Released: 2008, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
In what has become something like the CHINESE DEMOCRACY of thrash, Testament’s new album, THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION, is a long-delayed but heavily-anticipated record that has been nine years in the making. Bankrupt record labels and band member’s health issues are at the root of the delay but absence makes the heart grow fonder they say and with the current rise of new thrash bands emerging, the timing could not be better for the Bay Area veterans to unleash its latest platter of metal mayhem. Picking up right where 1999’s THE GATHERING left off, the new record is chock full of melodic tunes mixed with a fair share of brutal moments that are all tied in with just the right amount of modern production touches from Andy Sneap. Defying the odds, THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION sees Testament at the top of its game, never missing a step despite almost a decade away from the trenches.
The great thing about Testament is that even as they shifted from melodic thrash to a more death metal-oriented style on 1997’s DEMONIC, the guitar melodies remained accessible and that trend continues today. THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION is chock full of instantly memorable riffs and leads courtesy of Alex Skolnick (back in the band again after departing following 1992’s THE RITUAL) and Eric Peterson, with “F.E.A.R.” and the incredibly catchy “More Than Meets The Eye” being just two examples. Skolnick absolutely shreds on his solos, too, with “F.E.A.R.” and the title track flagellating the listener from all sides. Many fans might bring into question the strength of Chuck Billy’s formidable bellow following the vocalist’s cancer scare a few years ago but Billy sounds as gruff and powerful as ever, while also showing off his mid-range sneer. Billy showcases his various vocal styles nicely on “More Than Meets The Eye” and the 9/11-themed “The Evil Has Landed” as he breaks out the nasty-as-a-junkyard-dog snarl but also adds big, booming roars. Never forgetting their thrash roots, Testament unleashes plenty of circle pit fodder on the brutal title track (reminiscent of “D.N.R.” from THE GATHERING) and the pedal to the metal urgency of “Henchmen Ride.” At the same time, tracks like “Killing Season” and “Afterlife” posses an undeniable head-bobbing groove led by bassist Greg Christian and drummer Paul Bostaph (the latter returning to the band following a brief stint back in 1992) that explores yet another facet of Testament’s diversity.
Speaking of diversity, the clumsy arrangement of “Dangers of The Faithless” and the progressive leanings of “Leave Me Forever” are, at best, hit and miss. The former plods along at a clunky tempo and utilizes heavily-processed vocals, while the latter never really leaves its mark and just kind of drifts away. Neither is particularly bad but they certainly pale in comparison to the strength of the rest of the material here. One could also fault the 9/11 subject matter of “The Evil Has Landed” as being rather dated with seven years having passed since the tragedy but, in fairness, Testament hasn’t had a new record out in nine years, so this is the band’s first shot at touching on this subject.
With THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION, Testament’s return is sure to be viewed as one of the finest comebacks of the year, if not the decade. Like most metal bands, the nineties saw Testament flounder and while they have lied low through the new millennium, 2008 sees the band on a powerful major independent label (Nuclear Blast Records) and an interest in thrash metal at its strongest since the mid-eighties. In other words, the timing is impeccable for Testament to unfurl its wings again and THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION is sure to please older fans and bring in a whole breed of new ones, as well. The album is not without its flaws—and they are minor—but this is a scorcher of a record and one that stands up to the legacy (pardon the pun) of the band’s classic material.
KILLER KUTS: “More Than Meets The Eye,” “The Evil Has Landed,” “The Formation of Damnation,” “Henchmen Ride,” “Killing Season,” “Afterlife,” “F.E.A.R.”