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Live at the Fillmore was the first proper live album from Testament, disregarding the two previous EPs which had about 9 tracks and 45 minutes of material between them, and though it has a few flaws stunting it from a position of 'mandatory' in their catalog, it's nonetheless a fairly substantial release with 14 live cuts and 3 'unplugged' studio tracks as an added bonus. Some might find it bittersweet that this is once again not the legendary lineup of the 80s (you're only going to get that with Live at Eindhoven if you manage to hunt it down), but then again, James Murphy and Jon Dette could hardly be considered slumps with their respective instruments, and they do their damnedest here to present even that material to which they weren't 'native'.
As for the set list, there's an appreciable mix of tracks from the first four albums and Low, with The Ritual absent altogether from the live majority of the release. As much as I love that album (it's probably my favorite in the band's career), I think I can understand its lack of presence: the band had just toured on that album and wanted to focus on their newer material, and it suffered from a divisive reaction from their fan base. That said, the material presented here is varied and rounded enough, from "Hail Mary" or "Low" back on into the essentials "Alone in the Dark", "Apocalyptic City", "Eerie Inhabitants" and "The Preacher", to name a few. It's paced out well, generally heavy as fuck, and one of the more interesting components for me was hearing Murphy performing in Skolnick's stead on pieces like the instrumental "A Dirge". That said, there were times through the album where I felt the levels were a little shaky, in particular the panning of the guitars into my 'phones has always seemed to leech them of the charging power that was present on even the live cuts from Return to the Apocalyptic City, and it gets much worse for lead/rhythm guitar sequences.
The drums sound a bit snappy and plain, also, and everyone in the band seems almost as if they were performing from a separate stage. I did enjoy Billy's added aggression here, his 'death metal' gruffness even applied more ferociously to the earlier songs (though it was the status quo on albums like Demonic or Low). There are also a number of notable glitches, especially in the rhythm guitar where the music just doesn't present itself with the same force and solidarity as the studio output, but that's no easy task for a live record, and to some extent it can be forgiven. As for the 'acoustic' studio pieces, they basically take some of the power ballads from the prior albums and then drop the electric guitars. "The Legacy" and "Return to Serenity" certainly don't suffer from the treatment, but I found "Trail of Tears" bland outside of the leads. Nothing impressive or effective, really, but then at least they threw these onto this record rather than trying to put out an MTV Unplugged with Testament.
Honestly, as someone waiting a decade for this to finally happen, I was a little underwhelmed by Live at the Fillmore. There's plenty of content, and the live performances don't sound 'bad', per se, but this is just not one of those amazing thrash lives which begs to be in your collection (like a Live Without Sense). I have no problems with the track selections, and considering Murphy and Dette were still pretty new to the band, the performances were adequate, but it's not something to pay import or EBay prices for.
A total discontent was the only feeling that injected the thrash hearts of Testament musicians. Their label Atlantic completely screwed all the things up with promotion and live performances around the world, furthermore, thrash was a dying kind, so the creators of “The Legacy” decided to give a new life to Burnt Offerings, their own label. They treated their last effort “Low” as the best stuff they have ever recorded, of course they had the right to declare such a theory and unfortunately I cannot agree with them. Now “Low” is just a history, and new stuff arrives to conquer my senses. This is the live album which is in fact a debut under the banner of a new label, and it contains 14 songs and 3 acoustics. Although they wanted to earn some money for promotion of their next studio album, part of amount in cash was given to Association On American Indian Affairs. It is unthinkable that all these human factors made “Live At The Fillmore” the BEST thrash live record performance…
In metal magazines this record was described as typical ‘the best-off’, but I do not agree with such statements. Firstly, there are only three songs from their debut album which I consider the best in their career, fortunately “Apocalyptic City” shows all its brilliance and thrash magic, but musicians forgot about e.g. “Over The Wall”, “The Haunting” (but this is excusable because of these mentioned are on live Ep from 1993) and “Do Or Die”. Moreover, there is no “Disciple Of The Watch”, definitely leading killer from the second album, also tracks from my beloved “The Ritual” are absent here. One can say that I started the things with some drawbacks, disadvantages or something like this. No, it is not truth. So, to the point and to the elemental truth. The first thing: production – simply amazing, this is an example how the live show should be recorded, everything is audible in perfect way, the rhythm section is like a hammer which smashes you down. Here, checking the line up out, important change arrives. This time drummer Tempesta is replaced by John Dette, and I am just under the impression when he gives the old tracks another life. Unfortunately he left the band shortly after the recording. Vocally – Chick is just top-notch, he improved his lines and added some growls to the older tracks as well (“Alone In The Dark”, “Apocalyptic City”), it made the songs better and really powerful, what is interesting that he did it without any effort and artificiality. My main question and apprehension at a time went to the man James Murphy and his replacement of the master Skolnick. I read many articles that he had done his job just very good. And only very good, that he missed this unique ‘Skolnick’ element in his guitar playing… Univocally I’d like to state that Murphy did a perfect (!) job. It’s hard to write but I almost forgot about Alex, he played all the solos/riffs just like on originals, maybe in some short moments I hear changes (of course no falsity here!) that don’t disfigure the entirety. It fits perfectly here, not like on “First Strike Still Deadly” where Skolnick changed his timeless classic parts… Ok, with delight I can see and hear “Apocalyptic City” herein, for me number one among the metal songs, with profound sadness I can write that I saw Testament three times live and didn’t hear this song. So it is the next thing I will praise these sounds eternally. Writing on the end about music coming from Fillmore I can definitely state: realization and musical execution is a masterpiece. It is pure, honest and true. Each musician put own brick into the wall. Nobody is redundant, nobody is a symbol of mediocrity. So I got a milestone. A milestone of thrash metal.
The last part of the album consists of three songs. This is rather a big surprise or even unexpected guest, because after thrash feast, Testament prepared acoustic ballads with Star Nayea female vocals as a Billy’s support. I treat them very well, still they maintain masterly music level, but as a matter of fact I was surprised that Murphy wanted to record such stuff. On the other hand it shows both guitarists Murphy and Peterson are all-around. Booklet says that these tracks were recorded live during Indian benefit.
It is exactly excellent time while listening to this live show, even in spite of 17 years of being in my collection. And with no problem I can put it next to Savatage “Ghost In The Ruins”, my best heavy metal live. It’s proper to point out that sounds from Fillmore were recorded in 1995 – a year where the old and important thrash outfits like Slayer, Overkill, Forbidden, Kreator and others didn’t play this kind of music, or were dead. One can say that this live is the last pure thrash in Testament career and I can agree with it, on the next release Testament will shock metal fans showing new face. The face where thrash and death metal fight bravely. And yes, I was also extremely shocked, but in very positive way… Writing in one sentence on the end: demons will arrive to possess my soul…
Purely a worthy statement to make with regard to the best way to describe the performances of the band on this live recording.
An insidious device...otherwise known as James Murphy's guitar, acts as a lethal M-16, which manages to spray shredded shrapnel from all angles. Fuck can that man play a mean assed guitar! Yes, I do realize that Alex Skolnick is responsible for creating the majority of the guitar solos on this live offering, but it definately highlights James' ability to match them note for note and still add his own little twist of innovation. Huge thumbs up to James for being flawless!
John Dette, who apparently played with Slayer and Whiplash at one time, does some amazing work in the drum department and everything is played with an extra aggressive nod to the double bass pedals from time to time. Another highlight indeed.
The rythm guitar tracks, I wouldn't go so far as to call them riffs...because it is Testament. Anyway, Peterson plays pretty much "hick-up free", and the palm mutted anger is definately prevalant throughout. Kudos to Eric!
Greg's bass lines are awesome as always, I've always felt that Greg has never gotten the recognition that he deserved as being a talented bass player, for whatever reason unbeknown to myself. I suppose being surrounded by either Skolnick, Murphy, or Alvelais may in fact render someone, somewhat overshadowed. Just the same Greg is an awesome bass player, and this live recording definately gives a lasting impression of his ability.
Lastly, Chuck's voice is right on the money for the most part. He hadn't yet fucked it up with his death metal overtone garbage, so the melodic stuff is still acheived, and it is done rather well. I'd have to say that of all the live stuff that I've ever heard by Testament, this is definately Chuck's best and most memorable performance.
Another point that should be mentioned is the fact that the band reaches all the way back to their first album to compile a killer set of live classics. A great live album, and the unplugged, bonus tracks if you will, at the end are very interesting as well...this is well worth owning
I have come to the conclusion after much thought on the subject that Testament’s live album Live at the Fillmore is indeed the greatest Single Disc live album ever recorded. Now, more and more live albums are become 2 Disc sets. Although you get more bang for your buck, this bothers me slightly. I want to just pop in a CD and rock out, not switch albums needlessly over n over.
Many will argue that Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East is the greatest single disc live album, but I disagree. Although there are many rocking tunes on it, a few greats of that time were left off and the production seems TOO clean. Also, just chock it up to personal preference, because Priest hadn’t hit their stride yet with their harder sound, and this Testament album is at their peak.
This brings me to ask though, why so many live albums now 2 Discs when they could easily cut 2 mediocre songs and make a fabulous single disc live album. I believe quality is always better than overwhelming quantity. That’s why I believe Live at the Fillmore is the top live album… well, top single disc live album. I might try and argue it’s the best live album ever, but then I remember Live After Death (which actually did warrant being 2 discs because it’s so awesome). However, every track on Live at the Fillmore is not only an A+ song, but is given a modern bite to it (for the older songs) and really shines through that this band is having fun, playing tight and really giving you (the fans) what you want. I honestly couldn’t think of a better setlist for the time this was recorded
And hey… they still had room to fit in a few more songs. Not to take from many different shows, they decided to throw us a bone and put in 3 studio acoustic versions of previous songs. This is a welcomed spot after the heavy assault on the senses we got from the live outing. The really mellow and beautiful acoustic versions are a great way to cap off the album.
Overall, this is the only live album I have NO gripes with, and any thrash metal fan without this is no true thrasher (let alone a metalhead at all). This album, along with Rust in Peace, Live After Death, Painkiller and Holy Diver is IMO a must own for any true metalhead who like to bang their head.