eventually I decided to take one final shot with Exoto and looking back, I’m glad I did it!
BMS: That’s a compelling story, how did you establish Exoto’s current lineup?
Chris: I recruited Puppy because I was pleased with his work during our short-lived Bloodless time, I’ve met bassist Kevin when he did a one-time bass job at an Exoto show years back, our drummer Morbid had been a huge Exoto fan from way back in the day and finally Jorrit auditioned for the vacant second guitarist role and I was instantly pleased with his attitude and work ethic.
BMS: Interesting, I really hope you’ll be able to maintain this lineup for years to come!
Chris: Yeah, it has been a long, hard road for Exoto but I’m finally confident to say that Exoto has now been fully reborn!
BMS: Now that your fighting spirit is reignited, what are your future Exoto plans?
Chris: Right after releasing the “Absolution in Death” EP, we quickly went back to work on writing material for an album. Currently we have about 3 or 4 songs that are pretty much finished. In addition, Dead By Dawn Records has already agreed to distribute the upcoming full-length release.
BMS: We’re looking forward to it! So, Chris, what other things do you do in life, you’re still a security guard at GMM, right?
Chris: Yes, for the past 9 years I’ve been a voluntary front stage guard at GMM’s Marquee stage, so I help getting the crowdsurfers back down to earth, literally! And it also gives me the opportunity to head backstage and personally meet up with the bands that perform on that stage for autographs, pictures or just a nice friendly chat. That way I’ve got to know people like Scott Fairfax from Memoriam, Jeff Becerra from Possessed and Max Phelps from Death To All.
BMS: Most impressive! Time for something non-Exoto related. This year you co-organized the dual Metal For Boobies festival, dedicated to the fight against breast cancer.
Chris: I was inspired by my late friend, American death metal vocalist Brett Hoffmann, best known for his time as frontman for Malevolent Creation. During the early Exoto years we played a few shows with Malevolent Creation and that’s how Brett and I got to know each other and we quickly built a close friendship. For a while we corresponded through letters but eventually we lost contact with each other until a few years ago when we got reacquainted through the power of Facebook. We frequently chatted with each other, discussed each other’s musical careers and how the Belgian and American metal scenes had evolved over the years. One day, however, he told me he was suffering from phase 3 colon cancer, which usually means incurable, but I recall Brett being so optimistic about the whole situation. Soon after I noticed a post on his Facebook profile in which he was selling his car for a mere $300. I was worried about his financial situation and Brett admitted to me that he couldn’t pay his cancer treatment bills.

Brett’s story immediately made me draw parallels with Chuck Schuldiner’s death in 2001. Like Brett, Death’s iconic frontman had also suffered from cancer and had also been unable to pay for his urgent cancer treatments which resulted in his death. So I quickly organized a charity event to help Brett. Eventually my friend Larz Meister and I organized two charity events and raised a combined €800 for Brett. Unfortunately, Brett passed away shortly before our charity events took place. I sorely miss him, but I’m sure he was watching over us during our events and Brett’s wife, friends and relatives were all very happy with the work we did here for Brett.

Now to come back to the aforementioned Metal For Boobies charity event. Wendy, a good friend of mine and huge Exoto fan, had her breasts preventively amputated because she had a very high chance to develop breast cancer. I’ve known Wendy for a long time and knew she had already suffered from numerous health issues in the past. So Larz and I quickly organized another dual charity event, this time to help Wendy cover her own medical bills. This time a lot more people were involved, several auctions were held and we received many spontaneous donations. All in all, we managed to raise €3600! It was a beautiful and highly motivational experience for everyone involved!
BMS: Indeed, it’s a heartwarming tale. I have another intimate question. You often talk about Didier Mertens, who was your original Exoto drummer and who sadly passed away in 1994. Can you tell us something more about him?
Chris: Sure thing! He was the youngest among Exoto’s founding fathers and he was so full of optimism and energy! Not only was Didier a talented drummer, but he also served as our unofficial manager. He took care of all correspondence and physical promotion and he really wanted to make Exoto big and famous. One of my final and fondest memories of him was a few days before his fatal car crash.

Back in 1994 Mol instilled a curfew which meant all bars in town would close at 3h in the morning. However, me and many others of Mol’s youth community rioted against this curfew and eventually I was arrested and spent a day in jail. While I was in jail Didier called me up and he was beyond enthusiastic because he thought that we could use my arrest as a big PR stunt for Exoto! It was such a funny and outrageous idea, but that was Didier, he always saw the good in everything and everyone and he would’ve used every possible opportunity to make Exoto known to the general public!
BMS: Very funny indeed! May Brett’s and Didier’s legacies live on! So Chris, is there anything else you wish to add to our lengthy shred?
Chris: My sincere gratitude to all our friends, relatives and Exoto fan, young and old. Also thanks to everyone who’ve bought our “Absolution in Death” EP. Keep on supporting music from all over the world, from all music genres and from all generations and of course, keep on doing what you’re doing, Shredders!
BMS: We sure will, Chris! Time for the picture!