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 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 the 80's 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. 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 and overall, the previous album is more furious, but the rest of the songs are superb and I dub this another thrash classic.
Practice What You Preach
(Atlantic - 1989)
No big change this time around other than the lack of scattered acoustic and quiet sections, and slightly more subdued or slower riffing in general. This is polished thrash (no raw speed metal a la Ride the Lightning) with superb harmonies and melodic solos to the point of sounding like a blend of newer Megadeth and old Metallica. The production is well balanced and clear, and this, together with the fine musicianship and harmonics, provides a more warm and 'rocking' feel rather than one of raw fury (relatively). Billy seems to have settled down on one main vocal: a strong throaty roar - but he still uses the occasional wide repertoire of styles and 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. 'The Ballad' stands out with, yes you guessed right, a ballad type song that builds up from fine acoustic guitars, melodic lines but mediocre vocals, to an angry, thrashy number. They're obviously still taking Metallica's cue. Their least interesting and varied album, and a couple of songs are somewhat weak, but the rest make up for this and it's still damn good.
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. 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 changes they keep going through 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), a peek at Billy's death metal vocal talents (Falling Fast) and Skolnicks ever present, amazing, and always creative guitar solos. 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 but it's really 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 quite thrash metal anymore, and the riffs, choruses and general atmosphere are indeed more radio friendly, the songs are still quite heavy and good. They range from unoriginal, mediocre 'crunch-rock', to dark and teeth-grinding heavy beauties, with Skolnick's thankful presence on lead guitar always enhancing the songs tenfold. 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 and superb ballad. The vocals and singing style often sound scarily identical to Hetfield, but as always, they have their own Testament touches. Overall, a good, crunchy, rocking album with some weak moments and tracks. Good to sink your teeth into at times in my opinion, but it won't appeal to some.
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 noticable touch of death metal and James Murphy's distinct lead guitar playing. If you managed to follow that, add Billy's best vocal performance yet (death growls galore, low great roars and clean vocals), and much improved technical playing and variety by all the members. Standouts: Trail of Tears - the pleasant ballad of the album, Dog Faced Gods - practically pure death metal with its intensity, and the instrumentals: Urotsukidoji - self-indulgent but technically prodigious and Last Call - 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. Get it. Now.
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 noticable addition to the sound. As far as I could tell, the Testament camp split into a neat half when it came to whether this release is worthy or not. I personally wouldn't hesitate to recommend it if I didn't know that it has disappointed many fans, but I have a feeling that many were expecting a Testament sound instead of listening to it for what it is. And what a gritty, belching, fat, ferocious monster it is! The first four tracks make this album worthwhile no matter what, after that things start losing it slightly. Chugging, pregnant riffs with mid-paced death metal rhythms, plenty of dynamics, and a demonic fury make up most of the sound. Also add superb, guttural growls (with a quality reminiscent of Morbid Angel) as 95% of the vocals, some death rock sections, and excellent drumming. The only thing wrong with this release is the lack of great guitar solos as before and the weaker composition and grip in the latter half of the album. The overall effect is crushing though and I still recommend it. Standouts: 'The Burning Times' - an eerie, superb, and very addictive track (the best on the album), and 'John Doe' - what sounds like a death-metallized version of Alice in Chains.
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 weighing at 333 pounds, 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 musical composition serves as an adequate showcase, and I'll be squashed into a bloody pulp if it doesn't do just that. The music can best be described as a blend of all their previous styles with a huge emphasis on both Low and Demonic. The songs vary from recognizable Testament thrash with death metal guitars, to blasting death metal or slower we-need-a-diet tracks. Billy and Lombardo shine above everything else and there are no weak songs on this beast. Buy it and snap your neck to this compulsive headbanger.



The Last Exit 1996-

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