TESTAMENT has always been an underdog of sorts. They never could quite kick it to the level of the Big Four and even with their spectacular return to the scene after years of mishaps and setbacks on “The Formation Of Damnation” – there were the naysayers against the great material that this band consistently releases. For those of you who basked in the modern Thrash brilliance of the previously mentioned release, you will be happy to know that the band’s style remains in that same tone albeit with a bit more diversity this time around.
“Dark Roots Of Earth," technically their eleventh full-length studio recorded album, is simply a beast. Although it’s not quite as tight as their previously mentioned return to the Thrash fold, it’s a massively diverse and epic sounding record. Even though the band stumbles a few times with the song lengths (like the rather burdensome ballad “Cold Embrace” which would have made a very nice three-minute acoustic break in the middle of the album but instead turns into a seven-and-a-half-minute drag along), the fact that their abilities to write such a diverse amount of music within the confines of their defined TESTAMENT sound is just that – testament to their talents. The band is simply firing on all cylinders right now and the melodic touches on the melancholic title track or the great vocal work on “A Day In The Death” justify much of their broadening artistic merits.
As if the band wasn’t strong enough as songwriters, their performances are only top of the line. After an initial and very Thrashy statement on “Rise Up” with its distinctly live influenced call and response chorus of group chants, TESTAMENT goes for the throat by writing strong and very melodic material. Skolnick and Peterson trade off riffs and leads like it was the most natural thing to do spicing each song with some stunning solos and ripping technical work. The band has always had great guitarists, but this duo still pumps out the best material. This is balanced out with a solid bass thumping and an even more of a melodic and deep vocal performance from Chuck Billy (that includes a few growls on “True American Hate” and a few spoken word parts for variety). There is also a glorious guest performance from the legendary Gene Hoglan on the drum kit. His presence is really a driving force on the record and whether it’s the blast beats or more subdued style on the record’s ballad he is a welcome addition. All of this combined is further proof of why TESTAMENT shouldn’t be the underdog they are in the bigger scheme of things.
“Dark Roots Of Earth” might not be a perfect album with some overlong tracks, but it’s still impressive and one of the best in 2012. The performances are stunning technical works of Thrash and the band is writing some of the best material of their career at this point. It’s a great starting place for those new to the band and one more great release to add to their already impressive discography…only further proving that TESTAMENT should have been part of the mainstream 20 years ago.
Songs to check out: “Rise Up”, “True American Hate”, “Throne Of Thorns.”
(Online July 31, 2012)