Monday, August 13, 2012

Testament - Dark Roots of Earth

Dark Roots of Earth” is Testament’s second record since Chuck Billy’s recovery and is definitely the best! While “The Formation of Damnation” successfully blended the old-school Testament approach with the brutality of “The Gathering”, it was a very hit-or-miss record. Some songs rivaled the greatness of the 80’s, while others fell very far short. By contrast, “Dark Roots of Earth” is consistently great. Even though it is longer, having only 9 songs meant the band could put more effort into each of those tracks. One other notable aspect of this album is that it rarely utilizes Chuck’s death metal vocals. As great as he is with those gutturals, this is a welcome change because it helps this record feel like it’s from the 80’s.

Things kick off with “Rise Up”, which is a track made for playing live. It’s almost as if they jammed this in front of a crowd to create the chorus: “When I say rise up/You say war/Rise up... war!”. I never imagined something like this being so effective on the record, but it works perfectly. There aren’t any other obvious moments made for playing live, but that doesn’t mean other songs aren’t catchy. Both singles (“Native Blood” and “True American Hate”) have infectious choruses that are enhanced by Chuck Billy’s godly singing. These two choruses also showcase the talent of Gene Hoglan; he effortlessly throws in blast beats, which were pretty much non-existent on previous Testament records. In fact, Hoglan should join Testament. Their drumming has never been terribly impressive and it’s immediately obvious on this album just how skillful he is. Seeing the band live really proved just how easy this material seems to be for him. In addition to Hoglan’s drumming, lead guitarist Alex Skolnick has made a huge comeback on this record. His playing on “The Formation of Damnation” was not as mind-blowing as I expected, but he delivers a great performance here. He does plenty of shredding, but luckily there are also melodic bits scattered throughout the songs.

If there is one slight downside to this album, it would definitely be “Cold Embrace”. Testament has shown that they can do ballads well in the past, and this is a great track too, but it is clearly influenced by Metallica, almost to the point of me hearing James’ voice instead of Chuck’s. With lyrics like “The sun will never shine on you/Daylight blinds your way/The sun will never shine through you/Now accept this cold embrace”, you’d almost think this was a preview of a new Metallica single. Even with this comparison, the song is actually enjoyable, and a nice break from the constant thrashing of the rest of the album. Luckily, the album picks up with the last couple of tracks, especially the killer “Last Stand For Independence”. The opening riff of this song has a feel similar to the intro of “The Four Horsemen”. This Metallica comparison, however, is more in style than actual sound. This was definitely a great choice to end the album.

Though “The Formation of Damnation” was an enjoyable comeback record, this is a true return to form for Testament. “Dark Roots of Earth” matches and even beats some of the early Testament albums in terms of quality and consistency. Gene Hoglan rounds out a killer lineup of musicians, and it seems like Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick have been gelling as songwriters together. This is one album you don’t want to miss and is sure to break my top 10 for 2012!

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"Native Blood"
"True American Hate"
"Last Stand For Indepence"

Final Rating
4.4/5 or 88%. 

Written by Scott