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Testament: Dark roots of earth

24/08/12  ||  Smalley

By this point, anything Testament’s likely to release will be rejected by the haters, but welcomed by their hardcore fanbase, regardless of much actual effort they put into the album in question. Ouch, right? Yeah, sorry to start this one off on such a harsh note, but it’s just what I’m feelin’. I mean, I know they’re relatively easy to defend since they don’t put out shit like “St. anger”, and then still go multi-platinum (which is more than Testament’s ever sold), but I still can’t deny that, for the most part, their last record kinda bored me. We waited 9 years for that??

Fortunately for us, “Dark roots of earth” is arriving in a faster, almost-timely fashion, but even if it had taken another 9 years, I still wouldn’t be that upset, since it is a step up from the likes of “The formation of damnation”. Not a huge step, mind you, and it doesn’t take the crown as Testament’s New Best Album Ever, but I’m still pretty pleased by what I’m hearing here. Not fully pleased though, so the truth lies somewhere inbetween the detractors and the fanboys; the “pleased” part is explained by the stronger hits-to-misses ratio on “roots”, and no doubt, while there are some duds here (which we’ll get to in due time), compared to the inconsistency of “Formation”, Testament is definitely more consistent with their songwriting this time ‘round.

Tracks like “Native blood”, “True american hate”, “A day in the death” and others, are pretty catchy, entertaining thrash, nothing quite spectacular, but still with enough variation to keep us engaged all the way, and done in a style that serves as a solid middle ground between the traditional thrash of classic Testament, and the more extreme tendencies of the post-Ritual records. It’s the same sort of mix of elements ranging from all throughout Test’s career that “Formation” had, but done with enough added urgency/catchiness here to please enough, and all done in that recognizably Testament sort of style. When it comes to the more memorable moments here, I particularly like the methodical pacing of the title track, the threatening main riff on “True american hate”, and the unexpectedly passionate, intense chorus of “A day in the death”. Granted, there’s a noticeable bit of quality-wavering to the good songs here (read: not all of ‘em are quite as good as the cream of the crop), but the majority of the record is still satisfactory.

Performances-wise, despite his already-formidable reputation, Alex Skolnick is still unexpectedly expressive, energetic, and virtuosic with his playing here (srsly, this may be his finest all-around playing to date!). Hot dayum. Speaking of instrumental icons, skinsman-for-hire Gene Hoglan, gets to let loose speed-wise during some of the faster sections here. He ain’t “Overactive imagination”-fast or anything, but is still plenty energetic, and also does enough interesting fills to satisfy on that front. Vocals-wise, Chuck does the same sort of raspy singing as last time, along with some true blue death growling, albeit with a reduced amount of the latter, if memory serves me right. Bummer. Still, I do dig his stuff here pretty well. And, on the production front, this is another Sneap job, so it has that glossy-rusty sharpness (it’s hard to put into words…) to the guitars that he loves so much. It does work, but I kinda wish the guy would switch up his sounds a lil’ more. Not a biggie issue, though.

But alas, the “somewhat” part of my “somewhat pleased” statement is explained by the duds on “roots”, which total up to a solid third of the entire album. First, despite some tasty shredding, opener “Rise up” is done in by a lack of urgency, as well as a tiresome call-and-response chorus of “When I say rise up, you say war/Rise up, WAR!!!/Rise up, WAR!!!”. Chucky boy, just leave the C&R shit to the rappers, they know how to make it work. Despite a moody intro, “Cold embrace” continues Testament’s dry spell of no good heavy ballads since “Trail of tears”, with awkward, tuneless clean vocals, predictable songwriting, and an overstaying of its welcome with the running time, but then again, what do you expect from a song they wanted to pitch for the Twilight series (not kidding; read the 4th paragraph down). And finally, “Man kills mankind” disappoints with boring verses, and an overall disjointed songwriting flow.

Anyway, all in all, if “Dark roots of earth” had been Testament’s direct follow-up to “The gathering” (one of their best!), I would probably be going a lot harder on it, but we may never hear them return to the blistering deathrash of that album, nor will we probably hear another vintage “new order”-style effort again, so if you’re open to enjoying some “purer” styled, but still modern thrash metal, “Dark roots of earth” is a solid effort. The disappointing third, plus the lack of any truly great songs, does take the final score down one notch, but repeated listens have helped me warm up to the status of “roots” as decent middle-aged thrash, so to speak, and gotten rid of a lot of my initial disappointment. Ultimately, this is a step in the right direction from their last effort, and while there is still room for improvement, I choose to be a glass half-full person, and encourage the band along their current path. First strike still deadly indeed.

7,5

  • Information
  • Released: 2012
  • Label: Nuclear Blast
  • Website: www.testamentlegions.com
  • Band
  • Chuck Billy: vocals
  • Alex Skolnick: guitars
  • Greg Christian: bass
  • Eric Peterson: guitars
  • Gene Hoglan: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Rise Up
  • 02. Native Blood
  • 03. Dark Roots Of Earth
  • 04. True American Hate
  • 05. A Day In The Death
  • 06. Cold Embrace
  • 07. Man Kills Mankind
  • 08. Throne Of Thorns
  • 09. Last Stand For Independence