If the word “legends” is ever appropriate, then it’s an epithet that certainly applies to San Francisco’s finest ever thrash metal export Testament. This was a band who were always in the shadow of the big 4, but while their contemporaries have ridden Metallica’s coat tails into the promised land, Testament just never quite broke through to that level of success.
Which is odd because Testament were, and indeed are, one of the best metal bands on the planet. And unlike the slightly-disappointing-on-record-but-awesome-live Metallica and the frankly-not-that-good-anymore-Megadeth, Testament can still deliver albums that are up there with anything from their not inconsiderable back catalogue.
Their last album, The Formation Of Damnation was, to use a hideous cliche, a stunning return to form and one of the most welcome comebacks I can remember. After almost a decade no one was quite sure if Testament could still deliver, but by god did they show us. I mean don’t just take my word for it, go check out some of the reviews. Here was the classic (almost) lineup of the classic Thrash band rolling back the years and showing the entire world exactly how this sort of music should sound.
So to say I was looking forward to the follow up was something of an understatement…
On listening to Dark Roots Of Earth, the first thing that strikes you is that rather than just repeat the formula that gave birth to TFOD, this is an altogether darker, more complex beast. It’s not quite a Practice What You Preach to Souls Of Black evolution in style, but it’s not a kick in the arse off it, and I can see all the same comments trolled out when Souls Of Black came out getting a new lease of life in the hands of a new generation.
Of course there’s no shortage of brilliant thrash on here too, with tracks like A Day In The Death and True American Hate being enough to keep the most ardent headbanger happy. But for all that I think I love this album for the same reason I love the band’s immediate post-Practice What You Preach output. It’s Testament saying “OK, OK, we’re a Thrash band. But we’re not JUST a Thrash band, we’re more than capable of slowing things down and being a bit.. different..”.
There’s even return to The Ballad territory with Cold Embrace, which I just kind of know is going to spark debate among the learned metal community. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on it’s either an overlong, self indulgent deviation from proper thrash (and how dare they), or it’s a band stretching their musical muscle and injecting a change of pace and a spot of variety.
For me, it’s the latter. Definitely.
This is undeniably a great album, but whether you think that it’s better than it’s predecessor will probably depend on how much of a thrash metal purist you are. For me ? well I think if “up there with anything they’ve ever done before” was true of The Formation Of Damnation, then it’s certainly true of this. It’s one of those albums that gets better with each listen, with tracks that you just know are going to be amazing live.
Testament are not just a band living on nostalgia for a long gone heyday. With Dark Roots Of Earth they have delivered yet another masterpiece and, for me, a definite album of the year contender.