The 1990s was somewhat of an awkward time for TESTAMENT. Their 1992 release, "The Ritual" was a fairly drastic stylistic change from their earlier work and showed the band watering down their sound to adhere to a crowed engulfed in the radio-ready hits of an album like METALLICAís self-titled. Despite the eschewing of their original Thrash Metal sound, TESTAMENT failed to garner the attention of the mainstream public, and the band eventually succumbed to lineup instabilities. The TESTAMENT of yore was, sadly, no more. With a couple of new members on their roster, TESTAMENT released the album "Low" in 1994. "Low" was yet another large stylistic permutation, one that saw the band moving into a much heavier, albeit groove-oriented direction. While it was no masterpiece, "Low" was a solid album and a fairly innovative one to boot.
Then came "Demonic".
"Demonic" is like a rigidly austere neighbour who calls the police whenever you have a party; "Demonic" is the "New Coke" of TESTAMENTís discography; a spectacular failure if ever there was one, "Demonic" is a tedious excursion through a vacuous collection of monotonous songs bogged down by a consistently listless groove. Not to mention the fact that it was originally intended to be Chuck Billyís "Death Metal" (and I use the term extremely loosely) side project, but was released under the TESTAMENT name in an effort to be more widely known.
A common misconception about this album is that it is a Death Metal album. Sure, Chuck Billy sings some of his vocals in a deep roar similar to many Death Metal vocalists, but that alone isnít enough to make this a full-fledged Death Metal excursion. This is Death Metal in the same way that LAMB OF GOD is, in other words, Death Metal for people who donít know what Death Metal is. The guitar riffs (for lack of a better term) consist mainly of down-tuned, groove based chugs and genuine guitar solos are nonexistent. Guitarist Eric Peterson, who showed some promise on "Low", throws any concept of Thrash or Death Metal riffing out the window in exchange for some of the most mind-numbingly banal "guitar churns" put to disc.
As it is widely known, this period in TESTAMENTís career was dominated by a heavy, swaying groove sound, and "Demonic" is no exception. However, the music on "Demonic" isnít the type of groove that sends you spiralling into a whirlwind of violent energy; it isnít the kind of music that inspires headbanging or moshing which is one of Groove Metalís only major benefactors. Instead, the listener is mostly "treated" to riffs that are slow, riffs that could have been written by a guitar student only three weeks into his classes. Pretty sad considering the man in charge of the guitar work was one half of the team that wrote such memorable riffs as those found "Legacy" and "The New Order".
While the album as a whole is mostly drek, Gene Hoglanís drumming is a bright light at the end of the long, tedious tunnel. When a song calls for it, he performs some nice double bass work and his fills are inventive to a certain degree. Granted, music of this nature doesnít leave a whole lot of room for invention, but Holgan delivers a respectable performance.
Any TESTAMENT fan who hasnít been given the opportunity to listen to "Demonic" due to it being out of print has that chance with this snazzy re-release. However, I recommend you avoid it even now. Your money would be better spent buying three more copies of TESTAMENTís first album than it would be buying this.
(Online April 23, 2008)