Thursday 24 October 2013

Testament - The Dark Roots of Thrash


Album Type : 2 Disc Full Length
Date Released : 11/10/2013
Label : Nuclear Blast

The Dark Roots of Thrash, album track listing : 

CD 1

1. The Star Spangled-Banner (Intro) 2:37
2. Rise Up 4:18
3. More Than Meets the Eye 4:25
4. Burnt Offerings 6:36
5. Native Blood 5:14
6. True American Hate 6:22
7. Dark Roots Of Earth 5:41
8. Into the Pit 3:25
9. Practice What You Preach 5:23

CD 2

10. Riding the Snake 4:27
11. Eyes of Wrath 5:49
12. Trial By Fire 4:40
13. The Haunting 4:45
14. New Order 5:04
15. Do Not Resuscitate 4:23
16. Three Days In Darkness 7:13
17. Formation Of Damnation 6:47
18. Over The Wall 4:47
19. Disciples Of the Watch

The Band :

Chuck Billy | vocals
Eric Peterson | rhythm & lead guitars/back-up vocals
Alex Skolnick | lead & rhythm guitars
Greg Christian | bass
Gene Hoglan | drums

Review : 

Testament return with this live record, released as a bolt on/companion piece to the DVD of the same name. You get nineteen tracks, spread across a very generous playing time of expertly recorded live show. Much like Kreator's “Dying Alive” opus of this year, Or Exodus' “Shovel Headed Tour Machine” of a few years ago, the package is sprawling and comprehensive representing the Testament live experience in both audio and visual form. Nuclear Blast truly deliver the goods with this type of thing. The review that follows is purely for the audio side of this release.

From the intro of “The Star Spangled Banner” the record represents the live “experience”; you get intro tapes, between song banter, and the kind of professionalism that particularly bands from the US bring to the live arena. Testament have undergone a carer renaissance over the last five or six years, begun by their rather good “The Formation of Damnation” album. Their status as one of the main thrash bands has never been in question, unfair though it is that they are never ranked among the so called premier league of the Big Four. In reality, Testament, Overkill and Exodus have ALL made albums that are far superior to the majority of output from the Big Four in the last decade. That Testament have never quite reached the dizzy heights of those bigger bands is both a travesty and explainable by the fact that they were slightly late to the party. Fate is a cruel mistress.

No matter, all real metal fans out there will always mention the three American bands I have just referenced in the same breath as their richer counterparts, just as the Deutsch Big Three will always get respect.

Rise Up” kicks things off with a latter day anthem of quality, demonstrating as it does much of what is great about Testament: songs, riffs, restraint as well as aggression and, of course, Chuck Billy's superb vocals. He excels himself throughout this release. He is certainly the most versatile thrash vocalist- he can do it all; sing, growl gruffly deliver understandable lyrics without losing the melody. Big man, big stage presence, big voice. “More Than Meets The Eye” again brings the recent thunder while “Burnt Offerings” slams home the first of the classics. The performance is spot on; raging and tight at the same time. Think the sound of the re-recorded classics album “First Strike Still Deadly” and add in extra adrenaline and you have the right idea.

Native Blood”- one of the highlights of “The Dark Roots of Earth” record- is played with aplomb as Billy celebrates his Native American heritage. Gene Hoglan is on excellent form (or should that be business as usual?) his playing is metronomic, relaxed and very, very metal. I have followed his playing since I heard him on Death's “Individual Thought Patterns” record- I delved back through the Dark Angel discography, went through his work with Fear Factory and of course his work with Testament on “Demonic” (although SYL never interested me. Sorry!). Hoglan is thus, in my estimation, one of the best drummers in metal.

True American Hate” gives us more aggressive thrash with blast beats thrown in for good measure and of course lock tight guitar from the dexterous Alex Skolnick and Testament's real guitar hero Eric Peterson (for he is the main writer of riffs). Their last opus' title track is brought out prior to the classic “Into The Pit” which many may remember as lending its title to the more extreme segment of Headbangers' Ball all those years ago. Greg Christain's bass is well mixed and his playing excellent- noticeable when it needs to be, underpinning the rest of the band when it doesn't.

It is true that not all of Testament's albums have been consistent; “Practice What You Preach” being the first to have that particular criticism levelled at it, but the title track makes a welcome appearance here and serves as a reminder that ALL Testament records have their share of worthwhile moments. All this and the halfway point has not even been reached! “Riding The Snake” is most welcome to these ears- “The Gathering”: Testament's best? Discuss- and its heady mix of thrash and death styles delivers the very best of what Testament has to offer in my view.

Eyes of Wrath” furthers the argument put forward above with Hoglan handling Lombardo's drum tracks expertly. “Trial By Fire” keeps the even-older-old-schoolers happy with its melodic and creepy intro that precedes the main course pyrotechnics. “The Haunting” keeps the vibe sinister and goes to prove the thought put into the set list and track listing- tracks are paired well with the show running seamlessly from era to era while maintaining an ebb and flow to keep the listener interested. “New Order” represents their excellent second release before the lead off from “The Gathering” (“DNR”) lays your speakers to waste. When Testament really thrash, there are few who can match them!

The final four tracks are appropriately a BIG four: “Three Days in Darkness”, “The Formation of Damnation”, “Over The Wall” and “Disciples of the Watch” are all classics. The latter two mentioned are just brilliant- but I never could resist the riffing of “Over The Wall” (it was one of the first Testament songs I ever heard, on vinyl no less). As the crowd fades you will be left thinking just how good a live band Testament are and just how strong their catalogue is across four different decades. Yes, the rather good “Low” and “Demonic” albums are sadly not represented here and some may lament the lack of Bostaph/Clemente/Dette/Lombardo or even Nick Barker (if you do, you are splitting hairs in my humble opinion) but there can be no doubt that this is classic Testament. Much like Overkill and Exodus, the band deliver live, remain a classic band and continue to release high quality and relevant metal albums. Surely, you cannot ask for anything more than that?! Pick up this two CD/Two vinyl set or the whole package with the DVD and see or hear for yourself.

Words by : Richard Maw

You can buy it here.

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