Four years… has it really been four years since Formation of Damnation? Testament returned after nearly ten years with that monster and they’ve managed to follow it up with an even better one in Dark Roots of Earth. These are halcyon days for old school thrash and it’s wonderful for those of us who grew up with the Bay Area thrash uprising to see these bands still going strong and producing albums of such quality as Testament have produced here.
This is as close to the classic Testament lineup as you’ll get I reckon. With Gene Hoglan back playing drums you’re hearing them pretty much back at the height of their powers which truly is a joy to behold.
Dark Roots of Earth, to me, is like stepping back to the early nineties and listening to Practice What you Preach or Souls of Black for the first time. The only thing truly missing (for me anyway) is Louie Clemente on drums, but we’ll let that one slide given the superb work that Gene Hoglan has put down alongside Greg Christian as the solid back-end that allows both Skolnick and Peterson to do what they do so well. Chuck Billy has definitely returned to the height of his powers and is truly one of the great metal vocalists with a voice that was just made for this style of music.
The album kicks off in fine form with “Rise Up”, an explosively typical Testament track that rips out the starting blocks before Chuck Billy snarls and roars his way through. It’s a call to arms, it’s venomous in its attack, it’s the perfect start to the album and lays a marker down from the off as it bludgeons you into submission, replete with that oh-so-melodically brutal soloing that is another unmistakable Testament trait.
“Native Roots” follows the opener with some cool groovy thrash riffage. It’s a fist pumping anthem that Testament always appear to be able to pull off with consummate ease. There’s also some absolutely crazy blast beats going on through this one that just add another layer.
The title track, “Dark Roots of Earth” is suitably atmospheric and heavy, almost Sabbath-like in its intro. It comes across as a thumping lament before launching into a pounding chorus that has remnants of Envy Life from Practice What you Preach in the guitar line. It’s huge and fitting for the title track.
“True American Hate” will be known to most folk from being streamed as a teaser online. This is thrash in its purest form. This is what Testament do best. It’s blinding in its ferocity and shows the band have lost absolutely none of their sharpness in 25 years. It has pure rage bursting out at the seams.
“A Day in the Death” shows Testament pulling off another groove-tinged riff-monster with accents of off-kilter guitar melody. It’s unconventional in its approach but one that’s still sure to have the pits going and fists pumping before we’re given a short time to get our breath back as “Cold Embrace” kicks in. It’s a bit of a monster this one, and the longest track on the album. The intro reminds me of The Ballad on Practice What you Preach, before it launches into a grinding powerhouse of a track resplendent with every facet of Testament you can imagine. One thing that can certainly be said is that they’re never afraid to mix styles and they do it with some style here.
“Man Kills Mankind” has a similarly anthemic feel to it as “Rise Up” but comes at you in a far more controlled manner. This isn’t so much thrash but metal just played at its blinding best. “Throne of Thorns” by comparison is dripping with evil undertones. It’s a complete and utter beast with some fantastic chugging riffs running throughout coupled with some prog-like guitar melodies and rhythms before throwing you to the wolves as the solos kick in.
Then before you know it we’re hitting the end of the album and “Last Stand for Independence”. What a way to close out the album though. It takes your breath away with its ruthless attack on your ears. There’s not a minute’s respite on this final track and all it does is leave you looking for more.
This is Testament at their best, this is Testament doing what they do best. I need say no more.
Dark Roots of Earth will be available from 27th July in Europe and 31st July in North America with four bonus tracks included on the CD/DVD Digipak.
1. Rise Up
2. Native Blood
3. Dark Roots Of Earth
4. True American Hate
5. A Day In The Death
6. Cold Embrace
7. Man Kills Mankind
8. Throne Of Thorns
9. Last Stand For Independence
Chuck Billy – vocals
Alex Skolnick – guitars
Eric Peterson – guitars
Greg Christian – bass guitar
Gene Hoglan – Drums