TESTAMENT has never been one of the better bay area bands. Living in the shadows of the likes of METALLICA and MEGADETH, their material has ranged from average/mediocre to downright pitiful. Make no mistake, this is long after TESTAMENT lost the single most important component of their ability to rock: Alex Skolnick. Even with Skolnick this band was merely reaching par status but now that his guitar and riffs have long departed we are left with utterly forgettable Modern Half-Thrash which attempts to pose in the vein of the glory days. This is a far cry from 80’s Thrash and ultimately fails at compelling the listener to headbang and thus proves quite worthless.
Before I properly decapitate one of the most overrated releases of the 90’s, I will make a few positive points about this album. This album is certainly heavy. Not exactly “We Will Destroy…You Will Obey!” heavy, but certainly much more potent than the average Thrash release of this time period. Unfortunately, any capability to retain a sense of lethality and aggression is stripped away when the sterile digital production job is applied causing the guitars to come across as rather boring. The sound created is basically taking it down a notch, which has no place in Metal, much less Thrash. The drumming found here is solid as well and it may not be Lombardo’s best performance but he certainly proves he is still quite talented and still quite Metal. When the drumming is combined with Chuck Billy’s deep borderline Death Metal vocals one can easily see the two strongest points of the albums.
That is it. That is all TESTAMENT have to offer us, competent drumming and above-average vocals. Even Chuck Billy’s performance can not hold the album up as they do become somewhat monotonous and yawn-inducing after a half an hour of virtually no range. Even with the aforementioned problems the main parasite eating away at this album is found in the riff department (or lack thereof rather). There is virtually no emphasis placed on riffing and this is readily apparent as little to nothing comes across as readily memorable. “D.N.R.” and “Legions Of The Dead” boast competent main riffs but bear nothing truly remarkable. Many of the songs contained such watered down guitar-work any possibilities of a worldwide epidemic and people of dying of thirst is immediately disbarred. Listen to “Eyes Of Wrath” or “Riding The Snake” and then throw in MOP and listen to “Battery”. Any chance you will even remember either of the former songs even five minutes later? None whatsoever.
Not that it could ultimately make a difference, but “The Gathering” suffers from a general lack of solos as well. James Murphy is more than an able guitar player and it just leaves me scratching my head and wondering how such talent could fall flat on his face? Even when he makes himself known the solos and leads lack substance. This is just the final nail in the coffin which seals this albums fate and should have prompted the strategic placing of a sticker on the album cover which reads: “NOT THRASH, UTTERLY FORGETTABLE/BUY ‘DARKNESS DESCENDS’ AS WELL AS A FULL BODY CAST-you’ll need it-INSTEAD!”
This record does not live up to its hype in the least and should be immediately forgotten (which it inherently will be if listened to). Boring, below average Thrash which leaves you less than satisfied still containing that appetite for destruction. “The Gathering” just does not demand to be listened to so give it up and spend some effort to seek out actual quality, which I can assure you is still being produced. (Online June 28, 2005)