2016 will go down as the year 80s thrash legends struck a blow for the AARP crowd. It’s the year Anthrax, Megadeth and Death Angel all shook off the dust and complacency, releasing shockingly good albums, and in what may be the final sign of the Apocalypse, even Metallica seems poised to drop something marginally listenable next month1. You can now add Testament to the list of revitalized geezers, as they triumphantly end a 4-year hiatus with Brotherhood of the Snake. With bass master Steve Digiorgio returning to the fold to join drum lord Gene Hoglan, Testament has their most potent line up since The Gathering, and can credibly claim to be the most talent-stacked thrash band around. But do all those magical chops and nimble fingers translate into hard-hitting, quality thrash for the filthy, High Top clad masses? Why yes, they do, as Testament picks up where they left off on Dark Roots of the Earth and continues to craft high quality, high energy speed with as much musical flair and panache as anyone out there.
Brotherhood is a concept album inspired by ancient Sumerian scripts dealing with power-hungry secret societies, serpents, and aliens, so in a nutshell: Scientology. The wonky subject matter doesn’t get in the way of the music however, as this is the Testament we know and love. The opening title track’s first strike is still deadly and heavy enough to please the most jaded thrasher. Chuck Billy’s bully bellows are as big and booming as ever and the music behind him is impressive. The speed is there, slick riffs are plentiful, and the melodic segment at 2:25 adds an interesting texture.
“The Pale King” mixes traditional metal ideas with their usual thrash for something akin to Nevermore and Brainstorm and it really clicks. “Seven Seals” is like their spin on “Creeping Death” with a goodly amount of classic Metallica influence skulking amid the flashy guitar wizardry and technical know-how, and they even toss off some Slayer-like whammy dives for regional solidarity. “Born in a Rut” sees a return to the swagger of their Practice What You Preach era, and the mid-tempo swing of the song is a nice change-up. Other fine moments include the vicious, quasi-death metal of “Centuries of Suffering,” and the vintage stomp and slash of “Neptune’s Spear,” which features some of the album’s best riffs and a ridiculous amount of guitar pyrotechnics.
There are no “bad” tracks, but closer “Numbers Game” is less memorable than its surrounding ilk despite some ripping performances. Another dent in the skull tank is the feeling the album runs a tad long despite its modest 10-track/45-minute length. Lastly, the production is a tad on the loud side, and though you can discern what’s going on, a richer mix would have helped the highly impressive performances really sizzle and pop.
Speaking of performances, this is essentially the A-Team of 80s thrash. Chuck Billy sounds as huge as ever, showcasing the full range of his vocal prowess. From manly roars to clean singing and death rasps – he is the Ageless One. The guitar tandem of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson is the best in the business and they go all out to show why. From memorable riffs to showboating but always tasteful shreddery, they have few peers and this may just capture them at their wanky best. On songs like “Centuries of Suffering” and “Neptune’s Spear” they run a Master class on soloing and dueling harmonies that simply has to be heard. And how many bands sport an equally impressive back line? Gene Hoglan can do anything with a drum kit, and here he does everything. From twisting, tumbling rolls and fills to lightning blastbeats, he’s like an ungodly machine. And through all his chaotic pummeling and percussive dynamism, there’s Steve Digiorgio right there with him, putting in a top-flight, surprisingly audible bass show. To call this band tight is to belittle their skill level.
I suspected Testament would keep the 80s thrash resurgence going and they did not disappoint. This is one of the most technically adroit thrash albums you’ll hear, yet that technicality doesn’t come at the expense of heaviness or speed. These old dogs have learned new tricks, opened the kennel gates and fled into the night with testicles intact. Thanks for putting a twinkle in all these old school wrinkles.