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Brotherhood Of The Snake

Nuclear Blast (2016)
Rating: 8.5/10

As a big thrash fan growing up in the 1980s I often became frustrated at the fact that bands such as Testament, alongside Exodus, Overkill and Death Angel, seemed forever embedded in that tier just below the “big four” of Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica and Anthrax.

Okay, it could be argued that that particular quartet of thrash titans deserved their place in that top four due to releasing a batch of classic albums, but as the 90s and beyond came it could also be argued that Testament etc. became the true big four; rarely, if at all, straying from their thrashing roots, never once bucking to trends, and consistently producing high class, face-melting metal.

With Brotherhood Of The Snake – the 11th studio album from Testament – the band once again removes flesh, pummels ears and crunches bones. It’s been four years since 2012’s Dark Roots Of Earth, but with a line-up boasting Chuck Billy (vocals), Eric Peterson (guitar), Alex Skolnick (guitar), Steve DiGiorgio (bass; replacing Greg Christian, who left the band for the second time) and Gene Hoglan (drums), how could they go wrong?

A new Testament album is always something I’ve eagerly anticipated, and with Andy Sneap once again mixing this was always going to be a behemoth of a record. Chuck Billy and company serve up ten sonic blasts, and when I say “blasts” I mean some truly head-ripping torment.

And what better way to flay the soul than with the opener – the title track of such crushing quality that one has to keep reminding oneself that Chuck Billy is no spring chicken, and yet crushes the competitive youth of today in one simple swipe. Bellowing like a demon and heaving like a great, titanic dragon as those formidable yet ever recognisable barks resonate with wonder. The track surges on that churning twin guitar attack of Skolnick and Peterson, but it’s Hoglan’s mega-pounds and DiGiorgio’s complex, bubbling bass lines which really bring the waters to the boil. Let’s not forget, Steve DiGiorgio is the guy whose technical flirtations gave the likes of Death, Sadus and Cynic their extra vim.

Lyrically, Billy spins a yarn pertaining to our ancient ancestry with mentions of esoteric reptilian races and alien bloodlines; the perfect bolshie narration for such a steaming hot lump of molten thrash. His vocals continue to remain unpredictably fearsome as he churns out an aggressive thrash chomp which is then contradicted by an ominous, deathly roar.

It’s a perfect way to kick off the record, and with ‘The Pale King’ the San Francisco band continues its lethal flow; black rivers of chunky riffs, sonic thrash booms of Hoglan and Billy’s demonic tongue. Of course, Andy Sneap – alongside producer Juan Urteaga – make sure that there’s enough crunch and charisma in the mix, along with DiGiorgio’s distinctive twang which trickles and stabs with dazzling effect.

‘Stronghold’ comes next; beefed up by a metallic thrash glaze it opens with a steady nodding gallop bolstered by Hoglan’s hammering. Billy comes to the fore, barking orders before the backdrop of Peterson and Skolnick’s guitars and supercharged by some classic thrash gang chants. There’s some killer melody here too; a devilish slice of groove metal that wouldn’t seem out of place in the mid-to-late 90s. But with Testament there’s always that ability to shapeshift, and as soon as the solo kicks in we’re reminded of why this band has become such thrash veterans of grace and style.

‘Seven Seals’ really does showcase Skolnick’s wizardry; again combining heaps of weighty melody and bulldozing thrash. It could be argued that already Brotherhood Of The Snake is standing up as Testament’s fastest work for some time. And with each chapter of the ten tracks emerging like some rising, frothing leviathan, the quintet dishes out some truly monolithic lumps of metal.

‘Born In A Rut’, ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Neptune’s Spear’ all touch upon vintage Testament chuggery married with massive groovery, while ‘Centuries Of Suffering’ once again flirts with deathlier tones.

You sort of know what’s coming, but with this record there’s a vigour that wasn’t always apparent on the previous batch of efforts, mainly due to the band’s all too keen meddling with traditional metal and melodic strains. And while there’ll always be that insistence upon segments of subtlety, Brotherhood Of The Snake concentrates more on aural savagery, but one so clean and clinical that fans old and new will find so much to savour.

Neil Arnold