Review Summary: Testament further proves that 2012 is a good year for Thrash Metal.
It has been four years since Testament released their last album, "The Formation of Damnation", an album that signalled their return to the thrash scene, as well as their return to the music scene after Chuck Billy's battle with cancer.
This new offering feels like something different, not standard run of the mill Thrash Metal, and you really get the sense that Testament are trying to push a few boundaries here. The teamwork of Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick shows, with a variety of heavy, chunky riffs, and some well placed solos. Gene Holgan helps everything stick together with some wonderful drum parts, and some really solid beats that elevate songs which would otherwise be above average riffs, and bass lines, to a modern classic, a song that will stick in your head for a day or two, and leave you humming riffs, and singing vocals for long periods of time.
One of the only complaints with this album is that as a whole, it feels familiar, perhaps because of the modern recording sound that so many vintage thrash bands have adopted. However this is not necessarily a bad thing, because most of the album is crystal clear, no parts are unheard, and the balancing between the drums, bass and guitar is incredible.
Another thing to note is that much like Megadeth’s TH1RT3EN, or to a greater extent, Metallica’s Death Magnetic, Dark Roots of Earth has a flat feeling to it, possibly because it has been compressed much like the aforementioned albums. However, this album does not seem to fall down because of this, because the energy produced by the quintet is still evident.
The main feel that one gets from listening to this album is that it really has it all. It has lightning fast solos, it has the big, heavy riffs that make you want to pick up the nearest guitar and start learning them, or even the booming bass-lines which are clearly audible, which is such a good feeling. You are really left feeling better about yourself, because the album has no real, huge flaws.
The extended version of this album includes 4 bonus tracks, 3 of which are covers, and the last being an extended version of 'Throne of Thorns'. This makes the total album length go from 51:04 minutes to 74 minutes in length. The original album length is just right, not so long as to lose focus or lose the bands intention. The extended version however, doesn't lose that focus either, despite the extra 20 minutes of listening. As a side note, all three of the covers are performed to a high standard, especially the cover of the well known Iron Maiden song ‘Powerslave’ which I found myself repeating for a long period of time. The cover of Queen’s ‘Dragon Attack’ is fun, considering the difference to the original, and is really just a great song to listen to. The final cover, ‘Animal Magnetism’ seems to feel more entertaining than the original, perhaps due to the difference in recording quality.
Chuck Billy once again proves to be one of the more diverse singers within his chosen genre, performing a variety of tones, from rough lows, to clean highs. The vocal performance is impeccable, and really adds to songs such as 'Man Kills Mankind' or 'Native Blood'. At no time do you feel that he is uncomfortable with what he is trying to sing, or being forced to push himself to the limits of his vocal range.
Lyrically speaking, this album covers the usual thrash metal topics; War, death, politics. However, what makes this such a stand out for me is how Billy seemingly adds his own touch to the album, especially with his lyrics in Native Blood, "Forever proud/ so God damn loud/ It’s me alone, against the crowd/ Rock’n'roll this road is what I chose/ There’s no excuse/ auto tune/ Got something here that I must prove/ Lift you and it’s teleport or lose".
The lyrics meld flawlessly into the songs, not seeming out of place or forced to fit at any time. Some of the standout songs lyrically are ‘Man Kills Mankind’ or ‘Throne of Thorns’. Do not take this as me saying that the rest are bad lyrically, these two are just the most interesting songs for me from a lyrical point of view.
This album comes out amid many other hard hitting thrash releases of 2012, which includes Kreator’s ‘Phantom Antichrist’ and Overkill’s triumphant release of ‘The Electric Age’. The question that arises is, does Testament push themselves enough with this release to match up to their fellow thrash metal bands. The answer is a most definite yes. It has all the elements of their previous records, whilst managing to continue onwards, not seeming past-obsessed.