Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dark Roots of Earth - Testament - 2012

Ah, Testament. To me, so steadfast. Seeing as how I've neglected them since Practice What You Preach when I spent an entire year of art class trying to use any excuse possible to draw the album's cover, Dark Roots of Earth feels like picking up right where I left off. I missed 1990 through the present and my Testament collection, grown by twenty-five percent with this week's acquisition of their latest, feels absolutely gapless. Unlike my ignorant dismissal of Overkill until their latest, I always enjoyed the band's early work and kept it close at hand.

Dark Roots of Earth opens with a big, clean sound courtesy of Andy Sneap and kicks off with one of its strongest tracks, the riff-drenched anthem "Rise Up." There is, right off the bat, a timeless quality that is simultaneously very much of a time, specifically the mid-'80s. "Rise Up," with its militant chants and Skolnick soloing, embodies the most earnest of untarnished classic thrash. Chuck Billy's ode to his "Native Blood" provides a counterpunch that leaves the listener absolutely in awe of the man's vocal prowess. He balances the ragged with the melodic, every sentence a scream delivered full-bore but retaining clarity, depth and dimension. Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick trade solos around a mid-track spoken-word passage. I dig the evolution of songcraft and departures from the norm but, dammit, when someone can craft a verse-verse-chorus-verse with solos right where they belong, it feels so right.

The title track meanders toward post-Justice Metallica tones too much for my taste but "True American Hate" quickly rights the ship at breakneck speed and a percussive power that leaves me simply saying "Gene Hoglan, yes!"

"A Day in the Death" has to come out as my absolute favorite (three days in, that is) and the sequence of  the post-chorus riff that kicks in at 2:22 before a very deliberate verse leading to yet another Skolnick solo showcase literally leaves me with goosebumps. The "ballad" of the record, "Cold Embrace," indeed leaves me cold though "Man Kills Mankind" feels like a rebounding, albeit lesser, reprise of "A Day in the Death."

"Throne of Thorns" builds momentum and majesty like nothing before it and unleashes an absolute firestorm of guitars against an uptempo groove before closing the album in grand fashion with "Last Stand for Independence" exploding in every possible direction as if it were indeed a fireworks finale.

And then it's done. Fifty minutes of music that manage to be heavy and catchy, pure and powerful. It's not only instrumentally sound, it's expertly accomplished but never impossible. Testament still manage to craft a record that can inspire a kid to try and learn to play a guitar. This record evokes a range of emotion; angst, excitement, despair, determination and, ultimately, joy. Dark Roots of Earth comes off like one of the classics that used to be and, at least for me, have always been the norm for Testament.

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