OLD FART CD REVIEWS: TESTAMENT – THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION
So I got an e-mail from Vince asking me if I wanted to review the new Testament CD, The Formation of Damnation. Great, I figured. Let the old fart listen to music by other old farts and rail on about how “metal kicked more ass in my day.” Well, in this case, it’s true.
Testament’s first full-length original CD since 1999’s The Gathering brings back 4/5 of the classic line-up of Chuck Billy (vox), Eric Peterson (guitar), Alex Skolnick (guitar), Greg Christian (bass), and new recruit, drummer Paul Bostaph (ex-Forbidden, ex-Slayer). The rejuvenated quintet brings the best of 80’s Bay Area thrash back to the forefront and teaches the new kids on the block — i.e. Evile, Warbringer, Hatchet, Trivium, Merciless Death – hell, even Lamb of God — exactly how it’s done.
TFOD is no mere 80’s rehash, nor does the band go to the opposite extreme by merely aping the modern metal sound. No, Testament somehow manage to perfectly mesh the best of their excellent early beginnings with a newer sound that transports you back in time as well as welcoming you to the present.
The CD kicks off with a majestic intro “For the Glory of…,” which even has a hint of keyboards. I can already see the smoke and strobes now with the five-piece strolling on-stage led by the towering Billy. This leads directly into “More Than Meets the Eye,” which scared me at first with its Triviumish “Whoa – Oh Oh Oh” gang shouts. But, never fear, Billy’s distinctive singing voice appears and all is well in the world of torn jeans, white Reebok high-top basketball shoes, black T-shirts, and Septic Death stickers.
One thing that sets TFOD apart from most modern metal is Billy’s voice. It’s awesome to hear a singer sing “extreme” and still be able to actually understand what he is saying without having to refer to a lyric sheet. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a Randy Blythe or a Glenn Benton or a George Fischer as much as the next metalhead, but there is something about being able to sing along with the music that adds to the experience.
My favorite track is “The Evil Has Landed,” a song about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That line of “See the flames on the river/ Could this be Judgment Day?” sinks its sharp teeth into your skin and refuses to let go. Not gratuitous. Not exploitative. Just vicious, dark, and vile. Best 9/11 song ever.
Another thing I like about TFOD is that listening to it feels like it did when I first listened to a new Metallica, Exodus, Megadeth, Slayer, Metal Church, or Megadeth record back in the 80’s. Back then, our choices of quality heavy metal were limited so each new release was an event. Access to these records was difficult, so just tracking them down was a chore. Maybe that’s what’s missing in today’s metal landscape? It’s just too damn easy to get a hold of anything. There’s no mystery. Very little excitement.
Okay, enough old fartisms…back to Testament.
The title track will surely piss off MetalSucks readers who took offense to Dallas Coyle’s recent opinions on George W. Bush. Here’s a great line from the song that sounds right up Dallas’s alley: “Election day spitting bullshit to the enslaved.”
Billy has made it clear in several interviews that TFOD, the entire album, is about his dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. He believes that the actions of the U.S. government have only helped to create more terrorists and more dangers for the citizens of our country, hence, the formation of damnation. (Take a close look at the album cover beneath the fanfare of destructive angels and tell me what you see. Washington D.C. does not look like it will be a very happy place to visit in the future.)
The guitar-work on TFOD harkens back to the best tracks from The Legacy and The New Order – in other words, it fuckin’ shreds! It’s great to hear Alex Skolnick back in the fold ripping off face-melting leads after spending time in his jazz trio and the money-paying Xmas gig, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Skolnick and Peterson step back up to the top of the pack of guitar duos rivaled only by the likes of Murray and Smith, Hetfield and Hammett (pre-TBA), and King and Hanneman.
Paul Bostaph is a great addition to the foundation, meshed with returning original bassist Christian. As with Billy’s singing, it’s great to hear drumming that’s not simply about how fast you can hammer, or how many triplets and fills you can insert into every single nook and cranny. Bostaph understands that the silence between beats is just as important as a monstrous tribal doom rhythm and the songs are that much stronger for it.
Be prepared for some serious headbanging, arms-a-wailing, moshpit madness that will leave you drenched in sweat, adult beverages, and unmentionable bodily fluids. TFOD is that damn good!
Now, if we could only convince a promoter to book an Old vs. New Thrash of the Titans tour featuring Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Slayer, Onslaught, and Overkill going up against Evile, Merciless Death, Municipal Waste, Warbringer, Lamb of God, and Chimaira, I could die a happy man.
[Testament on the Interwebs]
[Testament on MySpace]
Hear the title track: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XcGb-p_NJk
“The Evil Has Landed” live (not really) on Fuse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieOQvk4dXDM
“The Evil Has Landed” Skolnick solo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrcf3DWhgEQ