CD Review: Testament - Dark Roots of the Earth

CD Review: Testament - Dark Roots of the Earth
Nuclear Blast
All Access Review: A-
Testament - Dark Roots of the Earth 2012
Forget the kerfuffle over Testament’s use of blast beats on Dark Roots of the Earth. Such concerns are small potatoes when measured against the enormity of the Bay Area bashers’ latest sonic blitzkrieg on a metal community still dazed by the fire-bombing wrought by Formation of Damnation, unleashed by Testament in 2008. Utilizing a drumming technique associated more with death metal than thrash on “Native Blood” and the unremittingly hostile “True American Hate” – both of these clean-running machines riddled by head-spinning fusillade of fiery riffs and saber-rattling twin-guitar leads – Testament willingly violates a long-held taboo to forge steely, sharp broadswords of battle-scarred aural barbarism that could cut through armor as if it were butter.
Recorded and engineered by Andy Sneap, who seemingly can do no wrong lately, Dark Roots of the Earth, out now on Nuclear Blast, is a somewhat less ferocious animal than its predecessor, despite its full-bodied, high-impact sound. That’s only because Testament chooses to occasionally indulge its more refined progressive inclinations on such complex, tempo-shifting pieces as the tightly-woven, seven-minute descent into madness that is “Throne of Thrones.” The lengthy melodic ballad in “Cold Embrace” – veering cringingly close to power-balladry – cycles through a hoary underworld of intricate acoustic passages and gentle tendrils of electric-guitar arpeggios before periods of crushing heaviness swoop in to lay waste to anything resembling song structure, while the title track initiates a deliciously slow, tantalizing burn that eventually becomes a bonfire.
Not to worry, Testament hasn’t turned into Rush, as the clawing, growling riffage and monstrous brutality of “Rise Up” so violently attests. As defiant as ever, powerhouse singer Chuck Billy seems to detonate land mines every time he opens that raging mouth of his to speak gruffly of war, freedom, death and the end of days – not to mention the oppressed Native American experience that Billy confronts head on in the explosive, deliriously infectious “Native Blood.” Always mindful of maintaining an exhilarating pace and planting hooks with the teeth of bear traps – always biting right through the bone – guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson fluidly wield their axes with impressive precision, rich tonality and diabolically diverse dynamics on such rugged earth-movers as “A Day in the Death” and “Man Kills Mankind.” Sneap and Testament take all of those elements, including the blizzard of beats pouring out of Gene Hoglan’s drums and the thick, gripping bass undertow of Greg Christian, and shape tracks into chugging, monolithic thrash-metal war ships.
This is not your father’s thrash, the raw and sometimes hairy character of old-school recordings sanded smooth on Dark Roots of the Earth. Incredibly detailed, the album’s rigorous attention paid to raising dark melodies and the complex, artistic soloing of Skolnick and Peterson – apparently born of jazz and King Crimson studies – out of the usual Testament tumult strengthens and boosts the force with which Testament attacks. Experiencing almost every song on Dark Roots of the Earth is like getting gored by a bull and then shot by a hunting rifle. Physically, it slams into the body and boggles the senses. Having medical personnel nearby ready to lend aid might not be a bad idea.

-            Peter Lindblad

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