Released: 2012, Nuclear Blast
Four long years after the release of THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION, four of the five members of the fan favorite lineup return with DARK ROOTS OF THE EARTH. Filling the shoes for the still absent Louis Clemente is Gene Hoglan, reprising his role on DEMONIC. TFOD was welcomed with anticipation, being the first true new album since ‘99’s THE GATHERING. Naturally, it was compared to THE GATHERING and found by most initial reviews to be a great comeback, but inferior to THE GATHERING. Four years later though, TFOD has become a much beloved album, rightfully claiming its own space in the trophy case for the band. This proves the point that as years pass, a good album builds a momentum of its own.
DARK ROOTS OF THE EARTH will thus be upheld against not only the past legendary albums, but also to the now nearly classic status of TFOD. Not surprisingly, many initial fan and press reviews have called it inferior to TFOD, but again a great album. I feel the opposite. This is actually a more complete realization and marriage of the band’s first three records and their more modern albums. TFOD was pulverizing in its heaviness, delivering the correct message at the time that Testament was a band that could keep up, would be heavy, all while playing circles around lesser bands.
DARK ROOTS OF THE EARTH retains elements of heaviness, while comfortably settling in to a mid-paced tempo through much of the album. The album cover art is captivating, visually alluding to the sonic tapestries within. Skolnick and Peterson construct mammoth riffs carefully interspersed with chunks of rhythm and guitar tone that is frankly, magnificent. Without question the guitars are one of the key elements to DROTE and impressively they share the same vision, correcting a noticeable problem on the older albums when it was clear Eric and Alex were just not on the same page. Hoglan is one of the finest metal drummers alive and fulfills his end of the bargain here, but if there is a challenger to the guitars it is the daunting front man Chuck Billy himself. Billy shows his versatility on this album in a far greater degree than on TFOD, employing all of the considerable tools in his arsenal. There are well placed bowel shattering growls, but more often it is Billy’s articulate clean voice blended with just the right amount of aggressiveness and melody. Look to “Throne of Thorns” to hear a brilliant combination of vintage and modern Testament, with its melodic soloing and Billy’s varied delivery. “Cold Embrace” thankfully continues Testament’s command of unconventional and memorable ballads.
DARK ROOTS OF THE EARTH delivers as a worthy follow-up to TFOD, produced perfectly by Andy Sneap. I would like to have heard more of the melodic passages that helped propel past good songs to greatness, such as the legendary melodic sections of “Over The Wall” and “Alone In The Dark.” Skolnick’s fluid and dexterous playing is still unmistakable, but he has reigned in the overtly melodic sections for more aggressive and chromatic solos. In the end it works, and as a result the sound is quite cohesive. Fans of band and thrash fans should rejoice; Testament has delivered the goods once again. Let us hope we do not have to wait so long for the next album.
Note: The deluxe version of the album contains three cover tracks and an extended version of “Throne Of Thorns”: Deluxe CD - 10. Dragon Attack (QUEEN Cover) 11. Animal Magnetism (SCORPIONS Cover) 12. Powerslave (IRON MAIDEN Cover) 13. Throne Of Thorns (Extended Cut)