Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2. Testament Dark Roots Of The Earth

Testament - Dark Roots Of The Earth

There are few bands who still play honest to God thrash metal anymore, choosing instead to include some thrash elements into Metal Core. These bands, however, lack the ferocity and overall sonic aggression that thrash bands have always had.  

The best thrash bands out there have been honing their craft for decades.  The Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) all still carry the thrash flag as do Brazilian Death Metal pioneers Sepultura, however, what about the L.A. based band that should have insured there was a Big 5 of heavy metal instead of 4, but just couldn’t seem to get out of the huge shadows cast by their peers?  The band in question is an excellent outfit called Testament.  2012 saw the release of their 10th studio album called Dark Roots of the Earth.  Released on Nuclear Blast records, this album is an all out sonic assault spanning 12 tracks on the vinyl, 13 tracks on the deluxe cd and 14 tracks on the iTunes version.  This album sees Testament performing at a level that has not been seen since 1991’s masterpiece Souls of Black.  

The musicianship of this album is solid and tight, going anywhere from delicate picking of the title track to the bone crushing gallop of Rise up and True American Hate.  Alex Skolnik provides most of the writing for guitar on this album and rounded out by rhythm guitarist Alex Peterson.  Skolnik was a student and Protégé of guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani.  The drumming duties on this record left me nervous before I heard the finished product.  Rather than waiting for longtime drummer Paul Bostaph, who has been recovering from an injury they recruited Gene Hoglan.  Hoglan  is best known for his work with acts Dark Angel, Death, Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend, Fear Factory, Opeth, Unearth and most recently Dethklok.  When it came time for the recording of the album, Bostaph stated he was not ready to record or tour.  Rather than wait for him, the nod was given to include Hoglan in the lineup.  His drumming on the album far exceeded my expectations giving them speed and urgency that haven’t been part of the band in a long time.  The drumming punctuation on lines such as “God of war, fire born, crown of thorns, no remorse” add ferocity to the lyrics that has long been missing in Testament’s recorded work.  What sets Testament apart from their peers is their unapologetic lyrical delivery.  Chuck Billy has been the voice of Testament for it’s entire recording career.  His gruff vocals and earth rumbling growls feel like home on this album.  The lyrics of the album range from political and social rage post 9/11 in the track True American Hate to the plight of the American Indians in the US in the stellar Native Blood to fantasy lyrics that would find themselves at home in any of Peter Jackson’s intricate Lord of the Rings movies by way of the title track Dark Roots of the Earth.

For those who are unfamiliar with Testament’s work, they provide a level of guitar technicality  on par with Metallica and Megadeth, but can dissolve into speed of light thrash familiar to fans of Slayer and Sepultura.  They are a band who should have achieved greater commercial success in their nearly three decades playing music, but just were never able to capture the appeal that many of their peers have enjoyed.  This in no way means that they do not enjoy successful album sales and sold out shows.  They are a staple in the European touring circuit and enjoy a loyal and rabid fan base in their United States.

This album boasts 12 tracks that in no way require any skipping to get to the next track.  This was an album meant for the vinyl format, with a solid listening experience from beginning to end. 

The vinyl itself is a standard 120 gram LP in a double gatefold cover.  The vinyl itself is a greenish gold color with black streaks coming from the center.  The coloration itself is almost identical to Anthrax’s 2011 release Worship Music.  The album’s lyrics are printed on the LP sleeves in the gatefold as well full color artwork and band photos in the inside of the gatefold.  For those who got rid of their turntables years ago or aren’t old enough to see them other than a cool throwback novelty, the deluxe cd includes an additional track and a DVD featuring concert footage of the band throughout the years. 

The iPod generation will also enjoy an iTunes exclusive track featuring Chris Adler from Lamb of God on drums. 

Overall, this record ranks at #2 of the best releases of 2012 to me.  This is a solid release that has gotten better with every single spin.  This is a rarity in an album these days since the a la carte song at a time iTunes generation has made this unnecessary.  Pick this one up, you won’t regret it.

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