STILL DON’T SEE NO BEER: TESTAMENT IN EINDHOVEN 1987
If the world were fair, the guys in Testament would be on Regis & Kelly gabbing about the triumphant success of their latest project and then on The View to humbly deflect compliments regarding peak popularity after a brush with death. But no, that job went to Mickey Rourke and his pro-Ratt propaganda film, The Wrestler. Though awesome, Testament suffered similar media invisibility even when thrash was peaking; they didn’t attract attention with novelty songs (Anthrax) nor an outrageous personality (Megadeth) or a massive cop-out (Metallica), so by contrast, the Bay Area quintet might’ve been seen as workmanlike and hit-proof. Of course, Slayer’s feel-good summer songs didn’t exactly scorch the charts, but that was counteracted with heaps of mystique. Testament’s hook is not even that modestly sexy; just a thunderous singer, a kick-ass lead guitarist (three months short of 19 in ’87 for Eindhoven), one of history’s superior riffists, and a criminally underrated bassist. And five classic albums.
That was all yet to happen when Testament recorded Live at Eindhoven, which is the best kind of live album: one show, no cuts, no fixes. It actually feels like you’re at the show, cuz the sound sucks, the band is racing, there’s a drunk guy staggering around (you), and Chuck Billy’s stage banter seems really silly. (Guitarist Alex Skolnick writes that Billy was antagonizing headliners Stryper when handing down expletive-laden orders for the crowd to drink more beer.) The handful of technical gaffes (Skolnick to crowd: ‘SAW-ree!’) don’t seem incongruous amid what is overall a panic-paced set of thrash metal at the second ever Dynamo Open Air Festival in the Netherlands. It was already released once as a 5-track EP, though I’ve never actually laid eyes on one. Now expanded to include the full set, L’Eindhoven is Testament documentary footage without all the talk, just the sounds of a raw and seemingly super-excited young band.
And likewise, the record is more enjoyable than good, like a bootleg of a show you were at: really exciting but inferior to a big, produced live record. And to be fair, the material merely hints at the band’s future songwriting prowess. Highlights include “Over The Wall,” whose solo is disastrously speedy, and “Burnt Offerings,” young Testament’s masterpiece and obvious favorite of Skolnick and rhythm guitarist Eric Peterson. But the mournful verse riff of “Envy Life” and “Malpractice”’s wobbly, sideways solo and Chuck Billy in nuclear warhead-mode on “D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)” all were at least an album away as of Eindhoven. Instead we get not-bad songs “Do Or Die” and “Reign Of Terror.”
They would later waste an opportunity to remedy that on their next (and previous?) concert album, Live At The Fillmore, actually eschewing mid-era classics for old stuff. But that’s so Testament, whose career had a few similar missteps, like Michael Rosen’s awful production on Souls of Black, like how Demonic is both ahead-of-its-time and sucky, like the excellent but ill-fitting heavy rock of The Ritual. But those days are gone and Testament fans have cause to be proud then and now. Just to put my cards on the table, this is me angling for the release of a live Testament show from each tour. Followed by a nine-night stand in L.A., playing a different album each night. And while we’re in FantasyLand, they could then release those live shows as a box set that comes with a personalized note from the band begging me to hang out. Your move, Peterson.
(three out of five horns)
Anso DF is a former music journalist whose relationship with Love/Hate is Love/Love on the daily Metal news column Hipsters Out Of Metal!