Testament/ Dark Roots of Earth (Nuclear Blast, 2012)
Dark Roots of Earth is the band's tenth studio album in 25 years. Like their previous album, 2008's The Formation of Damnation, we see 80% of the band's original 1987-1992 line-up intact. Paul Bostaph played drums on that one, but he is out of the fold again. Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Strapping Young Lad), who played drums on 1997's Demonic, but was out by the time that they toured for that album, is back in. So you have an old/new member joining/rejoining the band.
Alex Skolnick plays a much larger role on this album than he did on the last one, with 5 co-writing credits this time out. It shows, as the band's old school Thrash meets traditional Metal sound comes shining through. The production is totally modern, and everything sounds loud and clear. These are the catchiest songs that the band has done since 1992's The Ritual, albeit much, much heavier. The best way to describe this to longtime fans would be a marriage between 1989's Practice What You Preach and 1999's The Gathering.
The band flirts with Death Metal here and there, with the incorporation of blast beats and the odd growl. Don't worry, this isn't devoid of melody like Demonic, but it gets up and goes at times. Testament's saving grace was always their diversity. Their sound runs the gamut of the entire Metal genre, from ballads to borderline Death Metal. Many people have erroneously reported that this is the first Testament album to feature blast beats. Dave Lombardo did blast beats on The Gathering, so this is of course false. Native Blood features blast beats during the chorus, and Hoglan must be an octopus to play those parts.
Rise Up and True American Hate are sure to be live staples, as they have discernible shout along choruses. I'm sure that this will get them expelled from the Heavy Metal fraternity, but I dig it, as I prefer my Metal more traditional and catchy. Cold Embrace is another standout. Testament has done many fine ballads over the years, and this is a multifaceted song like The Legacy. Chuck Billy is singing in his more melodic style throughout the bulk of this album.
I bought the deluxe edition, with 4 bonus tracks and a DVD. The vinyl version has 3 bonus tracks, and the iTunes version has 5. (The 5th on the iTunes one is an alternate version of A Day in the Death.) Queen's Dragon Attack is one of the bonus tracks. The original has a great groove to it, but their version shifts tempos and thrashes out. It's okay, but I'll keep the original. Their cover of The Scorpions' Animal Magnetism is awful, sounding like something towards the end of the Demonic album. No life, no push, no bounce, just a pointless dirge. Their cover of Iron Maiden's Powerslave is so faithful that it is almost redundant. I like it, but I have a hard time thinking of it as an old song, even if Maiden did do it 28 years ago. This album is great, with nearly every song having something going for it.
It's hard for me to rank this against their other albums, as I like their entire catalog. I'll just say that it's great, and I've been playing it non-stop since it's release. For the band to put out an album of this caliber this far into their career is quite an accomplishment.
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