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Everybody knows Testament’s legacy. If you realize that I snuck a pun right under your nose then you’d also know that they’ve been around since the birth of this genre and have stuck to the task of delivering quality music ever since. Enter the year 2012 and what was unveiled to us was an album cover of epic proportions. Not that there exists a correlation between artwork and the music, but it certainly builds up expectations for sure. By the time the album was going to be released, we were teased with singles like ‘Native Blood’ and ‘True American Hate’. Those severely shot up my expectations so much so that I felt ‘Dark Roots of the Earth’ would be among the best thrash metal albums in the last ten years. It’s been close to three months since I’ve been regularly spinning the album and to be honest, I am on the fence when it comes to this album – the fence between something ‘really good’ on one side, and ‘above average’ on the other side. I shall elaborate on why I think so.
The album opens with ‘Rise Up’ which is mid-tempo paced with a chorus which employs gang vocals. I wasn't fond of it but I suppose it’ll be better received with a live audience. If I was responsible for the track listing, I wouldn’t have had this as the opening track. So if the first track lets you down then your enthusiasm levels will probably rise with the song that follows. ‘Native Blood’ will grab your attention from the first second with a riff which has both elements of thrash and groove, a combination which luckily doesn’t sound like recycled modern thrash. Something that one won’t usually come across in Testament songs are the blast beats which are present in the chorus. This beautifully complements Chuck Billy’s screams during the chorus of the song. This is by far my favourite song from the album. The title track of the album was a damper after ‘Native Blood’ set the benchmark quite high. As I had mentioned before, apart from ‘Native Blood’, the other track that was released earlier to the public was ‘True American Hate’. This is another of my favourite tracks from the album. It’s faster, aggressive and it actually feels like balls-out-thrash metal. Again, one will hear the signature blast beats which are coming to be more prominent all thanks to Gene Hoglan who has rejoined the band after close to 14 years. The rest of the album meanders towards the end through songs which really didn’t strike large for me. ‘Cold Embrace’ is an attempted ballad, nowhere to close to how the famous ‘Return to Serenity’ has etched itself a place in history. I wouldn’t write off all the tracks completely though. Tracks like ‘Throne of Thorns’ and ‘Last stand for independence’, may not have met my expectations but are definitely better than the current flock of thrash metal songs out there.
When it comes to the instrumentation and the song structures, Testament have really outdone themselves compared to their previous efforts. Skolnick’s solos are wonderfully crafted in each of the songs. For the listener, the solos will not only weave out intuitively but will also catch one’s ear at the various transitions. I also love the fact that Hoglan, former Dark Angel skinsman, was involved in the writing process. In my opinion, he’s one of the best thrash metal drummers in the business and the band has made the right decision to use his services. His drum fills and blast beats fit brilliantly in the mix. I was slightly disappointed with the strength of the lyrical content though. Thematically, most of the songs spring from Chuck Billy’s American Indian heritage. But there could’ve been more substance than just mere words about pure rebellion. For example, ‘Rise up – War’ and song titles like ‘A Day in the Death’ and ‘Man kills Mankind’ left me with a bland feeling if you can catch my drift. That’s one aspect which could’ve been improved upon.
At the end of listening to the album in its entirety I feel that Testament have no doubt delivered one of the better albums of 2012. But that’s only because it’s in context with the other new releases in metal which failed to deliver. For me, the success of this album is hinging on the two stand-out songs I mentioned, Hoglan’s drumming and Skolnick’s solos. To sum up, those aspects have made the whole album listenable for all these months and that’s where I stand as far as ‘Dark Roots of the Earth’ goes, on the aforementioned fence.