Sometimes you just have to take a step back and breathe it all in. Thrash metal titans Testament are back with a vengeance with their latest release, Dark Roots of Earth. For my first few listens, I had issues with the album. I cannot lie. I liked what I heard, but it was not resonating with me. The album was intense, but lacked a certain something that I expect from a band as I highly regard as Testament. You have to remember that Testament is one of my favorite bands of all time. I have interviewed Chuck Billy on numerous occasions because of how much I dig the band.
So, here we are in 2012 and Testament can finally say that they are back. Issues that held them back in the past can be safely assumed as being in the rearview mirror. Between health issues, lineup changes, the supposed death of thrash and the resurgence of thrash, we have always known that Testament was with us. There were lean years where they could not even record new material because they simply could not afford to. Those years hurt me personally because I saw one of the bands that I adored getting disrected in the industry.
Testament’s last release was The Formation of Damnation and it was pretty much what we expected of them. The album was full of raw energy and was a middle finger in the air to any of their doubters. While I was not the biggest fan of Formation, I definitely liked it a lot. Like I said before, I hold them at such a high regard that I always want more. Of course, the band puts everything into every record. They leave nothing laying on the table. I am just a greedy little bastard.
With Dark Roots of Earth, we are treated to a modern version of a classic thrash band. Think of their best work from the 80s with a modern twist on it. The album is consistent to say the least. You cannot say that about too many thrash bands these days. I am not going to sit here and start calling out the bands that sold out as we all know who they are. If anything, Testament has found a way to keep it strong, but more intense than when they were at their hungriest.
For me, I have been a fan of all of their albums, even the ones that get crapped all over. Each album has at least a few standout tracks that I would love to hear live. With Dark Roots of Earth, there are plenty of standouts to call attention to. The album is divided up nicely with Testament’s signature variety in their sound and each sub-section of their work is represented fully on this release.
Whether you are looking for the mid-tempo groove-style thrash songs like Native Blood, A Day in the Death, or Man Kills Mankind, you have it here. Native Blood is an intense song with its amazing dual guitar harmonies. Sometimes you forget how important Alex Skolnick is to their sound. He shows it on Native Blood.
If you are looking for that Testament ballad, or semi-ballad (aren’t we all suckers for a Testament ballad?), that is represented here as well. Cold Embrace is reminiscent of Low’s Trail of Tears, which is highlighted by its beautiful acoustic guitar work and intense solo work.
If you are looking for an epic-style thrash anthem, that is well represented as well. You have Throne of Thorns and the title track, Dark Roots of Earth. These are both as epic as they come featuring climactic moments and build-ups to promises that are always made. You may even lump in the opening track, Rise Up, as another anthemic-type track. I imagine that this will quickly become a staple of Testament’s live shows.
The things that always excites me about bands like Testament is listening to their new albums and creating a setlist in my head of what the tour will sound like. How will the new album be represented (and accepted) and which classic tracks will make the cut. Of course, I always use wishful thinking and wonder which track they will dust off and play on tour. That is always the best part of every tour – when you get to hear a song that you either have never heard live or have not heard live in a long, long time.
I will admit that I am still on the fence with the Limited Edition version of the album. I am a completist, so it was a no-brainer for me to pick it up, but I am not sure what to think of it. The extended version of Throne of Thorns is not very extended. Their cover of Powerslave was somewhat of a letdown to me. I doubt that anyone could cover the classic Iron Maiden track and come close to it, but Testament’s version does not do it for me. Chuck is in rare form and makes an already evil song even more evil, but the break in the song does not come close to Maiden’s classic version. The solo is stellar, but not as strong as the original. What I will give them kudos on is that they tried to change it up a little. I will say that the more I listen to it, the more I get into it.
I am also a sucker for Queen covers, so I was stoked to see them cover one of Queen’s best songs, Dragon Attack. It is well represented by Testament, but lacks that heaviness that I would hope they would bring to the song.
Overall, two thumbs cannot go high enough for this one. Testament shall never die!
Dark Roots of Earth Track Listing:
1. Rise Up
2. Native Blood
3. Dark Roots Of Earth
4. True American Hate
5. A Day In The Death
6. Cold Embrace
7. Man Kills Mankind
8. Throne Of Thorns
9. Last Stand For Independence
Limited Edition Bonus Tracks:
10. Dragon Attack (Queen cover)
11. Animal Magnetism (Scorpions cover)
12. Powerslave (Iron Maiden cover)
13. Throne Of Thorns (Extended version)
Chuck Billy – Vocals
Eric Peterson – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Alex Skolnick – Guitars
Greg Christian – Bass
Gene Hoglan – Drums