With a career that began as powerfully as TESTAMENT’s did, it was only logical that the band would have to falter at some point. With a somewhat disappointing album like “The Ritual” that focused too much on being listener friendly it was only right that TESTAMENT would feel a need to change. Thusly, “Low” arrived in our hands. A change in the style and direction for the band but a redemptive album of sorts that steered away from the path that “The Ritual” was headed. “Low” may not have some of the qualities that made TESTAMENT such a force to begin with, but its ferocity and conviction make it a great listen anyway.
One will notice right away that the band have changed their sound a bit. Adding in quite a bit of Death Metal influences to the mix, TESTAMENT come out of the door roaring on this album. Part of what made was made TESTAMENT such a great listen on earlier albums was the weaving guitar chemistry of their music, but “Low” tends to forego this aspect and move towards a bit more simplistic yet straightforward approach to their songwriting. The leads and solos are still there but many of them take a back seat to the monster riffs that powerhouse their way on the album. Perhaps this is due to the loss of Alex Skolnick from the guitar line-up and addition of James Murphy too, but either way that is how the album tends to go about things.
Also adding to the Death Metal touches is vocalist Chuck Billy. This time around he diversifies his vocals a bit more by adding in guttural Death Metal bellows. As it turns out, he is quite capable of doing this. It appears more as an addition to his Thrash screams and some of his higher register vocals and adding on his still relevant singing voice (the ballad “Trail Of Tears” displays this nicely) it would seem as though Billy is only expanding his range with time. If one would like a nice display of his Death Metal roar then just simply listen to “Dog Faced Gods” which is as close to Death Metal as the band gets on “Low”.
The rest of the band follows suit to these two elements nicely and the lack of blast beats on this album does keep it from flowing freely into the Death Metal realm. The increased presence of bass in the mix does compliment the newer more brutal sounding TESTAMENT nicely and there is a nice little bass break in the instrumental track “Urotsukidoji” even if the instrumental is one of the weaker points of the album.
This is a great album for the band and although it tends to have more filler than any of their other albums (it just simply falls off its high horse towards the end) the first few songs are monster pieces of modern Thrash Metal. TESTAMENT is updating their sound quite nicely with the times and “Low” shows how well they can manage the task. Adding in the more brutal side makes this a unique listen in the catalog and quite the turn around from “The Ritual”.
Songs to check out: “Low”, “Dog Faced Gods”, “Trail Of Tears”.
(Online February 11, 2009)