Style: Thrash Metal
Release Date: 3 Apr 2020
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Join any Facebook group with a focus on thrash metal and you'll quickly see that half the posts are about the Big Four and which other bands ought to be in there. Of course, it's fundamentally ridiculous because the Big Four were the most successful bands who brought the genre into the mainstream, rather than the first, the best, the most abiding or some other arbitrary category. I bring this up because, among the endless suggestions, the top two seem to always be Exodus, who were the first, and Testament.
Now, I've loved Testament from moment one. They were actually the first band I saw live, supporting Anthrax back in 1987. The Legacy was a mainstay on my record deck and it's still my favourite Testament album. However, I have to wonder why Testament are the one band who seem to have been elevated by fans out of the second wave to a stature alongside the originators, over just as worthy choices like Overkill, Death Angel and Flotsam and Jetsam.
I have to say, as a Testament fan, that it can't be the songs because one of the reasons why The Legacy is still my favourite album is because every one of the songs on it has as many hooks as it does riffs. I've enjoyed many of their albums since, including this one, but I just don't find myself singing along with anything on them. Overkill easily have the edge there. Even here, with a dozen tracks and a whole lot of aspects to praise, I'm listening, not joining in, even on clear candidates like The Healers or Code of Hammurabi.
That said, the latter is the closest I've heard Testament come to The Legacy in decades. It's engaging from its bass intro to its echoing outro and what comes in between is continually memorable. Eye for eye for eye!
It's more believable to say that it's the music, because Testament have been tight since day one and they keep getting tighter as what has clearly become THE technical thrash band. There are points all over this album that grabbed me, whether they be riffs, solos, changes, fills, whatever. The first minute of False Prophet is intricate, accurate and apparently effortless, enough to be a goal for thousands of musicians around the world to attempt to emulate. Here, it's just another minute of sixty.
Children of the Next Level starts the album out strong, the first of a trio of tracks over six minutes. It's fast, it's intricate and it shows just how good the mix is because it's easy to track any band member, often including Steve Di Giorgio on bass. WWIII is faster and features a more overt solo. A song called Dream Deceiver isn't quite the Judas Priest homage that we might expect but it's strong nonetheless. And so we go.
I think the main reason why Testament are the top name from the second wave for many is because of the line-up, which is many a thrash fan's dream. Alex Skolnick, who dates back to Legacy in 1983, has been back in the band since 2005 and his solos are at least a step above most of what you hear nowadays. I'm guessing that a lot of the unusual guitarwork is him too, because he has a varied taste. There's even psychedelic wailing here on songs like City of Angels and a lot more besides. Some of it may be Eric Peterson, who founded the band and has never left it, because he's apparently graduated from just rhythm to occasional lead.
Chuck Billy is an iconic frontman who's been with Testament as long as it's had that name, and he clearly has some fun here, building lines in Ishtar's Gate from whispers to shouts. Steve Di Giorgio may be the other guy in this list but he's been with Testament a decade and a half now and he's ably kept up with everyone else. He gets quite a lot to do here and it's great to hear the bassist's contribution any time, but especially when it's as good as his work on Titans of Creation.
And that leaves the Atomic Clock himself, Gene Hoglan, who began his second stint with the band in 2011. He's surely the most reliable drummer in thrash not named Dave Lombardo and, frankly, he seems to get closer with every disc he puts out. His work here is simply outstanding, to the degree that he kept on doing things that made me backtrack to check out what he just did and why it really isn't as easy as he makes it seem.
This is a good album, a really good album. Sure, it's not as catchy as some of Overkill's from last year and it's not as blistering as the 2019 Flotsam and Jetsam but it's good on a first listen and better with each further time through, not only to try to figure out how damn good Skolnick and Hoglan are and how well they work together on material like this. It still needs hooks though.