More Than Meets The Eye
During the 80’s the big four were always Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, however, my big four differed slightly, Overkill, Megadeth, Exodus and of course the mighty Testament. Testament perhaps didn’t eclipse the likes of Anthrax on units sold, but I think musically could’ve easily slotted into that alleged ‘Big 4’. ‘The New Order’ and ‘Practice What You Preach,’ from their early works, were classic chunks of thrash, with ‘The Ritual’ perhaps dividing fans because of it’s emphasis on hooks and melody rather than heads down thrash. As good as ‘The Ritual’ was, the music scene was cleansed by the arrival of grunge pushing the band wagon bands to the brink of break up and the innovators underground. Although Testament split up for a short period, stalwarts Eric Peterson and Chuck Billy decided to keep the name alive and make their music more aggressive. The result was 1994’s vastly underrated ‘Low’. The death metal ‘Demonic’ followed and in 1999, what is arguably considered the band’s finest hour (myself included), ‘The Gathering was released to critical acclaim. It was a beast of a record that was heavy, aggressive and utilised every aspect of Chuck Billy’s unique voice. In 2001 Chuck was diagnosed with germ cell seminoma. He’s since been given a clean bill of health. After a reunion tour with ex Forbidden/Slayer/Exodus drummer Paul Bostaph (what a C.V), the band have finally released their follow up to ‘The Gathering’. A 9 year wait, was it worth it?
For myself , it was a little like a Portishead fan waiting 11 years for their new album. A sense of apprehension and excitement could be felt. Excitement because Testament are one of my favourite bands, and apprehension because it was a 9 year wait and a follow on from their best album. Unlike the Portishead fans who said their new album was ‘good’, Testament’s new opus is immense from start to finish. Even after 9 years I was still in ‘The Gathering’ come down. On initial listen I felt ‘The Formation of Damnation’ to be pretty good but lacking the bite of their last album. Since then it’s become tattooed to my cd player with many all other music pushed aside because it did not compete with this true classic.
The production is on the money mixed by the ever reliable Andy Sneap. Although Sneap occasionally forgets to push the bottom end up, this time his mix is perfect and allows every riff and brutal chord to hit home with the force of a bullet train. It would be very boring of me to do a track by track guide, but this is a review, not a walk-though. The whole album mixes the aggression visited on ‘The Gathering’ with the melody and groove of their 80’s output. Chuck sticks to vocals lines rather using his awesome death growl, but it does raise its head occasionally, to this reviewers delight. The solos are of excellent quality with duel shredding between Peterson and Skolnick and Paul Bostoph’s drumming is simply first class. There are many highlights on this album, the title track, ‘Henchmen Ride’, ‘F.E.A.R’ and ‘The Evil Has Landed’ to name three, but ‘The Persecuted Won’t Forget’ is one of the best thrash songs I’ve ever heard.
This album delivers everything you expect and want from a Testament album and more. It’s heavy, fast, dynamic and performed with sublime precision. It’s as if Eric’s been purposefully saving up his best ideas over the past 9 years for this release. But be warned, if you’re a big fan of ‘The Gathering’ then ‘The Formation Of Damnation’ may take a couple of listens. With an album this good I guess the metal will be asking ‘Is it the best thing they’ve done?’ I guess this all boils down to when and what state your mind was in when you heard their back catalogue. For those stuck in the 80s and unwilling to let go of ‘The New Order’ then probably not. However, I don’t think many fans would argue that this album is one of the best of their career. It’s their ‘Systematic Chaos’, ‘A Matter Of Life And Death,’ ‘Tempo Of The Damned,’ ‘United Abominations’, it’s an album that will kick-start their career and, hopefully, earn them a huge legion of new fans. The return of thrash has seen the return of one its masters and raised the bar for all the other bands to follow.