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While Live in London is technically the 'fourth' Testament live release (if we're including the EPs), and my patience seems to draw thinner each decade of a band's existence in terms of purchasing such items, I have to admit that it's by far the best. Not only because it features the original lineup of the band on fire, tearing through the greatest material of their career (1987-1992), but because no one has been able to capture their stage sound quite so fully and menacingly. These are the studio songs you love, given ample girth and power, and providing a dream gig for anyone who has, for whatever reason, constantly missed them when they came about on their numerous tours...
Issued as both an audio CD and DVD presentation, this and the following 2008 full-length Formation of Damnation provide an excellent 'second wind' for the Californians' career. Every track in this set is a classic revisited, with a relatively even distribution across the the first five albums (even The Ritual getting some love with "Electric Crown" and "Let Go of My World"). The guitar tone is crushing, with mighty palm mutes and dynamic breadth that sound superb whether the band is chugging along at mid pace or engaging one of their older school barrages like "Into the Pit". The drums are deep and haughty, the bass just as prevalent as on any of their studio records, and what's more, Skolnick is a living frenzy throughout, his leads exciting and one has to wonder how these two camps ever survived without each others' company. Chuck Billy is great, as every time I've ever seen him, putting a slightly meatier spin on the vocals than the old days, if only because Testament has wisely decided to not to entirely abandon the influence of their heavier records like Low and Demonic. Fine by me, since I've never had much of an issue with either.
I worship the sheer magnitude of the band's sound here, with the crowd hiss casually blanketed over the instruments to remind the listener where they are, without ever obscuring the musical delivery. There are a few moments of gang shouts or transitions where they don't seem quite as tight as one could hope, but these are rare enough not to mar the overall experience. Obviously, if given the choice, I'd say to go for the DVD over the CD if only because that visual element is important to 'being there', but even as a standalone this destroys Live at the Fillmore, Return to the Apocalyptic City, and the reissued Live at Eindhoven 87. Finally an engineer had done right by this band, and thanks to a near spotless performance these mighty and magnificent tunes are given their due. "Raging Waters", "Trial by Fire", even "Souls of Black" sounds superb, even with the smokier vocals. The one Testament live you can feel great about dropping some coin on, even if it's not the simplest to find these years.
Testament is one of the greatest thrash metal bands of all time. Why they did not join the ranks of the "big four" is a mystery to me. They were a hell of alot better than Anthrax, that's for sure. They never released an album that truly compromised their original style (Metallica and Megadeth), never released "joke songs" (Anthrax), and never flat out released the same album over and over again (Slayer). Testament has always stuck to their guns, and while changing it up a bit in later offerings, could never be accurately called "sell-outs".
What we have here is a live album, and a damn good one at that, that captures the reunited original Testament line-up. This alone was enough to immediately take notice, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Since everyone had left the band prior to the shift to a thrash/death metal style, save for Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson, the song selection completely ignores anything beyond "The Ritual". To put it more simply, this is a "greatest hits" type set list. The main draw here is the return of Alex Skolnick to Testament, and he doe not disappoint. The songs on this album have not been played like this in years, as no one could quite fill Skolnick's shoes. His crushing riffs and masterful solos really show just how talented this man is at his instrument. "Electric Crown", "The Preacher", and "Sins of Omission", showcase his great leads and blistering guitar work the best. Skolnick and Peterson support each other just as well as they ever have, and it is refreshing to hear them play together in a live environment once again. "Practice What You Preach" was made for the Skolnick/Peterson guitar assault, and they pull it off with finesse. Another vital part of Testament that went missing for a number of years, Greg Christian, also returns to the fold. Greg is one of the best bass players thrash would ever see, and once you hear his playing, especially on "Trial by Fire" and "Souls of Black", you'll find it hard to argue. John Tempesta is behind the drum kit for the first half of the album, and original Testsament drummer Louie Clemente, plays on the second half. As much as I like Louie's drumming, I can't help but to point out that Tempesta really stole the show. This could be due to the fact Clemente gave up playing after he left Testament, or maybe Tempesta is just a better drummer overall. Chuck Billy's vocals are still powerful and raw, but seemed to have suffered some due to his health problems at the time. He does have a little trouble hitting some of the higher notes, but overall he still commands every one of these songs, and his mix of old and new style vocals work very well.
The set list, as previously mentioned, is superb. I cannot complain at all about the songs that were selected. The only complaint it is possible to make, is the songs that were not selected. I would have really liked to have heard "Burnt Offerings", "Alone in the Dark", and "Perilous Nation" with this lineup and, had these songs (and one or two others) been included, the set list would have been perfection. As far as what was included, the songs sound just as good, if not better than, the studio versions. This album marks the first time both "Sins of Omission" and "Electric Crown" were included on an official live album, and were quite a treat for me personally. The sound quality on this album is about as good as any live album I've ever heard. There is a good bit of audience interaction, and in truth the band seems to really feed off the energy of the crowd. All these things combined make for a truly awesome live experience that shouldn't be missed.
In conclusion, this is the best live album Testament has put out thus far. As much as I would like to give this a full 100 I cannot bring myself to do so. The reason being Billy is not in his usual top form and the set list seems a bit too short. That being said, I give this a 95 as it's almost everything a fan could ask for. Crank it up and enjoy!