Metal Wani has started a new feature called “Best to Worst”, where we take a look at the catalog from major metal bands and give our thoughts on the best to the worst. For this installment, I took a look at the catalog from one of my favorite metal bands, Testament. This Bay Area thrash band has stood the test of time, and continues to create outstanding metal music to the delight of fans around the world. With their new album ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ set for release on October 28, 2016, it is a perfect time to reflect on their masterful collection of metal.
‘The New Order’ (1988)
While I absolutely love ‘The Legacy’, to me, this album is Testament at their best. What they did so well on this album, and continue to do, is blend melodic and artistically rich guitar solos with technically devastating riffs into bone-crushing anthems. Testament has always seemed to be underrated in terms of their impact on thrash music. Sure, Metallica, Slayer, and Megadave where pioneers, but bands like Testament and Forbidden turned thrash into classical compositions of blazing riff insanity. Key cuts off this gem are “Into The Pit”, and “Trail By Fire” with its dazzling solo. A special note needs to be made on the outstanding cover of Aerosmith’s “Nobody’s Fault”, which puts the Testament stamp on a great classic rock jam.
‘The Legacy’ (1987)
This album introduced the world of thrash to a new level of heaviness. While many lame-asses were drooling over the return of crotch rock with Guns N Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’, I was listening to Alex Skolnick take inspiration from Randy Rhoads to create a new class of neoclassical shred. As I previously mentioned, it was a tough call between this album and ‘The New Order’ for top honors. Listening again as I was writing this piece, I switched back and forth so many damn times that I lost count. In any case, this album is loaded with quality songs that prove that Eric Peterson is one of the best riff masters of all time. Key cuts on this album are “Curse of the Legions of Death” which borrows a bit from Slayer and Metallica but blows both bands away, and “Burnt Offerings” with all its glorious Phrygian madness.
‘Dark Roots of Earth’ (2012)
The most recent album from Testament is a jewel, which finds the band returning to the riff-laden roots of their early work and finding a way to make it heavier. If anything, the songwriting on ‘Dark Roots…’ is some of Testament’s best. Peterson and Skolnick are one of the best guitar duos in metal, and this album is evidence of that. Plus, it doesn’t hurt when you play with Gene Hoglan on drums. The man is a god behind the kit, going from the sublime to the supreme within a four-count. This album also finds Chuck Billy utilizing the full dynamics of his voice: from graveled grit to death howls, Chuck commands each song and is particularly inspiring on “Native Blood”. Other key cuts are “True American Hate” and “Throne of Thorns”, with riffs so full of hooks that they could flay skin. And let’s not even get into the amazing cover of Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave”.
‘Formation of Damnation’ (2008)
This was Testament’s ninth album, marking the return of Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian. Like most Testament fans, I was extremely eager for this album, as it had been nearly eight years since they had released any original material. ‘First Strike Still Deadly’ was cool, but it wasn’t new. This album featured a retooled Testament, with the band moving back to the mix of melodic thrash that made them great. To top things off, Chuck Billy had fully recovered from his cancer, and was ready to tear into new material that captured his vocal prowess. Choice cuts on this album include the vociferous “Henchmen Ride”, and the title track with Chuck’s guttural vocal attack.
‘The Gathering’ (1999)
I was torn between this album and ‘Formation of Damnation’ regarding the placement in this list. It was a flip of the coin, because both albums are equally enjoyable to listen to, yet have distinctively different stylings. This album featured the legendary Dave Lombardo on drums and Steve DiGiorgio on bass. There is no mistaking the impact of Lombardo on tunes such as “D.N.R.”, “Legions of the Dead”, and “Fall of Sipledome” as his snapping snare and withering double kick give this album a huge dose of power. The death metal leanings of Eric Peterson and James Murphy also add to the aggressive delivery of metal.
I will be honest: I wasn’t if I would like a Testament album without my guitar hero, Alex Skolnick. However, when I heard that death metal titan James Murphy was teaming up with Eric Peterson, I was ready to give this album a listen. You can feel a bit of death metal influence in Chuck’s voice; however the music has more of a Pantera feel, with groovy riffs and breakdowns. James’s guitar playing is distinctive with a lot of wah-wah accents and slippery licks. Tasty cuts on this one include “Hail Mary”, “Dog Faced Gods”, and “Chasing Fear”.
‘Souls of Black’ (1990)
With the era of hair metal finally coming to an end, it was good to see Testament sticking to what they know best. This album saw the band playing heavy and technically rich music. Sure, this album has a ballad on it, but even that song is well done with Greg Christian adding some nice bass work. The only real problem with this album is that I found myself listening to either ‘The New Order’ or ‘The Legacy’ instead. The songwriting is great, yet I had hoped for them to push the envelope. Stand-out tracks are “Souls of Black” and “Love To Hate”.
‘Practice What You Preach’ (1989)
There is nothing really wrong with this album. Just like ‘Souls of Black’, it features tried and true songwriting with plenty of headbanging riffs and phenomenal phrasing on the solos by Alex Skolnick. Take one listen to the solo on the title track, and your jaw drops at the melodic composition and impeccable technical chops. Yet, when I compare this album to the others in my list, there just are not enough phenomenal tunes to push it up higher. Testament did receive a good deal of buzz for “The Ballad” when it was released, though. It is a fine song with a great acoustic intro, but I do not find myself going back to listen to this album over and over. Shout-out cuts on this album include “Practice What You Preach” and “Sins of Omission”.
‘The Ritual’ (1992)
Testament made a big shift in their sound on this album. The amazing solos of Alex were still intact, but the songwriting was completely different. Instead of beautifully articulate and technical riffs, the band went with a more traditional hard rock / metal formula. The songs are fine, if you were listening to Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, or Y&T. With the exception of “Agony”, all the songs are honestly pedestrian. This album’s melodic songs are great, but it just didn’t live up to what I expected from Testament.
When I first heard that Gene Hoglan and Glen Alvelais would be on this album, I nearly loaded my pants. Hoglan had just come off working with Strapping Young Lad on ‘City’, and Glen Alvelais played guitar on ‘Forbidden Evil’ from Forbidden. The playing on this album is masterful, and Chuck’s vocals are punishing with death metal inflection, but in the end. the songs are just lacking. The technical riffs and mind-blowing solos are replaced with sludgy grooves that just don’t work. I mean, the tune “John Doe” is horrible with run-of-the-mill progressions and a less-than-memorable solo. You almost think that “Ten Thousand Thrones” will be the one saving grace on this album, and then it takes a big dump on the whole affair. There are no key cuts on this one.
That wraps up my take on the Testament catalog. While not every album is a gem, the overall work of this band is outstanding. When I think of the very best in metal, I think Testament. While other founders of thrash and metal have lost their way, Testament have withstood the tests of time and flourished. Their new music rivals the best they have ever done, and they just keep getting better. I can’t wait to hear what they have in store for us with ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ coming in October.