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Dark Roots Of Earth

Nuclear Blast (2012)
Rating: 8.5/10

Some things in life are certain – death, taxes and Testament releasing slabs of solid metal. Dark Roots Of Earth is the tenth full-length proper from the Bay Area monsters, and picks up exactly where 2008’s The Formation Of Damnation left off.

Even though they never actually split up, the nine-year gap between that record and its predecessor, The Gathering, seemed like a lifetime, and the quintet may have been forgiven for being slightly rusty in terms of songwriting. Luckily for them and us, that spark never disappeared and The Formation Of Damnation was a beast of an album. So no pressure for its follow-up then!

The plan of action is laid on the table from the start; the impressive opening duo of ‘Rise Up’ and ‘Native Blood’ bringing together various elements of Testament’s repertoire. ‘Native Blood’, in particular, with its huge chorus slapped over a frenetic riff bolstered by Gene Hoglan’s blast beats, displays touches that may prove that thrash’s Big Four should really be expanded to five.

The brooding title track follows, with a mid-paced gallop reminiscent of The Ritual-era material, and Chuck Billy’s vocals as big as the man himself. One of the qualities of Testament is to write memorable songs, technical enough for the quality musicianship to shine through, but still catchy enough to be familiar after only a couple of listens. A rare quality for bands in modern metal, and one their peers could do well to take note of.

Lead “single” (which in 2012 means the first song leaked out) ‘True American Hate’ hits like a freight train at full velocity, but also displaying a hook that proves that fast and brutal can also have some iota of commercial appeal. The solos on this song, as well as the others, are also smothered in quality – Alex Skolnick was always a lead player that separated Testament from the rest of the thrash pack, and his playing here does not disappoint; nor does Eric Peterson’s tight rhythmic riffing.

One of the big surprises of the album appears in the form of the 7¾ minute ballad, ‘Cold Embrace’. Attempting such a bold song 18 years after their last ballad is commendable, and like their previous ballads still fits in with the tone of the album, and in fact adds to the overall feel of the record.

The equally epic ‘Throne Of Thorns’ also has an acoustic intro, before those classic Testament tendencies break out in the form of stomping riffs and a classy vocal by Big Chuck, with elements of the guitars and arrangements similar to latter-day Machine Head. In fact, it is incredible how Testament still seem to sound like a young modern band, but with a quarter of a century of experience behind them.

The album ends with another galloper, ‘Last Stand For Independence’, summing up Dark Roots Of Earth nicely in a neat 4½ minutes.

It would be a crime against metal if Testament fly under the radar of the younger metal fan in favour of the next beatdown, fringe-obsessed, full sleeve-tattooed scene band, as not only have the veteran thrashers released another metal monster, they have also proved that a band that was vital back in the day can still sound hungry and youthful today.

Neil Not