Testament – Titans of Creation Review

One of the fondest memories of my metal youth was seeing Testament open for Slayer at the legendary L’Amour club in Brooklyn, New York back in 1987. No one had a clue who Testament was as their debut album The Legacy was still a few weeks away from dropping, and as New York had a reputation for being unkind to acts opening for Slayer, we were prepared to live up to it. Then something strange happened. Testament came out  and flattened us with their burly thrash and powerhouse performance. Chuck Billy ran around the stage like a maniac screaming his head off and daring people to spit at him, then catching it in his mouth when they did. Hygiene issues aside, by the second song he had the crowd eating out of his over-sized fist. I bought their album as soon as it dropped and remembered many of the songs thereon from the savage live rendition. Fast forward 33 years and I’m reviewing their 12th studio album as New York shudders from a unprecedented pandemic. Life is strange, isn’t it? Featuring the same star studded lineup as last time, Titans of Creation doesn’t mess with expectations, delivering a traditional thrash album with plenty of veteran know-how and high flying technical flair. I’d be lying if I said spinning it doesn’t offer some sense of stability and comfort in these uncertain times, but I’m here to examine how it fares as a thrash album, not a creature comfort. In a nutshell, it’s classic Testament, but it’s not always essential Testament, and they fall prey to some familiar traps one would expect a grizzled thrash act to easily avoid.

Opener “Children of the Next Level” is exactly what you expect from modern Testament. It’s a go-for-the-throat thrasher loaded with sharp riffing, powerful drumming and Chuck Billy’s distinctive thrash growl. It’s as aggressive as you need a thrash song to be, and the band’s raw musical talent is always front and center. Unfortunately it runs about 2 minutes too long, bypassing several points where it seems it should stop. This diminishes its overall impact, as excess length is the mortal enemy of thrash effectiveness. There are other rough spots as well, like the one-two punch of “Night of the Witch” and “City of Angels” which both exceed the 6 minute mark without being especially compelling or gripping.

Oddly, it isn’t until the halfway point that Titans truly takes life. Starting with “Ishtars Gate, things become much stronger and far heavier too. “False Prophet” sounds like it could have appeared on the debut and there are hints of classic Metallica around the edges. Album standout “Code of Hammurabi” is one of the best songs Testament has penned in years. It’s fierce and ferocious while maintaining that classic catchiness the band delivered so well on their early albums. The riffs are razor sharp, the solos smoke and Chuck brings it all home with a commanding performance. Elsewhere, both “The Healers” and “Curse of Osiris” bring in significant black metal influences, including Chuck going full corpse-painted shrierker at times, which is a wild, heavy ride.

At 58:40 Titans feels overlong and several songs are simply too bloated for their own good. While no song is outright bad, there are at least 2 cuts I could do without. Another issue is the mostly instrumental closing track “Catacomb,” which builds up dramatically to nothing except the end of the album. It would be a fine intro, but tacking it on the end seems an odd way to conclude a thrash platter. Bloat and such aside, every member of the band is in fine form. At this stage of their career, Testament is by far the most musically talented thrash act out there, with the legendary Gene Hoglan on drums, Death alumnus Steve DiGiorgio on bass and of course, the titanic twosome of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson on guitars. It’s always a thrill hearing these 2 shred and tear it up, and there are plenty of head shaking moments of musical insanity here. The highly formidable backline also gets their chance to shine, with Hoglan pulverizing his kit with power and precision that defy comprehension as DiGiorgio’s basswork provides a rock-solid foundation clear enough to hear and appreciate. Chuck still sounds like a man possessed and his forays into black metal mania are especially inspired for a frontman as seasoned as he is.

Titans of Creation is essentially one half of a very good Testament album, rounded out with an okay other half. I doubt I’ll be reaching for it over the band’s classic releases or more recent albums like Dark Roots of the Earth, but it’s hardly a waste of time. Fans can buy without much fear and for the rest of you, mileage may vary. All that said, thanks for the happy memories in a tough time.1

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 269 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: testamentlegions.com | facebook.com/testamentlegions
Releases Worldwide: April 3rd, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. It should be noted that Chuck Billy and his wife, as well as Steve DiGiorgio have come down with COVID-19 following a European tour with Exodus and Death Angel. Chuck is reported to be feeling better and is expected to recover. We at AMG wish all of them a fast and full recovery.
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