Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Review: Testament - Dark Roots of Earth

 It would now be typically cliched of me to make the claim that San Francisco thrash legends Testament should be a legitimate fifth member of the Big 4, but you have to admit, their musical output over the past thirty plus years does make them worthy of such an induction if overall levels of popularity do not. More than that though, they've proved that in modern times when thrash metal hasn't been the most relevant musical force on earth that they can still stand fast and deliver a knocking blow against all odds. Just look at 2008's release of the phenomenal The Formation of Damnation. Against label switches, changes in lineup and frontman Chuck Billy thankfully succeeding in his battle against cancer, the band delivered one of the finest thrash albums of that decade. It certainly wiped the floor with Metallica's Death Magnetic and that was an album made by some of the richest metal musicians in the world without any serious health issues going around the place. Whether thrash is seen as cool or not, the devotion of Testament is totally commendable and the musical results often reflect that devotion.

 And it's amazing to see that their ongoing devotion is not only reflected once more within the immense depths of their tenth album Dark Roots of Earth but is also crafted into nothing short of metal perfection. Rise Up blasts straight into action with a kinetic force of tearaway thrash riffage, proving that Eric Peterson and surely-now-thrash-icon Alex Skolnick still uphold the qualities that have made them so legendary. The extent of tightness and ability to pen musical works that are so intricate that carry that much extra heaviness is intensely focused on.

 The genre title that is "speed metal" never really have that solid a focus and never really received any bands that stuck to any kind of principles surrounding the title, but Testament effortlessly manage to emphasise why such a title existed. The kinetic levels of energy that build up Native Blood and True American Hate suggest just as frenetic a performance from the band as it was on 1987's The Legacy. Every drum fill from band-hopper and fellow metal icon Gene Holgan really spikes up the intensity and further cements the tightness within the band's groove.

 At this point, you realise that with a band like Testament, the tightness of their performance is the key issue and on this album, their efforts are honed to perfection as the fitting of all the parts really beefs up their performance that obviously supports Chuck Billy's eclectic performance that once more fully unleashes his gripping range of death growls. And their characteristic tightness can be found outwith the annihilating thrash assaults as well. The bleak balladry of Cold Embrace is entirely heart-wrenching and whilst the outbursts of bitterness and despair ooze out, the heaviness of the band behind Billy's fury is what elevates it. However, the best use of the power of the metallic groove comes out on Throne of Thorns, which truly sees Peterson put his Iommi head on to astonishing effect. Songs that naturally cause headbanging without expecting aren't always easy to come across, but that one's different.

 My main thoughts on reflection obviously comes down to the level of tightness and the kind of bleak nihilism packed into their songs that makes it entirely gripping. Yet as dark as Dark Roots of Earth is, it's just as fun as it is despair-fueled. Anyone that considers themselves a skilled air-guitarist or air-drummer will find a lot of new source material, while the intensity throughout the album requires more depth than many fellow thrash contemporaries. This is an album that shows modern thrash at it's best musically and in a more emotional way. Testament really should be part of the Big 4. We don't need Metallica. They have Orion Music festival. They could make their own Big 4 group with the Arctic Monkeys, Fucked Up and The Black Dahlia Murder. Or not.

Testament's Dark Roots of Earth is out now via Nuclear Blast. The band will play at Bloodstock Open Air Festival at Catton Hall, Walton On Trent on 11th August.

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