Testament – [Albums]

Wednesday, 06 February 2008

As far as I'm concerned, San Francisco Bay Area thrash legends Testament should have been included in "Thrash Metal Big Four" of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. Testament's legacy (no pun intended) is undeniable, and they have influenced a countless number of today's metal bands. Listening to them today, their music still sounds fresh and relevant, and has definitely withheld the test of time. A staple in the Bay Area scene, I remember seeing them many times, way back to when they were known as Legacy, and watching them get bigger and bigger over the years. As metal bands either sold out, completely changed their sound or called it quits over time, Testament kept touring and churning out records, all while sticking to their guns. I admit that I myself lost touch with their music, which was I’m so glad to see that Prosthetic Records have remastered and re-released two of their best (and heaviest) albums, Demonic and The Gathering.

Demonic was originally released in June of 1997, and was Testament's first real attempt at more of a death-metal sound (At least as far as I'm concerned.) With a lineup of Chuck Billy (vox), Eric Peterson (lead and rhythm guitars), original Legacy member Derek Ramirez (bass) and Gene Hoglen (drums), Demonic chugs away with an intenseness not dissimilar from bands like Sepultura, Immolation and Cannibal Corpse. Although it is bit of a departure from the classic Testament thrash sound, it still works, and shows just how much talent this band has always had, regardless how many lineup changes they went through.

The first thing that stood out about Demonic to me was Eric Peterson's guitar work. His guitar sound has always been what defined Testament for me, and although his style changed a bit for this record, his guitars are what give Demonic its dark and sinister feel. Peterson's riffs are slow and crunchy on "The Burning Times" while still grooving on the very Voivod-like "Murky Waters." With "Hatreds Rise" however, he shows that he can still return to the thrash sound at the drop of a hat.

As good as Peterson's guitar work is on this record, perhaps what surprised me the most about Demonic were the vocals of Chuck Billy. Always a semi-melodic thrash-metal vocalist with great range, Billy reaches from within and pulls out an amazing grunt/growl, especially on "Distorted Lives," which could make your throat bleed just listening to it. Like Peterson, he too is able to switch back to more of an "old school" Testament sound, as is evident on "John Doe." With all that being said, Demonic is a great Testament album, and shows that the band can evolve while not losing their roots. Not one bad song here, but if I had to pick a favorite on this record it would have to be "Ten Thousand Thrones," which may be one of the heaviest Testament songs ever recorded.

If Demonic is Testament's heaviest record, then The Gathering would have to be their second heaviest, and a bit of a "return to form" for the band. Originally released in June of 1999, this record boasts a lineup of original members Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson, along with guitarist James Murphy (Death, Obituary, Cancer) bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death, Iced Earth) and drum immortal Dave Lombardo (Slayer). Together the five of them managed to put together an album that is a perfect combination of death metal and that classic Testament thrash-metal sound, and kicks you ass from start to finish.

As is evident with the first track, "D.N.R.," Chuck Billy's voice is stronger than ever, and he has somehow managed to take his "snarl" and once again turn it into more of a "death growl," while still singing, and not surrendering to Cookie Monster vocals. Billy also shows that he still has plenty of range and goes from one end of the spectrum to the other on "True Believer." Guitarists Eric Peterson and James Murphy tag-team a pretty killer guitar attack throughout this record, and with "Three Days of Darkness" and "Legions of the Dead" they show just a hint of black metal harmonizing guitar, while "Allegiance" thrashes away like Testament guitars always have. As heavy as Peterson and Murphy sound, it's the rhythm section of DiGiorgio and Lombardo that give this album its backbone. Lombardo pounds the skins just as fast if not faster than anything he had done with Slayer up to this time, and the track "Down for Life" is proof of that. Again, not one lackluster song on this album, but if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be "Sewn Shut Eyes," which is a perfect combination of new and old Testament sound.

Looking over their discography, it is clear that Testament has released many amazing albums over the years, but I would have to say that both Demonic and The Gathering stand out as two of their best. They are both perfect examples of just what an incredibly talented band they are, and both show them branching out while still keeping true.

Demonic and The Gathering are available now on Prosthetic Records.

Download – “Demonic Refusal” from Demonic – [mp3]

Download – “D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)” from The Gathering – [mp3]

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