Reading around on forums and talking to people it seems like Testament fans are divided in two parts when the favorite eras of their career is being discussed. Either you dig their classic, 80’s era the most – which it seems most of their fans do – or you prefer their more recent stuff, after the reunion of the classic line-up, a line-up that has been changed around since then. Very few seems to hold their Death Metal influenced Demonic (1997) era (that’s the only Testament record I can’t stand, by the way) or their more melodic Metal era of The Ritual (1992) as their faves. I was never a Testament fan when I grew up. Thrash and Speed Metal never was my music of choice and from the little I had heard, I dismissed them as nothing but Metallica wannabees. Fact is, the only Testament album I liked for a long time was actually The Ritual. But everything changed when I stumbled over the reunion album The Formation Of Damnation (2008).
I loved that album right from go and it totally changed my attitude towards the band. Today I hold Testament as my # 1 Thrash act and consider myself a fan. Therefore I hold Testament from 2008 and forward as my favorite era. But I do go back to their classic era and the 90’s stuff such as The Gathering (1999) – a brilliant record – and Low (1994) and I really dig that era as well. Dark Roots Of Earth (2012) is my favorite Testament record and even though their last album, the harder-edged Brotherhood of The Snake (2016), was a very solid effort, it was still a bit of a disappointment after two awesome records in a row. With singer Chuck Billy catching the Covid-19 disease just in time for album release (get well soon, Chuck), I find that just another reason to keep my fingers crossed that the new album will be a real winner.
The album’s latest single/video, a punch in the gut called “Children Of The Next Level” kick-starts the album. Thunderous and furious, the tune takes on a galloping rhythm with chugging guitars and a heavy, fat and aggressive groove to show us that they mean effing business. It’s in-your-face, punchy and hard, mixing classic Testament with the latter day sound. But as always, Testament never forget that melody is always pivotal and the song’s main-melody sure is striking. Bloody brilliant, it is. The apocalyptic “WW III” follows, hard, fast, aggressive and dark-edged with an menacing brutality. It’s a mosh-pit wet-dream with Gene Hoglan’s gunfire-raging drumming and razor-sharp riffs, a Thrash Metal belter, classic Testament style with lots of hook-laden melodies to go with it. Awesome stuff.
“Dream Deceiver” comes out thrashing punchy and beefy with a heavy rhythm and a mixture of old school Thrash and classic Heavy Metal. It’s not as hard and menacing as its predecessors, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a softie – quite the contrary. That being said, the song is full of hooks, pretty damn melodic and it holds a chorus so catchy it almost brings Arena Rock to mind – and the mixture is phenomenal. I love this. The leading single “Night Of The Witch” is dark, sinister and heavy with a balls-to-the-wall thrashy infectious groove. The song alters between fast, raw and brutal and a slower, heavier-pace. To add up the dynamics, guitarist Eric Peterson chips in with some Black Metal-laden vocals here and there and the contrast works like a charm. The song stuck with me right of the bat. What a killer!
Slower in pace, “City Of Angels” comes on punchy, dark and heavy in the verses but speeds up some when it’s time for the intense and effective chorus. With its sludgy outlook and blackening Black Sabbath influences, its a bit of curveball, reaching out to their 90’s stuff. That being said, it holds some damn fine melodies and Steve DiGiorgio’s bass-intro is slammin’. Great stuff. “Ishtar’s gate” kicks in with a heavy, rumbling and rough intensity and a galloping metal-rhythm, hard and aggressive yet still melodic. Slightly Eastern flavoured, style-wise it comes across as a more aggressive take of the sounds of The Ritual. This tune floored me big time after the first spin. Great.
The slower in pace, dark and heavy “Symptoms” with its hooky vocal and guitar melodies goes more for the band’s later sound than the classics. It’s still stone-hard, holds a thunderous rhythm-section and gut-beating beat but is also very melodic and catchy. At the same time, it’s quite technical sludge-thrash where all the contrasts marries like a good punch in the jaw – and that’s a good thing, folks. Great tune. “False Prophet” is very much bang-on-target old school Thrash where the band is looking back to the old days – heavy, raw and crushing classic Testament. I dig. The classic Thrash style continues with the riff-fest “The Healers”, a rough, raw and earthy belter, here to rip you a new one. But totally unexpected, they bring on some very striking and memorable melodies and a insanely catchy chorus with hooks that even feels poppy. But fear not, this isn’t even close to soft. Also, Alex Skolnick totally lets rip here, showing off his virtuoso skills that’s jaw-dropping. Phenomenal.
“Code Of Hammurabi” starts out in an unexpected way with DiGiorgio’s flying fingers, giving us a funk-bluesy bass-groove before the song continues as a rowdy and robust Thrash-rocker, punchy and dust-kicking classic Testament style. With some maniac riffing and a headbanger’s wet dream rhythm, the tune is written for the stage. I think it’s just a good song, no more no less but I bet we will all stand there yelling “eye for an eye for an eye” back at them when the Covid crap isn’t an issue anymore. “Curse Of Osiris” is hard, fast and furious where Peterson’s malevolent vocals borders to Death Metal growl side by side with Billy’s gruff. It’s fat with a bouncy groove, it strikes hard with an in-your-face attitude and I dig it lots. The album closes with “Catacombs”, a 2-minute instrumental outro-song – heavy, dark and atmospheric with a slight orchestration to combine the monster-riffing and marching rhythms for dynamic’s sake. I really dig it but I think it would have worked even better as an intro-song.
This album is proof of Testament won’t be failing with a new album anytime soon – and I really can’t see why or how any fan of the band will be disappointed by this. The over-all sound is more along the line of the last three records but they sure haven’t forgot about their past either because the nods towards their 80’s shows up more often than not. The sound is edgy, raw and hard but also melodic enough for memorability and even catchiness at times. I still hold Dark Roots Of Earth my favorite but this is easily as good as The Formation Of Damnation – if not better. The fact that Testament isn’t a part of the big four is baffling – Testament is better than all of them – as they’re way too good to be in The Big Four’s backwater. I can’t wait for this pandemic to be in control so we can catch songs from this album live. Testament delivers again!
1. Children Of The Next Level
2. WW III
3. Dream Deceiver
4. Night Of The Witch
5. City Of Angels
6. Ishtar’s Gate
8. False Prophet
9. The Healers
10. Code Of Hammurabi
11. Curse Of Osiris