In 2001 I stumbled across possibly one of the greatest albums ever made; Testament’s ‘The Gathering’, the thrash legends’ eighth album and by far the greatest thing they had ever created. I rate it so highly that to this day it never leaves my digital music portal of choice. It opened my naïve 19 year old eyes to a world away from Slipknot, SOAD and whatever else was flavour of the month, my gateway album to the more extreme ends of the metal spectrum, all down to how diverse and original it is as a genuine piece of brilliance. Prior to this, Testament’s work was either a clone of other thrash bands or just plain uninspired like their previous album ‘Demonic’. ‘The Gathering’, however, had everything to mould a young mind and inspire. The follow up album ‘The Formation Of Damnation’ tried to follow on from this pinnacle, but released almost 9 years later, due in no small part to Chuck Billy’s illness and the lack of a steady line-up, it lacked the edge of ‘The Gathering’.
This time around we only have to wait three years for their tenth, ‘Dark Roots Of Earth.’ I was hoping for something brilliant. Surely something with Gene Hoglan on drums couldn’t be bad? (*editor’s note; you do remember the last Fear Factory album, right?) The last time they had a great sticksman behind them was Dave Lombardo on, you guessed it, ‘The Gathering.’ Surely this was going to be thrash perfection incarnate?
The album opens with ‘Rise Up’, and I’m instantly hit by how weak the sound is. The riffs seem a little uninspired and with Hoglan present I thought the drums would be epic to say the least. No and no. Then throw in another no. I persevere and go onto ‘Native Blood’ and again the riff is passable, but the lyrics are dreadful. Then halfway through we stumble into Testament’s new found love of NWOBHM harmonised lead lines and 80’s plodding. Not even a bit of blasting can liven this dreariness up and I’m getting bored. The title track follows and it hurts, genuinely. Carbon copies of the Bay Area’s more successful thrash acts. After 30 years in the game you might have thought they’d be past stealing from the big four. Apparently not. Snooze.
‘True American Hate’ starts as another NWOBHM tribute but all of a sudden there is that subtle hint of that band, you know, called Testament. It’s not perfect by any means but it piqued my interest at least long enough to continue listening.
Getting over halfway and I’m depressed by this. Now they’re a fucking prog band! Testament are good at a great many things, mainly snarling and thrashing. What they are not good at is Prog. ‘Cold Embrace’ is exactly that. It’s awful. Chuck Billy has never been a great singer, but that didn’t matter because he was a fucking snarling beast. Now he has emotions and shit yeah? This is the first time I press skip. I’m even tempted to get a compass out and destroy the whole song on the underside of the CD, but then I remember I’m not listening to a CD and I feel sad and old. Thanks Testament.
It’s not until ‘Throne of Thorns’ that I really start to pay attention again and the intro is really nice and would have probably been better served as the opener. The next riff doesn’t quite seem dark enough for that intro, but you know what this is actually pretty good, and is closer to what I consider to sound like them. Even then, it’s still littered with some really cringy moments. Like the talking bits. I don’t want talking. Give me thrash or give me death. More horrible long drawn out lead lines again and oh Jesus a ‘whoa whoa whoa’ bit that seems to have been inserted to play to the festival crowds. This is fine if you’re pissed I guess. I’m not pissed though, so hefty yawn.
Hooray! ‘Last Stand For Independence’ comes out all guns blazing and this is more like it. I’ll definitely listen to this again. Oh wait the lead lines have returned… this is like masturbating to a particularly precious memory and then opening your eyes and seeing a picture of your Grandmother looking back up at you just before you finish. Eurgh. The good bit comes back again and it’s ok. Maybe they won’t go back to that. You can uncover your eyes. Oh and then it stops. End of album. Great.
The bonus edition has some covers on and an extended track. The highlight of these being ‘Animal Magnetism’. A fucking Scorpions cover. Enough said.
The sad thing about this is that I really have lost all hope that they have another brilliant album in them. I won’t be listening to this again unless it is to play to my friends to say ‘You remember how good Testament were 12 years ago? Yeah, well now they’re shit. Listen to this.’ I doubt that’s the reaction they had in mind. Gene Hoglan’s drumming is best described as ‘phoned in’ and they don’t have anything about them to go wow about. The guitars are too high and too clean sounding; add to that the complete unoriginality and you have to wonder why they bothered.
Testament will always have a special place on my iPhone (or any other suitable mp3 playing mass storage device) but it won’t be this. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. No scratch that I’m fucking livid and so should you be because once they were brilliant, and now they’re shit. Do yourself a favour, ignore this and go and get ‘The Gathering’ if you don’t own it already.