Has it really been 4 years since Testament came back with a vengeance with their last release, Formation of Damnation? It sure doesn’t feel like it. But here we are in 2012 and the latest release, Dark Roots of Earth has been unleashed upon the world. I’d like to first say that the security on Dark Roots was unmatched from any other metal release. No promos were ever released and the usual suspects for leaks had no record of this. That says something about the anticipation of a successful record when bloggers and the public are on even keel and the label (in this case Nuclear Blast) does what it needs to do for maximum return. It drove me crazy as Testament is easily my favorite thrash band of the past twenty years and I wanted to hear this thing really bad, but we’ll have to see what the numbers are like as a result of high security. So is Dark Roots of Earth worth all that security placed upon it?
That depends on what type of Testament listener you are. One of the great things about Testament is that they put together massive and heavy songs and no two albums are ever the same. They will flirt with old styles but you know exactly what song is on what album and Dark Roots is no exception. Now as an admitted fanboy, it would be easy to play grab ass on here and give the album 12 out of 10 stars and practically jerk off to the band but I will try to be as honest as I can as we do a track by track breakdown for the first time in a long time by me. This was hugely anticipated by myself and Scott and Harley (who will be doing their own review) so it deserves to be analyzed a bit better then the usual review by me. So here we go.
1. Rise Up: Out of the gate is a song that is sure to be on the rotation during the current tour. It’s fast as shit with master drummer Gene Hoglan making his presence felt on this recording after not appearing since 1997’s Demonic. This track is anthemic, vicious, and catchy as hell. “When I say rise up you say war” is sure to get the crowd in a pitting frenzy.
2. Native Blood: This tune is Native American power to it’s fullest. Chuck Billy is definitely trying to light a fire under the ass of his brethren. This is one of the few times where Testament goes with the tough guy route but it’s more then that. It’s pride and independence. Another track highlighted by Eric Peterson’s distinct rhythms with temp shifts from groove to thrash as it’s meant to be played.
3. Dark Roots of the Earth: The title track is a slow paced song that flirts with being a ballad then punishes you on the chorus. It’s highlighted by Alex Skolnick’s soulful soloing through the the first half of the track and then he shows his estimable shred ability near the end. This is one of the better slower paced songs in Testament’s catalog as it constantly changes pace and keeps you interested.
4. True American Hate: By now you should have heard this song already as it was the first track released. The fastest song on the album in terms of speed playing and one of the few times Chuck Billy employs his borderline death vox. Apparently the band has received some flack for employing blast beats on this album and I’m assuming it’s for this song. Who cares? It’s not just reserved for just death and black metal and Gene Hoglan has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants as long as it sounds good and this does. Another song sure to be on a set list.
5. A Day in the Death: This track opens up with a killer bass line by Greg Christian. But then sort of treads filler material. It’s not a bad song but is not particularly memorable.
6. Cold Embrace: This is pretty much a ballad that reminds me a bit of Return to Serenity but if Chad Gray of Mudvayne was singing the verses but then Chuck’s more distinct vocals do kick in on the second half. This is the longest track on the album clocking in at almost 8 minutes. I’ve never been a huge fan of Testament’s ballads and this song does feel like it’s run time is about 3 minutes too long.
7. Man Kills Mankind: Another ripping thrash tune. Testament sure does not like war or American politics which is evident in half of these songs. Can’t say as I blame them. The vocal performance on this track is vicious. Pure thrash song though the chorus is a bit too repetitive.
8. Throne of Thorns: Song begins mild then builds up and reminds me of the intro to Burning Times. This song is as epic as the title suggests and probably one of the tracks I was waiting for in terms of heaviness and aggression. Think in terms of D.N.R. or Let Go of My World.
9. Last Stand For Independence: Final track of the album and another ode to late 80’s or early 90’s Testament in style. It’s a ripping tune and a nice end to the album.
If you get the special edition digipack there are three cover songs of particular interest. Queens Dragon Attack, Scorpions Animal Magnetism, and Iron Maiden’s Powerslave. All three are entertaining as hell especially if you want to hear Testament heavy up Scorpions and Maiden.
So another solid release by the guys. Testament would be hard pressed to disappoint and do not do so on this album. I do have to say my enjoyment level was not as high as in previous albums dating back to Low. Significantly lacking is Chuck Billy’s death style vox which I think he mastered and became his strong suit. But his vocals are still powerful and are the heart of the band. When I said earlier that Testament never repeats themselves that is certainly true but for the first time I was reminded of one particular album more then once and that was the Ritual. While the Ritual is a sentimental favorite as it introduced me to the band, I still prefer later Testament albums due to the power and aggression they displayed. There were songs that attempted to fall in that category but just didn’t quite hold the same appeal for me for some reason.
Make no mistake, this album will still be on my rotation for the rest of the year but most likely I’ll still continue to dig up past releases for my Testament fix. Is it the top thrash album of the year? That’s going to be close considering competition from Kreator and Overkill. We’ll have to see how that plays out on the year end lists. Meanwhile go out and grab yourself a copy of Dark Roots of Earth and support the best thrash band today, in my opinion.
As a special treat here is the just released official video for the track ‘Native Blood’ followed by the lyric video for ‘True American Hate’. Enjoy.