After the imperishable dent left in TESTAMENTís otherwise fairly solid discography by the soporific attempt at Death Metal that was "Demonic", TESTAMENT had quite a bit to prove. "Demonic" reached unfathomable levels of drek, levels usually reserved for bands like SLIPKNOT and TRIVIUM. Clearly, the pressure was on them to make a name for themselves yet again. "The Gathering" was the album that was going to do that. Aside from TESTAMENT mainstays Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson, "The Gathering" was to be recorded by a lineup consisting of guitarist James Murphy, fretless bass virtuoso Steve DiGiorgio and legendary SLAYER skinsman Dave Lombardo. This was going to be the comeback to end all comebacks, and it many ways it was.
"The Gathering" doesnít revert TESTAMENT to their original Thrash Metal sound, and a groove-based sound continues to dominate the music. Unlike the "rocks in your shoes" nature of "Demonic", however, "The Gathering" doesnít weigh itself down with a mound of imperishable, sludgy riffs. Instead, the element of speed is re-introduced, an element that shouldnít have departed from TESTAMENT to begin with. Be it the magnificent opener, "D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)", the Death/Thrash hybrid "Legions Of The Dead" or the relentless wall of neck-breaking groove that is "Down For Life", this album has speed by the balls. Granted, it does let go for some of the less spectacular moments on the album ("Careful What You Wish For", "True Believer"), and there are only a couple guitar solos to be found throughout, but the majority of the album is memorable to say the least.
"The Gathering" may still have a predominantly groove-based sound, but it is overrun with the type of groove that sends you into a frenzy of windmill headbanging and gives you a relentless urge to mosh. Think PANTERAís "Five Minutes Alone". There are even a few moments of genuine Thrash Metal scattered throughout. These are quite refreshing, albeit brief when held against the albumís groove-central theme. The guitar riffs are repetitious, as expected, but they actually qualify as memorable riffs. Gone are the viscous guitar churns of "Demonic", and in their place are plenty of infectious guitar riffs that maintain a level of heaviness far beyond anything TESTAMENT had produced up to that point.
The growled vocals used by Chuck Billy throughout the "Demoic" album are far more sporadic this time around. While they make their presence on songs like "Sewn Shut Eyes" and "Legions Of The Dead", the majority of Billyís performance is similar to his performance on "Low", relentlessly gritty and screamed with a respectable level of emotion.
The man who deserves the most credit for his performance on this album is Dave Lombardo. When a song calls for it, he can pound away at his kit relentlessly without a single strain. The monstrous production job allows for every facet of his performance to ring in as clear as a bell, and it sounds stunning. Steve DiGiorgio, on the other hand, doesnít do a whole lot other than follow the guitar riffs for the entirety of the album. Because of his otherwise stellar career, DiGiorgioís playing isnít anything remotely compelling.
At its time of release in 1999, "The Gathering" was TESTAMENTís best studio effort since 1990's "Souls Of Black". Instead of expanding on the formula established by "Demonic" (or dressing up a piece of shit so to speak), they discarded it in favour of something with a little more speed and a lot more life.
(Online May 3, 2008)