I would make a very strong argument for TESTAMENT being one of, if not the, best Thrash band the genre has ever produced. Having maintained a level of consistency well above their peers, the band has remained largely unheard in recent times. While other ‘second tier’ thrash bands (KREATOR, EXODUS, OVERKILL, DESTRUCTION) have been busy over the last decade, industriously releasing some of the best albums of their careers, TESTAMENT have cropped up just two times in the last fifteen years, once in 1999 for, what I consider their crowning achievement, the devastating “The Gathering” and then almost a full decade later with phenomenal ‘comeback’ album “The Formation Of Damnation”. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of anticipation on my part regarding their new outing, “Dark Roots Of Earth”. However, nearly a month and countless listens later, I’m still scratching my head, trying to work out what all the fuss is about.
Lame promotional photos aside, what I am met with in “Dark Roots…” is a collection of uninteresting riffs, embarrassingly pedestrian lyrics and song structures that are unengaging and, quite simply, bad. Chuck Billy, who, I’ve always considered one the best Thrash vocalists in the business’s contribution is particularly weak. His vocals don’t sound anywhere near as powerful and inspiring as they should, and coupled with lyrics as off-putting as “Rise Up’s” call and response instruction, “Native Blood’s” amateurish call to posturing and, the single most inspired lyric since “my lifestyle determines my deathstyle”: “man kills mankind”. Otherwise, the band play a far slower and more reserved brand than can be found on their ‘recent’ output. While this is not necessarily a bad thing – I will be the first to defend the oft-criticized “The Ritual” as one of the best things the band has ever done – the result is tepid at best. The pompous “Cold Embrace” defies “The Day That Never Comes” to be worst Thrash ballad ever penned, and all the other songs here sound as if they were penned by a far lesser band still struggling to find their feet, let alone one of the best and most revered names in the game.
Moments of brief excitement come in the form of album closer, “Last Stand For Independence”, with its IRON MAIDEN “Back In The Village” cross MACHINE HEAD “Slanderous” tendencies - a song the album takes far too long getting around to that is still let down by Billy’s weak performance - and lead single “American Hate” – which I found less than impressive upon its preview release but here, surrounded by mundanity, stands out being one of the albums more aggressive attacks. Alex Skolnick is on fire as always, yet the tedious songs that surround them hardly justify waiting around for his solos. Returning champion, Gene Hoglan’s contribution is largely redundant, as he brings nothing more to the record than inappropriately employing the occasionally rattley blast-beat to obscure the odd uninspiring chorus here and there.
“Dark Roots…” is not the second coming the band’s last album signalled or the one seemingly all other reviewers would have you believe. It is an uninspired album, centred around a misplaced patriotism, that does nothing more than replace “Souls Of Black” as my least favourite TESTAMENT album.
(Online September 15, 2012)