Testament


The Legacy
(Atlantic - 1987)
With such a strong debut, it's easy to see why this band was always a classic thrash act and would have been included in the "classic four" if they had started a little earlier. This album often sounds like Metallica's first three LPs to the point where some songs are perfect clone attempts, with similar guitar riffing, style and vocals. They still have their own touch though, especially when it comes to the use of melody in many of the tracks, Skolnick's amazing guitar solos and Chuck Billy's vocal variations. They definitely have Metallica's penchant for tight and technical composition, good musicianship, and enough creativity to keep churning out different and great songs (I'm talking about 80s Metallica of course). Billy yells, shrieks, and does plenty of other things with his voice - all appropriate and interesting yet easily confusable with James Hetfield at times. As with Master of Puppets, the style changes all the time from intense speed to heavy thrash and to melody. All this means that we have a definite thrash classic here, the only weak point being the slightly low production. But a weak production never really bothered me, and with such music, it shouldn't even be taken into account. Most of the songs stand out in their own way but Apocalyptic City is particularly epic in style and C.O.T.L.O.D. is quite lethal with its mosh-pit fury. Still remains one of their best albums with the highest amount of memorable riffs. Essential.
The New Order
(Atlantic - 1988)
A brief glimpse of acoustic and melodic guitars in the debut proves to be a major enhancement to this one, with unique, serene beauties introducing and breathing in between the mayhem quite often. The production has filled out quite a bit as well, with some drums a lot stronger in the mix - giving the sound a much louder and pounding effect. This and the fact that the drumming is quite heavy and simple actually slows down the music (the riffing itself has slowed down as well), and together with the haunting interludes I would have to describe this release as epic thrash rather than crushing speed. There is still plenty of power and speed though, and although the Metallica element is always lurking in the music, they sound much less like a clone this time around. The superb guitar work and musicianship are still present, the bass is more audible and Billy still varies his voice to make it roar, yell, shriek and even growl, only with more subtlety and power this time. A thrash-converted Aerosmith cover (Nobody's Fault) stands out with its inappropriate commercial sound but the rest of the songs are superb. Trial by Fire is another standout with its great guitar intro and chorus. Overall, the previous album is more furious, but the more epic-sounding guitar solos and interludes on this one add a lot to the music (taking their cue from Metallica's Master/Justice albums) and the songs are very good with many memorable riffs, so I dub this another must-have thrash classic.
Practice What You Preach
(Atlantic - 1989)
No big change this time around other than the lack of scattered acoustic and quiet sections that were very present in the previous album, but there are several minor changes for the worse that make this a lesser album. The riffing is slightly more subdued or slower in general which makes this more polished thrash than speed metal (a la Ride the Lightning). This gives the album a more rocking feel rather than delivering raw fury. The guitar solos that made the previous two albums so great take a step down here into more mindless shredding that don't really enhance the songs as before, but some of them are still good. The production is well balanced and clear, bringing the bass forward for the first time. But the drums, in most of the tracks, have this really annoying and distracting clicking sound that almost ruin the album. The musicianship is still superb however. Billy seems to have settled down to one primary uniquely identifiable vocal: his strong throaty roar, with a first short peek at his death growl - but he still uses the occasional wide repertoire of styles with backing vocals. The great rhythm guitars could be much enhanced if the drummer would play something more advanced - as it stands, the drumming is only adequate. Stand-outs: 'The Ballad' is, yes you guessed right, a ballad that builds up from fine acoustic guitars, melodic lines but mediocre-to-poor vocals, to an angry, thrashy number. 'Confusion Fusion' is a nice progressive instrumental with a touch of fusion. 'Practice What You Preach', 'Time is Coming' are the two memorably good tracks. But the rest feel generic, mediocre or uninspired. Their least interesting and least varied album with several flaws. Mediocre in general, despite a couple of good tracks.
Souls of Black
(Atlantic - 1990)
After a short intro with dual, quick Mediterranean acoustic guitars, the album explodes into another solid thrash collection of tracks. This is 'Practice What You Preach' done right, with much more inspired memorable riffs and a strong sound. I'm tempted to call this one their defining album but seeing that this was my first Testament album, I'm probably biased, and with all the musical changes they made, it would be impossible to make such a statement. This is one of their most consistent and solid releases though, with nary a weak or boring moment. Their formula for an album seems cast in stone now, with a mellow, beautiful, epic track (The Legacy), a made-for-mosh-pit-number (Love to Hate), another peek at Billy's death metal vocal talents (Falling Fast) and Skolnick is back on point with his ever present, amazing, and always creative guitar solos that greatly enhance the rhythm-oriented music. I still find myself wishing for more technical drumming that wouldn't hold down the music but I can't really complain. Otherwise, there are no changes in style since the previous album. Solid excellence.
The Ritual
(Atlantic - 1992)
The infamous commercial deviation, and although this label is definitely justified, it's not as bad as people say. They stopped being pure Metallica clones ages ago but they still seem to take their cue from them all along and many songs here have more than a passing similarity to Metallica's music of the time. I'll say right away that if you hated the Black Album and Load, you will probably hate this one as well. However, although it isn't really thrash metal anymore, and the riffs, choruses and general atmosphere are indeed more radio friendly, the songs are still quite heavy and good, assuming you can enjoy this genre and style of heavy metal. They range from unoriginal, mediocre 'crunch-rock', to dark and teeth-grinding heavy tracks that sound like slowed-down thrash metal, with Skolnick's thankful presence on lead guitar always enhancing the songs tenfold. In fact, he is the primary reason to listen to this. Two mellow tracks are included: The Ritual - a mixture of slow crunch, melody and Alice in Chains grunge but somewhat plodding in sound, and Return to Serenity - a pleasant ballad. So Many Lies stands out as a good track with a great chorus, and if the whole album were similar it would rate higher. The vocals and singing style often sound scarily identical to Hetfield, but as always, they have their own Testament touches. Overall, a moderately good, crunchy, rocking album with several weaker moments and tracks. Good to sink your teeth into at times in my opinion, but it won't appeal to many, and I don't find myself going back to listen to it over time. The songs tend to pound repetitively too much instead of racing, and they simply don't have the compositional richness to pull off a 'Black Album'.
Return to the Apocalyptic City
(Atlantic - 1993)
A six track MCD. Five live songs, of which 3 are early speedy classics delivered with energetic gusto and superb instrumental handling, one mediocre track from The Ritual, and an unreleased speed metal track (Reign of Terror). The last song is a shorter version of Return to Serenity from the last LP. Altogether a grab bag of tracks and too short to be considered a real live album but its something to look into for Testament fans. One thing worth mentioning though is the many lineup changes starting before this album was released, with the new short term drummer and lead guitar player filling in very nicely here.
Low
(Atlantic - 1994)
As if they are trying to wipe away their recent 'sins', Testament go brutal like never before on this incredible and surprising release. The sound has completely changed and is now a salad made up of their melodic thrash style, a pinch of the 90's catchy sound a la 'The Ritual', a very generous dose of Pantera style power groove, a noticeable touch of death metal and James Murphy's distinct lead guitar playing (who took over from the irreplaceable Skolnick). If you managed to follow that, add Billy's best vocal performance yet with an eclectic use of powerful death growls, guttural Anselmo-esque roaring and his usual cleaner but raspy vocals and roars. The dominant sound is Pantera power groove metal, however, as if they switched their muse from Metallica to Pantera, only they added plenty of their own touches and past musical styles, and made it heavier. There is also much improved technical playing and variety by all the band members. Standouts: 'Trail of Tears' is the pleasant ballad of the album, 'Dog Faced Gods' has intense segments that are pure death metal, and the instrumentals: 'Urotsukidoji' is self-indulgent but technically prodigious and 'Last Call' is a bluesy wind-down at the end of the album. The production roars, Murphy and Billy shine, and even the drumming is a lot more interesting. All these elements together create an amazingly rich and powerful sound. In summary, this is Testament doing a heavier Pantera, without losing their thrash sound completely, and it is a powerful combination. At first I was shocked and awestruck at its power, but over time, its power-groove sound hasn't aged as well as their thrash classics. But it's still a very good and strong album. Recommended.
Live at the Fillmore
(Burnt Offerings - 1995)
There are three things that should be taken into account when reviewing live albums: the quality of the sound, the selection of songs, and the delivery. Well this 75 minute release excels at all three and more. The selection of songs is so good, this can be used as a 'Best Of' release (although there is one slight omission IMO: Over The Wall). No songs from The Ritual were included. The production is superb, balancing the raw and hall effect of a live setting and the good quality of a studio sound very well. And now for the best part - the delivery: This is neither a perfect copy of the originals like some bands do, nor is it sloppy in any way. Instead, the songs are enhanced by their recent death metal dabblings, James Murphy's lead guitar and Billy's vocal improvements that just keep getting better and better. The guitars are distorted lower than on many originals, and together with the intense live energy and Billy adding extra death growls all over the place, there is a lot going for death metal here, basically proving that death is souped up thrash metal. Murphy is simply divine here and Billy's voice sounds even better roughened during a tour. The last three tracks are redone acoustic versions of their best ballads - beautiful stuff without being cheesy. So altogether, this should rank among the best live albums ever made and it's a worthwhile buy even for people like me that aren't big on them. Highly recommended.
Demonic
(Burnt Offerings - 1997)
After breaking up, fighting with their label, getting back together and changing their lineup again, Testament is back with a new monster. Murphy left the role as axe-man and they got Glen back from the Return to the Apocalyptic City days. As skin-man extraordinaire, they got their hands on Gene Hoglan - an auspicious and noticeable addition to the sound. The reaction to this album was, at first, split neatly in two regarding its worthiness, but the album has since then become notoriously hated. As far as I'm concerned, while this album has issues and is not their best material, the biggest problem is that many people hate change, hybridization and experimentation, and didn't listen to this album on its own terms. Also, the album has two parts: The first four tracks are superb mid-paced death-thrash metal with some power-groove elements, and they make this album worthwhile no matter what. The rest of the songs are a mix of styles and sounds, some of them too generic and forgettable, and some with too many mall-metal sounds like start-stop bouncy rhythms, and angsty crunch, but also with death-metal elements mixed in. The power-groove sound couldn't have annoyed fans that liked Low, however, since that album was full of this style. But perhaps the wide range of styles and clash between groove and death-metal is a hurdle, being neither here nor there. But, as i said, Testament is experimenting here and combining sounds, and very successfully so in the first half of the album. Billy's vocals are almost all guttural death growls on this album, which may have also caused listeners to miss his less monotonous roars and singing. But they are ferocious vocals sometimes reminiscent of early Morbid Angel and I love them. He also uses some electronically distorted vocal effects in some segments, sometimes reminiscent of Cynic. Unfortunately, Testament's strongest aspect, the guitar solos, are sorely missing in this release and are replaced only by some death-metal guitar wailing. In short, this is a gritty, belching, fat, ferocious monster of demonic fury with a much weaker second half, though even the second half of the album is enjoyable to a certain extent. Standouts: 'The Burning Times' is the best and very memorable eerie track on the album, the mediocre 'John Doe' sounds like a death-metallized version of Alice in Chains, and 'Hatred's Rise' is more of a throwback to their more melodic and thrashier days.
The Gathering
(Burnt Offerings - 1999)
The lineup on this teratism of a release reads like something out of a superhero comic book collection. From the original lineup we have Billy's ever improving vocal talents, his enthusiastic and powerhouse roars sweeping non-believers into wild participants. In the same corner, we have Eric Peterson: a rhythm guitar champion, crushing everything in sight with deep, explosive riffs and rhythms. These are backed by Digorgio (Sadus, Death) on a pregnant bass and Mr sweep-you-off-your-feet guitar solos and shredder man himself: James Murphy. To get through those armor plated eardrums, we have the pummeling punishments and technical know-how of Dave Lombardo, Slayer's skin beater. But this heavyweight collection doesn't mean anything unless the music serves as an adequate showcase, and I'll be squashed into a bloody pulp if it doesn't do just that. This a return to thrash metal, or to be precise, thrash-death metal, with only remnant traces of the power-groove metal from the previous two albums. Some of the tracks here may as well have been written in the Souls of Black era, except they are delivered with a booming and clear modern production, touches of added death metal elements, and with Billy using all of this vocal styles, with an emphasis on death growls, as well as his guttural roars and raspy singing. What is sorely lacking here, as with Demonic, are the guitar solos, with Murphy being vastly underused. And it is the guitar solos, especially with Skolnick's skill, which often made ordinary thrash tracks extra-ordinary in the past. In addition, the riffs here are not always as memorable, some quite generic sounding. As with Demonic, the first four-five tracks are head and shoulders above the rest which are not as memorable, with the exception of the last death-metal track 'Fall of Sipledome', ending the album on a high note. All of which means that, despite my initial first effusive reaction, the welcome return to thrash, the super-group, the skill, the power and energy of the sound, I can't say that this is their best release. But, regardless, it is a really good album and recommended.
Jump In The Pit - A Tribute To Testament
(Dwell - 2000)
Fury - Dog Faced Gods
Starting with one the most ferocious songs from the Low album, Fury delivers an energetic, quite faithful, but lesser skilled, and overall pointless rendition. Vocals are hardcore and not as good as Billy's (those are hard to beat). Passably good but uninteresting.

Wasteland - Time Is Coming
Possibly the best track from the Practice album. Wasteland turn it into a plodding, heavy-thrash metal track with raspy black metal vocals and a couple of blast beats, without the elegance of Skolnick's guitar. Sounds like Venom. Eh.

Prototype - Into the Pit
A head-banging mosh-pit number delivered with sharp skill and gusto by Prototype. Vocals are clean and often layered harmonically. Guitar lines and the solo are altered to make it slightly more interesting and sharp-edged. A pretty good cover.

Scary German Guy - Face in the Sky
A bottom-heavy production makes this one grind and pound, perhaps too much. The vocals are hardcore screaming with some screeching. It sounds like a well-produced hardcore/punk rendition that loves its bass. Somewhat interesting re-interpretation, but in a limited way.

Cold - Perilous Nation
Another bottom-heavy sound, even more than the previous, with a fat, fat bass. This one is given a raw brutal-death-sound, complete with gurgling death growls (along with other sick vocals). Like the previous, fun to listen to just to see how this song gets re-interpreted with a different sound and genre, but it's not going to have me coming back to listen again.

Ultimatum - Sins of Omission
For some reason there are many tracks from the Practice album on this tribute, which is strange, since it isn't a strong album. The sound gets a boost on this one with interesting small alterations to the guitar lines, but the vocals are a overdone nasal and snarly AC-DC/Accept style that get grating. The guitar player is good though, and the song gets a bit of a harsher and rawer sound that works.

Horror of Horrors - Return to Serenity
An amusing juxtaposition of the band name with the song name. In any case, this is amateurish and demo-level, also in terms of the sound and the poor vocals, and they even make the guitar lines drone. Not good.

Catch 22 - Trial by Fire
Now this is more like it. Many alterations to this superb song as well as completely different vocals that are somehow both operatic and very raspy, deliver an interesting rendition in the style of power metal with weight (think Iced Earth). Pretty good.

Blackend - Practice What You Preach
Another garage band delivery. The delivery is nicely energetic and the guitars and drums are nicely done, except the drum sound is too forward and loud, and the vocals are poor.

Delusion - Rise
An unusual pick from the Low album. Delusion have energy but not precision. Sloppy, with punk vocals, this feels like hardcore punk. Another interesting re-genre and good for headbanging and body-slamming, but limited.

Habeas Corpus - Nightmare
Yet another mediocre song from Practice. This one gets a straightforward pounding death-metal rendition with a good heavy metal guitar solo. Not bad, but nothing particularly interesting.

Summary
Mostly forgettable tribute with a wide variety of styles, and a couple of interesting standouts by Prototype, Catch 22 and Habeas Corpus.
First Strike Still Deadly
(Spitfire - 2001)
Not really a compilation as much as a remake and a musical exercise given all the recent heavy events and changes with the band. Both Chuck Billy AND James Murphy were fighting cancer at the time (Murphy's brain tumor actually took place during/after The Gathering) and the band looked like it would break up. So this revisitation of earlier songs was obviously motivated in some private way by all this. The line-up here is surprising: Both Alex Skolnick and Eric Tempesta come back on guitars. Tempesta and Di Giorgio stay from the current line-up. Chuck Billy sings on most of the songs using his intermediate harsh vocals, but Souza from the pre-Billy days helps on the last two tracks. This album features tracks from the first two Testament albums re-recorded with a new modern booming sound, heavier and sharper bass and drums, Billy's aforementioned heavy vocals, eschewing Billy's earlier shrieks and screams from the originals, and minor changes to the songs. I was expecting death-metal renditions, but other than some increased heaviness and Billy's vocals making use of death growls intermittently, this is quite faithful. The tempo is a tiny bit slower, the key is down-tuned. Skolnick is in good form in general but not as nimble as before, sometimes sounding sluggish compared to the originals, or replacing faster shredding with clarity of notes, and sometimes adding new jazzy modulations which may not always work but sometimes a very nice and impressive and this makes me look forward to future possible outings with him. The result of all this? Some songs benefit from the new sound especially the faster-paced ones like 'Into the Pit' and 'Burnt Offerings', some are merely interesting and fun but not necessarily better, some fare worse, especially the slower or more melodic segments and songs like 'Disciples Of The Watch' and 'The Haunting' where a less heavy and more light-footed approach works better. So, altogether, this is a nice enjoyable release, but not essential, and worth checking out at your leisure.
Live in London
(Spitfire - 2005)
Not only did Testament not break-up, but Billy recovered from cancer and they are back stronger than ever and live. In addition, this is the live album that early Testament fans were dreaming of, since it features the original line-up. Not only did Skolnick and Tempesta stick around since First Strike Still Deadly, but Christian (bass) and Clemente (drums for some of the tracks) came back as well for this show. The set-list is from every album before Low (even including The Ritual), meaning only the songs that this line-up has played together in the past. And finally, it was released both on DVD and CD. So it's almost as if Low and everything afterward never happened. Of course Billy's vocals are not the same, the timbre has changed even compared to his Demonic days even though he uses touches of death growls and he may not have the same amount of energy, but his vocals are rougher than ever and he sounds good. As with First Strike Still Deadly, Skolnick also is less nimble than before but generally very good. The energy is through the roof and the sound has a nice balance between live harsh energy and clarity of sound, although my impression is that it isn't as clear as the Fillmore album. A pretty good live album in general, and a dream release for fans.
Live at Eindhoven '87
(Prosthetic Records - 2009)
As the title states, this is the live recording from 1987 which has only been released in a rare EP, and only partially. A release for fans only, since the sound quality leaves much to be desired. But since it's a very early performance right after their first album, it is of interest to hardcore fans. There is one preview song 'Disciples Of The Watch' from The New Order, but otherwise, this covers most of the The Legacy as well as as unreleased earlier song 'Reign of Terror'. The sound is harsh, muddy, boxed-in and a bit warped, the playing is not up to their later live standards with a tiny bit of sloppiness, but the energy is through the roof.
The Formation Of Damnation
(Nuclear Blast - 2008)
Finally, the comeback album, after almost ten years since their last proper studio album. The line-up is almost the same as the days of old, except for the drummer who is replaced by Bostaph from Slayer who adds a lot of precision, technicality and power to the sound. The musical approach here is mostly mid-paced thrash reminiscent of Metallica's Black album, with plenty of faster segments and songs, some of them even bordering on death-metal, but the general feel is loud, pounding and rocking rather than speed-thrash metal. Billy's vocals are back to powerful throaty yelling and singing, with some singing and guttural roars, and only occasional use of the full-on death growl from Demonic/The Gathering. This album stands in between The Gathering and earlier thrash classics, but is closer to The Gathering. The sound production is very loud, similar to The Gathering, but to my ears it's over-equalized and compressed this time, making everything loud, and it lacks dynamics and a natural sound, causing ear fatigue. This is not terribly overdone though and doesn't ruin the album, and the sound in general is clear and powerful, but it does reduce from the enjoyment. As in the past, Skolnick adds so much to the songs with his solos and I am happy that he is back, even though he isn't as creative as before, relatively speaking. For example, 'The Evil has Landed' only gets really interesting and fun in its middle guitar segment, otherwise it features generic Testament riffs and chorus. I actually didn't like this album on first listen. There is a lot of energy and power, but many of the riffs and choruses sounded generic-sounding or rehashed at first, similar to the second half of The Gathering. Everyone sounds great, really good actually, there is a lot of energy, Skolnick is here, Billy sounds great, but there seems to be a lack of inspiration in the song-writing compared to previous releases. This, combined with the tiring sound production turned me off at first. But then, one by one, I started enjoying each song a bit more with every listen until I found that I do enjoy the album, albeit to a certain extent. There is still too much filler and sameness, some generic flat choruses that fail to soar, too few breathers, and Billy doesn't use a variety of vocals as much as before, and the flat loudness in the sound dampens and hampers the music. But, as I said, with time, after your ears adjust and become acquainted with the tracks, it all improves and grows on you nicely. This is especially true when compared to weaker subsequent releases after this one. 'The Formation of Damnation' stands out with its approach of fast, precise & energetic rhythmic thrash-death metal the same as on The Gathering, and it's a very good track though it sags a bit in its middle segment. 'The Persecuted Won't Forget' is the best track on the album with its epic structure and memorable riffs and chorus, and though it's not the most cohesive composition, it reminds me of Testament's best days. 'More than Meets the Eye' and 'Henchman Ride' are quite good, and perhaps also 'F.E.A.R.', although this song and 'Afterlife' start strong but fizzle with the chorus. 'Killing Season' grows on you with its chorus and is not bad. In summary, despite a first poor impression, this one is a gradual grower. It doesn't shine, there is better Testament out there and this has many mediocre moments, but, overall, it's quite enjoyable. With a less aggressive production mix, it could have been better.
Dark Roots of Earth
(Nuclear Blast - 2012)
Four years since their comeback album, and a lot is similar, but with a couple of significant changes: The pace is relatively somewhat slower here and the traces of death-metal in the previous release are now all but gone. However, there is also more variety and dynamism here, as well as longer compositions, some of them 7 minutes long, which is new for Testament. Which means this is mid-to-fast thrash metal, a lot of it reminiscent of the Black Album, with a booming (too-loud) production. The sound is clear, however, and not as tiring as in Formation Of Damnation in my opinion. Unfortunately, many of the riffs are still generic-sounding, and the generally slower pace combined with too many catchy and overly anthemic metal choruses make this one less enjoyable and it didn't grow on me as well this time. Again, everyone sounds great, Billy's very strong vocals are back to the early days of guttural yelling and singing, both Skolnick and Peterson are on lead guitars this time, and Hoglan is back as the drummer, but I miss the more timeless musical thrash of earlier days instead of this generic, rocking, anthemic and modern version of it. Skolnick, once again, sings on his guitar, adding the color that these generic songs sorely lack, so much so that I am tempted to mark this as above-average just because of the guitar. 'Cold Embrace' is too long for its ballad pace and sometimes its guitar lines made me think of Guns 'n' Roses for some reason. The exceptions that I did enjoy are: 'Throne Of Thorns', the great 7-minute epic (I could definitely enjoy a whole album like this track), 'True American Hate' is quite good, and the title track is not bad. 'Man Kills Mankind' has a good middle instrumental section though the rest of the song is very generic thrash, and 'Rise Up' is OK but also generic and designed for crowds to yell along with the band. Overall, this one didn't grow on me enough despite its higher popularity within Testament's second batch of thrash albums; there are simply too many filler tracks, riffs and anthems to my ears. Which is a pity because I greatly enjoyed about three of the nine tracks.
Brotherhood of the Snake
(Nuclear Blast - 2016)
Like clockwork, after another four years, Testament release another thrash-metal album. This time, the drummer stayed but DiGiorgio is back on bass once more through the amusing Testament revolving-door. This time there is a bit of everything: Old-school thrash metal with rehashed Testament riffs mixed with just a sprinkle of death growls and touches of start-stop mall-metal riffing, as well as what I will now call 'thrash-n-roll' or, basically heavy-metal with thrash-metal or NWOBHM riffing and pacing. It's the choruses that usually come out as heavy metal amidst the thrashier intros, and this has been happening since The Formation Of Damnation. The songs are almost evenly split between these styles, except this time Testament scattered the styles throughout the album instead of bunching them all together in the first/second halves of the album as they did repeatedly in the past. In fact, it starts heavier, ends heaviest, and most of the relatively softer songs are in between. Some tracks mix both styles together, such as 'The Pale King' which starts with superb thrash-metal riffing with strong harmonies, but then disappoints with a generic and clunky heavy-metal chorus that sounds derivative of later-day Metallica. The rest of the track is very good however, including the great guitar solo, it's just that the grating middle part ruins it. And this basically summarizes the album as a whole for me: It contains elements that are either quite good, or ones that should have been thrown in the trash-bin as generic/weak and rewritten when actual inspiration hits. Overall, I find that these comeback albums are getting increasingly weaker; not that they are bad albums, mind you, but they are nothing great or inspired either. Only rare tracks are poor, such as 'Black Jack' which is surprisingly clunky with especially amateurish vocal lines and riffs, and I'm surprised it was included. I miss the more classic thrash sound, however, or even the Low/Demonic different-but-focused outings over these hybrid compositions that are neither here nor there. Everyone in the band sings and plays just as good as always, and the sound production is the same as the previous two releases, featuring over-boosting and equalizing of sound, but with a very clear loudness. 'Neptune's Spear' has a surprisingly melodic-harmonic NWOBHM guitar solo. But the only tracks that I truly enjoyed are the more aggressive ones: 'Stronghold' (the best track on the album), 'Centuries of Suffering', 'Canna-Business', 'The Number Game', and only parts of 'The Pale King'. Overall, it's both slightly better and slightly worse than 'Dark Roots of Earth' in different ways (more energy here versus rich variety there). A mixed bag and an average album at best, with not enough greatness for a recommendation.
Titans of Creation
(Nuclear Blast - 2020)
It's been four years? Then it's time for a new Testament album. Testament have laudably been sticking mostly to their thrash roots in the past four albums, but it has been diminishing returns, with a very average output, barring some outstanding individual songs. The sound has been dominated by what I call thrash-n-roll, meaning that there is an overwhelming amount of mid-paced compositions as well as heavy-metal choruses and solos, only they are embedded within mostly faster classic thrash-metal riffing. The weak aspects in most compositions lately have been the generic riffs combined with choruses that suddenly veer to slower guitars, clumsy flat vocal lines or monotonous heavy-metal anthems. So, despite the thrash-metal that may frequently be reminiscent of older Testament as well as the energy, the songs falter and fizzle. This album is no different, with a further deterioration into generic mediocrity. Once again, it's not that the songs sound bad per se. In fact, everyone is firing on all cylinders, except for the compositions and riffs, that is. This is a well-oiled machine, except it is a machine. The songs, by now, sound like they came off the Testament assembly-line. There is an obvious and appreciated effort to make everything interesting by changing it up, constantly adding more complex arrangements, etc. except it may as well have been done by a software version of the band. I believe there is also a severe lack of pauses and short silences in the music, and definitely a lack of quieter sections, all of which would add critical dynamism to the music, a lack that is probably made worse by the constantly boosted sound production. The album is instrumentally perfect and impressive, but poor in inspiration and memorable riffs. Actually, this is not 100% true this time, as there is light use of an Egyptian/Middle-Eastern theme on this album that shows up on some tracks, except that this only serves to accentuate how flat everything else sounds when a touch of Middle-Eastern color suddenly makes some riffs memorable. All these comments come after I listened to this album several times and compared it to Souls of Black to try to understand why that album worked despite many generic riffs, where this one didn't. There is one big surprise in 'Curse of Osiris' which suddenly veers to black metal (vocals and guitars), and it is, sadly, the best track on the album if only because it shakes you out of your torpor, but also because it is a memorable chorus. 'Ishtar's Gate' is another memorable one due to a Middle-Eastern infusion. 'Night of the Witch' is another outlier, though a mediocre one, with an old-school, classic-but-very-generic Slayer-esque riffing and guitar wailing, and some more black, shrieking, guest vocals. 'WWIII' is energetic and pretty good. Everything else, is pretty much forgettable, barring some guitar solos again, although even some solos here are relatively more conventional than the ones in the past. If 'The Formation Of Damnation' was enjoyable, and 'Dark Roots of Earth' was interesting but too flawed, and 'Brotherhood of the Snake' was very average, then this release is largely forgettable.



The Last Exit 1996-

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