Testament: The gathering
22/04/11 || InquisitorGeneralis
Who would have thought that a second-tier thrash band (in popularity, not in talent or skill) would make their heaviest and best record years after the thrash movement had withered away and without their virtuoso lead guitarist? Not many people, but that is exactly what Bay Area veterans Testament did back in 1999 with “The Gathering”. Current forum troll and former staffer Lumberjack covered this record once before and if Lord K had not euthanized 99% of the old review around here Bumblejerk’s stellar review would still be around for your reading pleasure. However, shit happens and now it falls to me to give coverage to a truly kick-ass thrash record with strong death metal influences.
In order to make this aggressive slab of total awesomeness, Testament recruited some big fucken guns. First on that list is the mighty “Dave Lombardo”, legendary drummer of Slayer. He absolutely dominates on here; A LOT more on him later. Also, journeyman bassists deluxe Steve DiGiorgio of Death and Sadus fame is along for the ride. That is a serious rhythm section right there folks. Besides retooling personnel, “The Gathering” represents (another) stylistic change for the band. 1997’s “Demonic” was an attempt at death metal and while not a bad record, it was not a raging success either. “The burning times” rules, but I digress. “The Gathering” hits it out of the park because it takes the extreme influences from “Demonic” and blends them with the successful thrash sound that made the band well known in the late 80’s.
I am a pretty big fan of “The New Order”, “Practice What Your Preach”, and even the red-head stepchildren known as “The Ritual” and “Souls of Black”. “The Formation of Damnation” wasn’t half bad either. Testament’s intricate guitar work and slightly more accessible sound definitely made them stand apart from the Big Four way back when. To hear those influences mixed with the heaviness of death metal that I love so dear results in instant erections every time “The Gathering” gets a listen. Enough intro, on with the review!
9.5. As I previously mentioned, “The Gathering” is a near-perfect mix of death and thrash elements. “Demonic” seemed haphazard and pieced together without a true sense of identity. “The Gathering” clearly has a unified sound and feel. Most of the tracks on here feature classic thrash structures but are augmented with lots and lots of double bass and aggressive tempo changes. This is pretty much the classic Testament you know and love (minus the Skolnick solos) injected with a healthy load of extreme steroids. “DNR” get’s things rolling in a faster, more aggressive style and is one of the, but not the most, record’s more brutal songs. That title goes to the blistering “Legions of the Dead”.
“Eyes of wrath” is the song that got me into this record and still stands as my favorite. It starts off as a straight-ahead thrasher but finished with a cock-blowingly awesome breakdown and solo. “Days in darkness” has a slower, heavier feel but still is top notch. Same goes for “True believer”. “Riding the snake” and “Sewn shut eyes” bring more pain in the same fast vein as “DNR”. All in all, you get a pretty solid variety of tunes. Unlike “Demonic” though, it does not feel like Testament is stepping too far away from their comfort zone.
10. “The Gathering” features a flawless production. The drum sound is heavy and natural but not 100% overwhelming. The guitars sound like an industrial freight-train loaded with “Biggest Loser” contestants who have been forced-fed Big Macs for three months. A wandering mystic, known around here as Floodhorse, once said that the late 90’s were the golden age of metal production. I tend to agree because albums like “The Gathering” sound full and clear but are (thankfully) without the overdone slick and glossy shit that seems to prevail on many records that have come out in recent years.
9. I once read (or heard?) and interview with Alex Skolnick, the virtuoso lead guitarist and soloist who did not play on “The Gathering”, describe Eric Peterson as being the true driving force behind Testament’s sound. “The Gathering” shows this to be true. While Skolnick’s presence is missed, not every fucking song needs a Yngwie-esque solo to make it a winner. Dick-licking riffs are too numerous to single out, just know that Peterson (the only guitarist who has played on every Testament album, all 10,000 of them) and James Murphy unleash heavy, death thrash goodness with considerable skill and variety. Murphy is no slough either. You expect quality playing from a man who has also been in A-list bands like Death, Obituary, Cancer, and Konkhra. I am sure Murphy’s solid footing in the world of death metal is a big factor in the heavy success of “The Gathering”.
9. While his presence on “The Gathering” is not as immediately noticeable as on “Individual Thought Patterns”, “Human”, or “The Fragile Art of Existence” DiGiorgio still is the real Emperor of Bass, not that deflated balloon on American Idol. It is a refreshing change of pace to here Stevie G in a more traditional, straight-forward setting rather than something technical or wanktastic. “The Gathering” proves that DiGiorgio could excel on ze bass in any style of extreme metal…except for maybe space grind. But, I doubt he would ever stoop to that level of suckness.
9.5. Chuck Billy is talented and charismatic front man who successfully makes the rare turn from melodic to more extreme vocals on “The Gathering”. His stuff on “Demonic” was way overdone, but he definitely found his groove here. Actually, I miss his more melodic side just a bit because there are no songs on here like “Trail of tears” from “Low” where he drops the growling for a few minutes. I fucking love that song, cheesy as it may be. Anyway, William McChuckleston is in top form and his efforts to be more hardcore this time around are met with extremely high levels of success. “True believer” has some hints of 80’s Chucky Billy on it, but is definitely a heavy track. You have to respect a metal singer who has changed his changed his sound successfully and overcome cancer. That’s hardcore.
10. Dave Lombardo reigns in motherfucking pain on “The Gathering”. I would put this performance up against any Slayer record. He thrashes, grooves, and just plain kicks ass all over the place. He footwork is especially impressive on “The fall of sipledome”, “Riding the snake”, and “Down for life”. The ending section of “Eyes of wrath” is pure, off-tempo gold and sends chills up my boner every time I hear it. Honestly, I cannot overstate the impact Lombardo has on here. From the subtle playing of Louis Clemente to the current, solid work of Paul Bostaph (who replaced Lombardo in Slayer, ironically) Testament has always had solid drummers. However, Lombardo’s performance on “The Gathering” is not only the best of his career, but tops for Testament as well. I know I am going to rattle some Slayer fan’s cages with that statement, but in your heart you know it’s true.
9.5. You won’t find anything groundbreaking in the lyrics department, but Testament to treat the metal standard topics of war, destruction, murder, and the apocalypse with gusto. “Three days in darkness” uses the Mayan Calendar of 2012 Doom as inspiration for its take on the end ov the world (ov worms) and is pretty fucking cool. “Eyes of wrath” deals that most metal of topics, serial killers. “True believer” is about, you guessed it, being evil! Overall, the lyrics are pretty fucking cool, even though they stick to standard metal subjects.
8. While the band has changed members and sounds over the years, the Testament logo has stayed the same. While something a bit more evil would have gone along nicely with the cover, I give the band credit for maintaining the logo and keeping some sense of continuity.
9. Evil women blended together in a red hue makes me think of Hell, or a marathon of The Rachel Maddow Show. Either way, I like the cover here quite a bit. It is unique and definitely eye-catching.
N/A: My old roommate gave me his copy of “The Gathering”. I would go ask him for the booklet, but he is now a pussy-whipped douche that can rot in hell.
Overall and ending rant
If I remember correctly, and with a brain heavily damaged by drug and alcohol use over the years I find that highly unlikely, Lumberjergens gave “Teh Gathering” a perfect 10 a few years back. I rate things slightly lower only because there are a few moments where the songs are a notch below perfect, but still highly enjoyable. This is an awesome record and something the band should always keep in mind when forming setlists. Besides a few misses, Testament’s discography is solid but I can say with 99% certainly that this is the record to own, even including the band’s 80’s output which is also primo stuff. Only one or two songs on “The Gathering” can’t be described as excellent. The production, musicianship, and songwriting are all ace. While the current version of Testament, with three members from the 80’s glory days back on board, is doing pretty fucking well, I for one would love to see “The Gathering” line-up back together at least for one last go ‘round. Smalley loves this record, Lumberjack loves this record, and most importantly I love this record. What more do you need to hear?
- Released: 1999
- Label: Spitfire
- Website: www.Testamentlegions.com
- Chuck Billy: vocals
- Eric Peterson: guitar
- James Murphy: guitar
- Steve DiGiorgio: bass
- Dave Lombardo: drums
- 01. D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)
- 02. Down for Life
- 03. Eyes of Wrath
- 04. True Believer
- 05. 3 Days in Darkness
- 06. Legions of the Dead
- 07. Careful What You Wish For
- 08. Riding the Snake
- 09. Allegiance
- 10. Sewn Shut Eyes
- 11. Fall of Sipledome