Testament: The formation of damnation
05/09/11 || Smalley
If you’ve been following the metal community for the past few years, then you almost certainly know that 2008’s “The formation of damnation” is a divisive record (hey, kind of like ‘The ritual’ we’ve come full circle, people!!!). Anyway, while I came down on the positive side of “The ritual”‘s divide, it’s the polar opposite for me with “TFOD”; coming almost a full decade after Testament’s previous full length (the awesome “The gathering”), “formation” saw the band losing some of the death metal influences they accrued during the 90’s for a more straightforward modern thrash style, with a correspondingly polished production, but with songwriting that, for the most part, lacks real spirit.
I admit, intro track “For the glory of…” is kind of cool, with a nice feeling of controlled chaos and tension to start off the album, but then comes “More than meets the eye”, an okay attempt at a galloping, mid-tempo thrasher that entertained me when it first leaked, but soon sounded more and more unremarkable upon repeated listens. Bostaph’s drumming is pretty nifty, the production’s good, and Chuck Billy’s vocals have a nice, raspy edge to ‘em (though without being really death-y) but the core songwriting is just too safe to intrigue, especially compared to a truly furious opener like “D.N.R.”. “More than…” just feels to me like a song Testament didn’t really care about doing, but made anyway so that the label would have a lil’ listener-friendly radio biscuit to release as a single, and make a video full of stupid CGI for. It isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really leave a mark, which goes for the most of the rest of “damnation” as a whole.
However, follow-up “The evil has landed”, despite some dated lyrics about 9/11, still manages to satisfy with its slower, catchier verse riffing, compelling chorus, and overall more menacing feel, and although I think “Henchman ride” still could’ve been more interesting than it is, still has an enjoyable drive and a gang-vocals chorus to it that I dig.
But besides those, well… c’mon Testament, seriously?? Those are the only entertaining cuts you put on this one? Sadly, the answer is yes, as both the title track and “The persecuted won’t forget” both feel like half-assed afterthoughts that Test threw as bones to everyone who wanted the furious tempos and growl-ier vocals of “The gathering”, while “Dangers of the faithless” induces comas with its idiotically-muddled vocals and zombie-like pacing during the verses, with a half-hearted chorus on top of it all as another insult to the listener, because why the hell not, right?
“Killing season” flounders with more uninteresting riffs and formulaic songwriting, then “Afterlife” comes as a laughably hokey, milquetoast tribute to Chuck’s late dad, complete with “My old man” lyrics. What happened to your fucken attitude, Testament?? Paper tiger “F.E.A.R.” (standing for “false evidence appearing real”; clever!) tries to puff its chest out with wannabe-thrashy verses, only to quickly lose whatever “momentum” it had going with another fucking boring, unimaginative chorus, then misguided album closer “Leave me forever” (exactly what I’d like to do with this record, haha) brings it all to an ignominious end, with a whiny, pathetic attempt at a “lost love” power ballad, with more stupidly-muddled vocalwork.
So what we’re left with here is mostly just a pile of half-hearted throwbacks to “The gathering”‘s unique death/thrash style, or safe, generic, modern thrash that lacks true urgency or inspiration, with a few insincere, heavy “ballads” left over, further souring the deal. To boot, instead of songwriting that flows organically, it feels way too much like Testament wrote this one according to a formula; put a breakdown here, a bridge there, and so on, whether or not they fit in the song or not, resulting in some awkward, mis-matched songs. It seems the big hype about the band’s classic lineup returning (minus Louie Clemente on the skins) was grossly misplaced, seeing as how Test was writing far more effective, interesting stuff beforehand, “classic” lineup or not.
Performance-wise, everything here’s fine; Chuck’s vocals still sound good, with a nice balance of the raspy stuff and death-y growls (though less of the latter than I wanted), Eric Peterson’s rhythm work is good, and Skolnick’s soloing is still good (though hardly his best), but some good performances can’t save unengaging material. There’s really only one truly bad song here, so I won’t be too harsh in my final score, and I did enjoy about 2 & 1/2 songs (counting “For the glory of…” as half), but the rest of it is just so uninteresting, I still can’t say this is that far away from being flat-out mediocre. Hopefully, I’ll be able to chalk this one up as the band just going through withdrawal shakes after 9 years and a (happily) victorious bout with cancer. Anyway, I know roughly half the people who read this are going to be pissed, but I still have the other half to agree with, so start up yer whining already if you’re gonna.
- Released: 2008
- Label: Nuclear Blast
- Website: www.testamentlegions.com
- Chuck Billy: vocals
- Alex Skolnick: guitars
- Eric Peterson: guitars
- Greg Christian: bass
- Paul Bostaph: drums
- 01. For The Glory of…
- 02. More Than Meets the Eye
- 03. The Evil Has Landed
- 04. Formation Of Damnation
- 05. Dangers Of The Faithless
- 06. The Persecuted Won’t Forget
- 07. Henchman Ride
- 08. Killing Season
- 09. Afterlife
- 10. F.E.A.R.
- 11. Leave Me Forever