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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Testament

Dark Roots of Earth

Review by Mike Korn

Testament made a great, hard-hitting comeback with The Formation of Damnation four years ago. Now it's time for them to stretch their wings a bit and show a more diverse side to their songwriting. That's what they deliver on Dark Roots of Earth, an album that has a moodier and more diverse tone.

To be sure, there are still quite a few tracks that deliver the straight thrash Testament's been known for, but we also get some ballads and songs that slow the tempo a bit. It's not as instant as Formation of Damnation, but in the long run, it plays up their strengths as a band more. And those strengths have never been more evident. Chuck Billy's vocals, always a high point, have more depth and heft to them. The guitar interplay of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson has never been better and the addition of the seasoned Gene Hoglan on drums means the rhythm is rock solid and never flags.

Dark Roots of Earth is a great jumping on point for new fans while certainly managing to please long time followers.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Rise Up

This great opener gets the album off to a roaring, thrashing start. If this doesn't ignite a fierce pit in the live situation, it will be a miracle. I compare it to Testament classics like "Disciples of the Watch" and "Dog Faced Gods.” It really does sound like it hails from the late 80s heyday of the band.

Native Blood
A song written in honor of indigenous people across the world, this is another straight up thrashing tune that's maybe a little less intense and more complex than "Rise Up.” Chuck Billy's vocal lines are tremendous and Gene Hoglan unleashes an absolute barrage of precision drumming. Just for your information, Billy is a full blooded member of the Pomo tribe in California.
Dark Roots of Earth
This is one of the most "different" tunes Testament has done. It's obvious from the start it's more melodic and it has a slower, much more ominous pace. There's more emphasis on dark, haunting melodies. Despite that, it's also a really heavy track and Hoglan's drumming is delivered with authority. It's also a great showcase for the soloing of Skolnick and Peterson. It's not an "instant" song but a very dynamic one.
True American Hate
This song was inspired by Chuck Billy seeing a news report on Middle Eastern protesters burning American flags and teaching young children to hate America from a young age.  As you might imagine, the track is extremely aggressive and hits you right between the eyes with some of the most scorching thrash this band has ever delivered. There's more than just angry metal, though. The chorus is brilliantly catchy and sung flawlessly by Billy. This was a fine choice for first single from the album and is sure to be a Testament favorite.
A Day in the Death
Some juicy bass licks from Greg Christian initiate this chugging, choppy tune. It's a catchy mid-tempo thrasher that reminds me a lot of the material Testament did on Practice What You Preach and The Ritual. Lyrically, it's pretty gloomy and apocalyptic, foretelling the approaching doom of mankind.
Cold Embrace
A full-on metal ballad is something Testament hasn't done in quite a while, but for which they used to be known. This follows strongly in the vein of "Trail of Tears" and "The Ballad" and also Metallica's mellower moments. It's well done and Billy's vocals are extremely strong. Still, I've never been a huge fan of this part of Testament's arsenal and this does nothing to change my opinion. It's also longer than it needs to be.
Man Kills Mankind
The needle goes back into the red zone here. Like "A Day In the Death,” its a really crunchy mid-paced thumper reminiscent of Testament's "middle period" of the early 90's. It sounds like it could have come right out of the Practice What You Preach sessions.
Throne of Thornes
Beginning softly, this soon turns into a very doomy kind of metal trudge before picking up the pace into a super catchy gallop. This is another seven minute plus epic, venturing into the world of dark fantasy. I wonder if the title is inspired by "Game of Thrones.” This has got a little bit of everything in it and is the most complex tune of the set, with nifty twin guitar licks from Skolnick and Peterson.
Last Stand for Independence
The album ends strongly with this remorseless blast of Testament-style thrash. It forms a great bookend to the opening "Rise Up,” especially lyrically, as it seems to take the side of the Occupy movement. "The less we can see, the stronger we grow.”  This is an archetypal Testament tune and sure to be a live favorite.
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