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Metal/Prog Metal DVD/Video Reviews

Testament

Live In London DVD

Review by Josh Turner

It's the classic line-up in a trouble-free DVD. Drenched in blood red and decorated with gold trim, this simple gatefold booklet contains nothing more than a single disc. Going strictly on girth, you may think this product was anemic. However, keep your guard up as the punches that land really do count. Otherwise, this one will lay you as flat as a pancake. The listener will be amazed by the lightning-fast reflexes, speed, and agility of these heavy metal vets.

It turns out that the lack of content is a blessing in disguise. The package is one that's both clean and concise. This machine is lean and mean and ready to take the fight to your living room. It'll pummel you with potent licks and accurate strikes through the course of 15 solid rounds. Actually, there are exactly 15 separate songs in this match-up, but chances are it will take the upper hand in the split-decision.

As for the batting order, we get Chuck Billy on vocals, guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, bassist Greg Christian and in the clutch, the heavy-handed hitter, drummer Louie Clemente. Chuck plays a mean "air" guitar as he performs the virtual fingerings on his microphone. It might look silly, but trust me; you do not want to laugh at this tough guy. This vocal giant can carry a tune and he does so with raw, but impressive power. He's sure to deserve the game ball. Additionally, his antics don't prohibit the others from playing on. The guitarists meet the textbook definition of shredders to a tee. These speed demons scuttle down the tracks like Racer X. As fast as these two are playing, they have impeccable timing too. Their coordinated efforts remind of DeGarmo and Wilton, the tumultuous pair that makes up Queensryche's intimidating classic tag-team.

As a whole unit, they sound a lot like Metallica, but just so this is not taken the wrong way, I am talking about Metallica in their heyday. Some of their rhythms are reminiscent of Master of Puppets while others are original in their own way. This is a professional crew and they mean nothing less than business. The cuts they construct are rigid and unwavering. These songs could stand up to an earthquake or a volcano. They are sturdy enough to handle just about any kind of natural disaster Mother Nature throws their way. I am in awe at the architects behind this well-made music.

While they're from the Old School, they are young pups once they get out on stage. It's hard to believe they've been at this act for over two decades. Their former competition is probably serving out their days in retirement, eating Jell-O and popping regular doses of Geritol. As for the music, the songs are short, which helps to keep the concert shuffling along. Only after a few sets under the hot lights, the band begins sweating profusely. The energy only gets more insane and intense, but like madmen, they're relentless and seemingly never tire. It will take a squad of law enforcement officials to hold them down and you'll feel as if you're there, participating in their premeditated psychosis.

At one point, they try a neat trick by splitting the television four ways. These multi-angle perspectives remind me of the show "24" with separate action going on in each cell at once. I can almost imagine the clicking of the clock, as you are eager to find resolution to their ticks and rhythms before time runs out.

I have to admit, I like Chuck's frequent outbursts and cussing. It is never overdone, but he does it enough to take notice. It's kind of like a wake-up call each time he erupts. You're eyes will be directed back to the screen. You'll find yourself rubbernecking and asking yourself, "he said what?" It's another reason why this performance will keep you engaged throughout its entire duration.

The new songs come from their Days of Darkness album. From it, they feature "Into the Pit" and "Trial by Fire." Yet, this is no weak tour just to promote another new album. While their latest pieces are smoking, their old selections still seethe under hot coals. They span every era, mixing in multiple golden oldies. They touch all the albums and take us on a trip through memory lane all the way back to their glorious debut. From there, we get to hear "The Haunting," "Over the Wall," and "Raging Waters." Even with all these great songs on the agenda, the one that stands out the most is "Electric Crown." In this piece, the guitars and drums are adequately synched and the pauses perfectly timed. At this point, their engines are humming along as if they just rolled off the factory floor in mint condition.

They have so much material and cover so many discs; Chuck almost forgets the corresponding record to one of their selections. After the briefest bit of consultation, the matter is quickly resolved. However, it goes to show the very breadth and depth of their discography if they can legitimately lose track of their property. The material comes in no particular order; however, the chronology of cuts works well within the confines of this concert. In no way are there any noticeable weak spots that will jump out at you. The entire event maintains an elevated level of energy and emotion, even when they come upon the token ballad. The running time is approximately 82 minutes. This porage is cooked just right, as there are no annoying frills or flavors. It plays like a live CD and to say the band had stage presence throughout this occasion would be one grossly huge understatement.

It also has an interesting bonus feature that consists of an interview with the entire cast. This section has an honest and homemade feel about it. Each member speaks to us in a personable tone and from a natural setting. Between each speaker, live shots are worked in to give it added life. What's interesting about the interviews is how these wicked rockers and this devilish-voiced vocalist are so laid-back and down-to-earth once you get them aside. Chuck, in particular, has a calm, easy-going demeanor, which is quite unlike his concert persona. At one point in Chuck's interview, he is talking from a café high above in a uniquely architected building. The foundation shows influences from Escher and Frank Lloyd Wright. By itself, this could be considered interesting. That's not lost on the cameraman or producer who make it a point to edit in some cuts of this cool-looking building. All around, Chuck is an interesting fellow. He talks about beating cancer and stresses the importance of getting his long hair back. There are clips of Chuck drinking from a beer bong and handing beers out to the audience. Okay, maybe the latter isn't the smartest idea, but at least it goes to show his attempts to connect with his legions of listeners.

We go from one musician to the next. There is a wealth of information shared and a potluck of personal accounts. Believe it or not, we get touching tales from them all. When they talk about similar topics, such as the surreal two-year sabbatical Chuck took during his sickness, they shuffle back around to get each member's opinions. During Alex's part, they show him playing an acoustic guitar. As he talks, the song continues playing in the background. Many of the techniques used here would impress low-budget movie-masters such as Robert Rodriguez. While this is by no means backed by a big budget, you get the impression that much heart and soul has gone into the editing process.

We get to hear from the fans too. It seems the band appeals to quite a range of people from the mature-talking tattooed man to one that does nothing more than belch. This, my friends, is the low-point of the disc; still it has some value in terms of comic relief.

We get insight into their songwriting process. We hear about how Alex takes the heavy riffs provided by the others and makes them more melodic. Like, Bernie Mac in one of his private sessions, Greg speaks in alternate shots with and without his sunglasses. We also hear about Louie's involvement and how he throws down the sticks at the end of every concert. It turns out a touring drummer is used to start out the night. Louie is then brought out to pitch the save in the closing innings. You better believe his entrance is a big success among spectators.

The interview section ends with a slow ballad as Chuck drives off on a Harley. This he says is the true definition of metal and I'm sure many bikers would agree. The last vision to follow is a sign to an unpronounceable and funny-sounding German town called Einkaufswagen.

What's been mentioned here is merely a montage of the highlights from the bonus feature. There is much more to be found inside. Again, like the concert, the interview does what needs to be done and then swiftly moves along. They choose the best and most interesting information and don't bother with anything else. The viewer will still be intrigued once it is over. Like a professional speech, you make your point and end it. Likewise, this never drags on, which is one reason why it works so well. (Now if only I could take my own advice.)

There is no lack of fan footage during the concert and I must say, the audience really gets into it. Chuck is a personable front man and it takes very little on his part to work the crowd into a frenzy. As we scan the concert hall, we get devil hands, number ones, and even a few middle fingers. The only ones not getting into it are the security guards. There is a small, but relatively violent mosh pit swirling around the middle of the audience. With such luscious riffs and rabid licks, you cannot really blame the fans for getting this aggressive. The fans didn't want the concert to finish and that's typically a good sign. The crowd chants "TESTAMEMT!" repeatedly to spurn the promoters and urge another encore. Unfortunately, the event must have followed a strict timeline. This goes on for quite some time while the band enjoys a couple brewskies. With age, however, they must have been enlightened as some of their liquor is substituted for bottles of water. Maybe they just needed a second to cool down, because it didn't take long before they were back to downing drafts. It goes to show it was a great concert if the crowd is at their wildest towards the finishing lap. As Stephen King would tell you, the ending is what's most important.

Before wrapping up my analysis, there are a few additional aspects worthy of a moment's discussion: First of all, I noticed something rare and unexpected as the credits rolled. Thanks are given to family, friends, and fans. In addition, a very special thanks is given to both those who showed up for the recording as well as all their long-time loyalists. For a band of heavy-metal brutes, that's a thoughtful gesture if you ask me.

Secondly, on my list of honorable mentions is the menu system. It's intuitive, straightforward, and easy-to-use. I can appreciate the fact usability is given priority over useless glitz and glamour. Due to its format, there is no reason to make it any more complicated than it is and fortunately for us, they make the right decision.

While the music is quite heavy, it's still accessible for those who waver between the light and the darkness. Still, it's not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately, this baby gets thrown out with the bath water. It's ironic that they toured in their twenties and at that time, the music got old, slow, and stale. Now that they are members of metal's elite alumni, their music is as new and airy as ever. They must have run this load with an extra cup of Downey's fabric freshener.

I recommend this disc for fans of hard rock and heavy metal. At times, the music reaches insanely hot temperatures, but never does the band lose their cool. The production is sound and the musicians stay above the threshold of the melodic minimum. With their radars set to jam, you certainly won't find these guys going the speed limit. It's fast and rocking. To put it in perspective, they go on the kind of rampage that makes King Kong look like a chimp.

If you have been a fan of Testament's past work, be forewarned. They never left the scene and they still have the chops. If you just want to see good old metal, this band is for you. This is not your parent's rock n' roll band. It comes sharpened with a modernistic edge, but don't fear. It will fill just about any classic-metal craving.

We do get ballads and breaks, but for the most part, this is ball-busting heavy metal. Overall, this is a great effort by a legendary band and fans should be content with this bone-crushing release. These aren't oldies. These are goodies. Do yourself a favor and test-drive Testament's brand-new model with the radically-retro design.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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