By Sam Graham
It’s finally here! I’ve been waiting for this for years, and now the time has come: TestamenT’s new album, Dark Roots Of Earth! First of all, just look at the cover. I mean look at it. What is it, you might ask? It’s badass, that’s what it is. Some earthen deity being brought forth by some useless peons perhaps? I hope he smites their sorry asses.
OK, now I’ve calmed down.
For those of you who may not know, San-Francisco’s Testament are one of the original 80’s thrash titans, and it is widely asked why they are not part of The Big 4 instead of Anthrax. Testament hasn’t had a release since their 2008 brutathon The Formation Of Damnation and at long last, two years or so after its first announcement, Dark Roots… is on the shelves.
From the very beginning, this album hits you in the face, letting you know that they’re still as heavy as they’ve ever been. Rise Up doesn’t muck around. It’s as fast and technical as it is heavy and guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson haven’t lost an inch, especially seeing as Skolnick has been hanging around the jazz scene for a fair while since his departure from the back in the early nineties.
Rise Up, and Native Blood provide a solid foundation for the album, showing newer bands just what age and experience can bring, then the third and title track pulls back to sound somewhat belonging to Souls Of Black (1990). Following Dark Roots Of Earth comes the first track many of us heard from this album: True American Hate. That riff, with no word of a lie, I had to have a sit down after hearing. It actually robbed me of the ability to stand. Gene Hoglan (previously played on Demonic in 1997) drums a beat that’s pure speed. Now, I don’t normally go for these kinds of drums, but it’s mixed in a way so as not to overpower everything else, so it fits in well with the rest of the band. For me, this is the best track on the album. It encompasses the feel of the entire thing for it power and energy, but also its rhythm, which is something that drew me to TestamenT in the first place.
TestamenT aren’t afraid to throw in a ballad amidst the well-constructed carnage and Cold Embrace is this album’s, but unlike more popular metal ballads like Nothing Else Matters, TestamenT don’t sacrifice the ballsiness in theirs. It starts clean, heavies-up, and switches back to clean effortlessly and vocalist Chuck Billy’s croaky vocals make it seem somewhat haunting.
After Cold Embrace, the album gets heavy(er) again with Man Kills Mankind and Throne Of Thorns which are both great songs, but are overshadowed by the opening four and the final track, Last Stand For Independence. Last Stand.. pulls out all the stops to make sure this album ends on a high-note. Its classic TestamenT all the way and never lets up for its entire length.
If you own the super-mega-special edition of Dark Roots… you’ll be treated to a trio of covers: Dragon Attack, Animal Magnetism, and Powerslave by Queen, Scorpions and Iron Maiden respectively. I have to confess that I didn’t really like Dragon Attack or Animal Magnetism. Maybe it’s because I’ve never heard the originals, but either way as they’re only covers included on the special edition, they shouldn’t be held against the integrity of the album. The cover of Powerslave simply sounds like Powerslave as you’d expect being sung by Chuck Billy, and I like Powerslave anyway.
Dark Roots Of Earth takes the finer points from Formation… and builds upon them. It’s got that heaviness that Formation tracks like F.E.A.R and The Persecuted Won’t Forget had, but with a lot more rhythm to it. A lot of the songs feature more complex solos, harmonies and generally more interesting and dynamic parts.
This is a loud album. Even playing it on low volume, it still sounds loud. Each song is tightly knit and sounds different and it’s good to see that a band like this still sound as fresh as they do considering their debut album is from 1987.
If I had to pick a gripe, it’d be that Chuck Billy’s shrill vocals from their early days are still left in the early days. Instead the album’s still guttural, but hey, the man did have throat cancer in 2001, so it’s OK. It might have been a long time in the making, but now I can see where all that time went. It was well worth the wait, and I’ll be listening to it for a long time to come.
This album is a must-own for thrash fans.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five) \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/