90s Metal Weirdness: Testament – Low

Cast your minds back to a time when metal music was not cool. Nay, indeed, a time when metal was anathema to all that was considered to be “chic” and “in.” A time when your favorite bands were actually encouraged by the music industry to play slower, cut their hair, and write sensitive lyrics about their childhoods. Yes, this unfortunately really happened.

Our new semi-irregular feature “90s Metal Weirdness” focuses on albums released between 1992 and 2001 and which we all probably would rather forget. But in the service of publicly shaming the musicians involved, we have pushed forward. — AMG

TESTAMENT: Low (1994)

Testament - LowThe Back Story: The ‘90s were not kind to Testament. After 1992’s The Ritual failed to live up to Black Album-sized expectations, half the band quit, including virtuoso guitarist Alex Skolnick. Worse still, the band’s record company demanded a more “alternative” approach on the next record.

What happened next is something that warms my goddamn heart, and I will always love Testament for it. They replaced Skolnick with death-metal prodigy James Murphy (Death, Obituary, Disincarnate), and put drummer Mike Tempesta (Exodus, [And don’t forget his stint in White ZombieAMG]) behind the kit. Then they proceeded to write the heaviest album of their career.

What Does It Sound Like: A 50-foot-tall middle finger to the music business, carved out of stone, and lit on fire so that even at night, you can see it. Musically, this thing is utterly crushing from the second you hit ‘play,’ full of choppy, claustrophobic riffs that are somewhere between thrash and death metal. The songs are more straightforward than, say, Souls Of Black, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s also the first Testament album where the production wasn’t complete shit. I remember being truly shocked at how crushing this was when it came out.

Low is a direct attack on everything in the ‘90s metal playbook. There’s about a thousand guitar solos on this record, along with a motherfucking bass solo on the instrumental “Urotsukidoji” (still doing instrumentals in 1994? Awesome.) “Trail of Tears” is the album’s sole ballad, a tribute to singer Chuck Billy’s American Indian heritage. “Dog Faced Gods” is brutal even by Testament standards, and features the debut of Billy’s now-standard death metal vocal.

Are There Any Songs About Molestation? Yeah, but even in this category, Testament turns the tables on your preconceived ‘90s notions. The title track contains the lovely verse “Hey you piece of shit/You just leave them kids alone.” Subtle. “Legions In Hiding” is also obviously about abuse, but it’s also one of the heaviest, scariest, and best songs Testament ever came up with.

The only reason this works is because Chuck Billy is not singing from the victim’s POV. He’s not the kid who got the bad touch after gym class (see: Jonathan Davis); he is the guy who is going to murder your pervert uncle and/or creepy wrestling coach, and leave their bodies in the alley for the cops to find later.

Stupid Political Lyrics? The song “P.C.” describes the U.S. government as corrupt, and suggests that we use hemp to make paper. Wait… that’s not so stupid [OCCUPY THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE, HIPPY! – AMG.]

Is There Any Rapping On The Album? Oh hell no.

Were Haircuts Involved? Anyone in Testament who ever tried to get a haircut was killed and eaten by Chuck Billy. True story.

How Bad Was It Really? If you ask me, this is the 2nd best album of Testament’s career, right behind The New Order. If you prefer the heavier Testament material like The Gathering, you definitely want to check this out.

The Aftermath: Not surprisingly, Atlantic Records dropped Testament like a hot sack of shit, and the band splintered (again) shortly thereafter. Tempesta went on to join Rob Zombie and then The Cult, which means that Low is the best thing he will ever do in his life. Testament carried on, condemned to a hell of shitty record labels, poor sales and about 4,000 lineup changes. Worse still, Billy was diagnosed with cancer in the early ‘00s, and both his fate and that of the band were in question.

Luckily, Billy defeated his illness and was given a clean bill of health. Having survived both cancer and the ‘90s, Testament reunited with most of the original lineup (including Skolnick) in 2005. Their 2nd post-comeback album Dark Roots Of Earth was a couple months ago and didn’t suck.

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