Reviewed: April 2020
Released: 2020, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Jack Merry
Bay Area thrash metal stalwarts Testament unleash their 13th full length studio album “Titans of Creation,” the follow-up to 2016’s excellent “Brotherhood of the Snake.”
There’s a hunger, excitement and energy present across “Titans of Creation” that proves beyond any doubt Testament still carry the thrash flag after all these years and hold it higher than ever before.
The band’s unstoppable style of old-school thrash metal is still the foundation for the record, but it’s been injected with some new ideas; some alluring and progressive ingredients to bring Testament kicking and screaming into the new decade. Andy Sneap’s crystal clear production is excellent once again, Steve DiGiorgio’s bass parts are pushed into the forefront for a handful of songs, guitarist Eric Peterson provides some captivating vocals on ‘Night of the Witch,’ and the band jump headfirst into creeping, thundering doom metal for ‘City of Angels,’ a style they haven’t really attempted during their career.
Eliran Kantor stepped up once again to create a new piece of artwork for the cover, depicting a process of creation. His classic Renaissance style of painting melds beautifully with the ancient and psychological subject matter of the songs. Three gargantuan titans stand where the planets are formed. One pours molten liquid which the others hammer into human DNA; twisting and turning into the ring of a newborn planet. Each titan has the flame of a dying star burning in their chest; the origin of the atoms making up the bodies that are bubbling on the curves of the spiralling helix.
Sticking with the concept, the album has many moods that link with the theme of creation, and it’s obligatory counterpart: destruction. Opening track ‘Children of the Next Level‘ roars out of the starting gate with intricate guitar sections and pummelling drums that immediately prepare us for what’s to come, as vocalist Chuck Billy launches into a scathing attack on the philosophies of the Heaven’s Gate cult: “They gave their lives just to escape, Thirty-nine who took the ride, San Diego mass suicide, Who holds the key to open Heavens Gate, and take ’em to the next level?” The cult, formed in 1974, are definitely worth a Google, as they make for interesting reading.
‘WW III’ is a damning indictment of war and conflict across the globe with razor-sharp riffs and rapid-fire machine gun drumming, and acts as a full-throttle warning of a “Nuclear warhead, dropping on the masses,” while ‘Dream Deceiver’ is drenched in an old-school sound and tells the tale of being captured inside a dream by an otherworldly female force who is slowly working to degrade the mind. “Someone’s haunting you and won’t leave you alone; the only time they pick at you is at night when they can control the way you sleep,” describes Billy.
Guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick trade off of each other brilliantly, combining technical ability with soaring, melodic guitar work and brute force riffing. What they deliver on “Titans of Creation” can only be described as wizardry, and this is none more apparent than on lead single ‘Night of the Witch.‘ The track, inspired by Robert Eggers’ 2015 period horror movie masterpiece “The VVitch,” contains Peterson’s powerful and guttural vocals that provide a more black metal tone compared to that of Billy. The two compliment each other effortlessly, and having two strong vocals paired with blistering leads and powerhouse riff from both Peterson and Skolnick elevates the track to one of 2020’s best metal songs.
I’m a huge fan of doom metal at heart. Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Angel Witch… you name it, I’ll love it. There’s something about the slow, thundering riffs and pounding drums that warms me to my very core. That’s why the absurdly good ‘City of Angels’ is my favourite track on the album. It sees Testament exploring new ground while testing the band’s limits and pushing creativity; coming up with something all-new and unique. Mammoth guitar riffs lumber while the gruesome true story of Richard Ramierz, aka the “Night-stalker,” is told by Billy over the creeping sludgeiness, while a Wah solo erupts over the monstrous riffs at the half way point to create another highlight on the record.
‘Ishtars Gate’ is sure to set pulses racing with a thudding bass line from DiGiorgio; heard clearly throughout, and meticulous riffing and fiery lead guitar work as Skolnick proves he’s one of the best axe-wielders in the metal world. The track’s mesmerising solo is one of the best ever put onto a Testament record, while the Skolnick-penned ‘Symptoms’ is a dark journey through the frustrating world of mental health, including depression, anxiety and mood swings. Intricate yet deadly guitar parts collide with the all-too-relatable lyrics to create a hard-hitting piece on an illness that is far more common than the majority are prepared to acknowledge.
Religion is the next topic for the Testament treatment, as Billy asks us “When you speak to your God, does he care?” on ‘False Prophet.’ Jackhammer drums from Gene Hoglan send the track into oblivion, surrounded by the entire band. Guitar parts twist and turn around thunderous drum and bass patterns as Billy debates religion and it’s followers.
On the other side of the coin, ‘The Healers’ details Chuck Billy’s own experience dealing with all natural medicine men and how they managed to help him pinpoint and heal his past illness. It’s an exciting, bare-knuckle track with the deeper meaning of Billy’s personal battle with cancer and road to recovery. Propulsive riffs that blur the line between death and thrash metal change up the dynamics of the track and keep it fresh upon several listens.
On ‘Code of Hammurabi,’ we have a history lesson of sorts. The Code of Hammurabi is a well preserved Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia, dated back to about 1754 BC. Built largely around the ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ idea, the Code provides great subject matter for a Testament song, and despite being one of the weaker songs here, it’s still an incredible track delivered with conviction, sheer power and smooth guitar work from Skolnick and Peterson.
‘Curse of Osiris’ wouldn’t be out of place on a Death or Venom album, as it borders on death and black metal in some sections, including some growled vocals from Peterson once more. Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated with ancient Egypt, and Osiris is the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, and death. Curses were said to be put on anybody who disturbed the body of an ancient Egyptian, particularly the Pharaohs, and could cause bad luck, illness or death. All interesting stuff, and I’m ecstatic that my favourite thrash metal band wrote a song about this. ‘Curse of Osiris’ fires along at breakneck speed, delivering thrash perfection in just over three minutes. It’s a cacophony of heavy metal prowess and noise, but a great one.
‘Catacombs’ was admittedly an odd choice to finish, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. Creation, life, birth have polar yet necessary opposites in destruction and death; fitting the overreaching concept of the record. An instrumental with only choral chants and keyboards on top of a chugging guitar and militaristic style drums walk us underground into a cemetery as album draws to a close.
“Titans of Creation” is a breathtaking, relentless record from these heavy metal heavyweights, that doesn’t let up until it’s over. Everybody involved is firing on all cylinders as they have a career highlight on their hands, filled to bursting point with mountain-sized riffs, explosive and melodic solos, powerful vocals and one of the best rhythm sections in the genre.
Testament have preserved the thrash metal formula that kicked off their career, while at the same time spreading into new territories and sounds that were previously unexplored. This is a front-runner for metal album of the year, without question. Testament prove themselves to be the true titans of creation.
- Children Of The Next Level
- WW III
- Dream Deceiver
- Night Of The Witch
- City Of Angels
- Ishtars Gate
- False Prophet
- The Healers
- Code Of Hammurabi
- Curse Of Osiris
Chuck Billy | vocals
Eric Peterson | guitars
Alex Skolnick | guitars
Steve DiGiorgio | bass
Gene Hoglan | drums
“Titans of Creation” is due out on April 3rd 2020, via Nuclear Blast Records