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The Thrash Shades - 85%

Tlacaxipehualiztli, July 8th, 2012

One very important thing needs some words of explanation before writing about this Testament’s sixth release. Well, I consider their previous work “The Ritual” as one of the best metal album in my collection. Even if there are some no thrashy sounds and no furious and rapid tunes well known from their two first albums, I put “The Ritual” exactly next to these cds. Thus I had big expectations as well as some grave apprehensions due to Testament changed the lineup: no drummer Clemente, and no guitar master Skolnick as well (especially the absence of Alex was like a shattering blow for me!). Of course the band prepared some kind of foretaste, but it was the only live Ep. Reading many interviews with the band, they felt a real strong desire to make a heavier album. “The Ritual” was just a past woven by the compromises (as they said), so the main creators Billy and Peterson were looking at the upcoming future with optimism, although thrash started to die or change its musical face. So, as the musicians stated, “Low” had to be a return to the glorious roots of Testament past…

With entire trust I went to the local musical shop and bought the tape… The first seconds with “Low” was a real shock. I was just smashed in to the ground. The perfect drums and guitar cannonade made my eyes open really, really wide. For sure the production is more powerful than on “The Ritual”, but one surprise is yet to come, namely with the chorus and the words “…show some mercy…” Chuck shows a new way of singing: growl! And this is the beginning of the new road definitely, however this kind of vocals are not used here too often. The second newness: James Murphy on lead guitar, well known death metaller (Death, Disincarnate, Obituary) joins the crew just like John Tempesta on drums. Both musicians stamp their mark on the first track (and whole album), especially solo lead is first class. “Low” attacks with heaviness, aggression and anger, this is absolutely great song on the start. The second “Legions (In Hiding)” isn’t such a mad track, the mid tempo dominates here with very interesting dialogue between two guitarists in solo leads. The next “Hail Mary” (or “Hell Marry” as it was written in Polish Metal Hammer during Testament’s interview he, he…) is like a electric shock – probably the best one with very thrilling guitar motives, Testament didn’t used to play in this way, but this is still crushing thrash metal: powerful riffs, rhythm section, fine solo and superb vocals. It ends suddenly to give place “Trail Of Tears” which is a… ballad. Yes, it’s true, the band shows lighter sounds, just like on “The Ritual” (“Return To Serenity”). It is some kind of surprise because musicians were willing to play only hard and heavy stuff. This ballad is written by Peterson himself and what can I say about it? This is absolutely ripper in their discography even if I talk about ballad song, “Trail Of Tears” undeniably joins the big two from the glorious past “The Legacy” and aforementioned “Return To Serenity”. The structure is rather conventional, we have lighter sounds in stanza and heavier in chorus plus many great memorable and heart-ripping solos. Another interesting fact: this is the last ballad recorded so far, of course I do not count acoustic versions on the next live record.

“Low” is raging in these first four songs, but suddenly the moments of break down arrive, which dominate in “Shades Of War” and “P.C.”. And I do not know why, maybe it refers to rather average riffs, which simply they don’t convince me… Fortunately this temporary benumbment passes away, when “Dog Faced Gods” enters the stage. This is almost death metal killer with paralyzing opening, quite fast riffs, double bass attack and Chuck growls (clean vocals only in chorus). As the title says, I can also find there oriental-like guitar lead by James. The structure of the song is like a presage to the future musical trials of the band. The next “All I Could Bleed” is interesting too, with some speedups in the middle and memorable as always guitar leads. In turn “Urotsukidōji” stands here as instrumental remembrance of glorious days of „Hypnosis” or “Musical Death (A Dirge)” from the second album. But even there are flashy bass lines and guitar leads, nothing is going to dethrone these masterpieces from “The New Order”… The end of “Low” is close, but fortunately one song has a strong position. Its name “Chasing Fear”, one of the best “Low” tracks with excellent opening and furious chorus, in the middle there is a bright, ‘climatic’ slow down, I also admire killing guitar show of Erik and James. Really good work! Before the last very calm outro, “Ride” (simple yet energetic song) is rather in the vein of two weaker tracks I mentioned somewhere above.

To put all the things together and say something on the end: Testament wanted to record heavier album and they did it undeniably. But also they told about “Low” as their best work so far. And here I can’t agree with them. Maybe this is better than “Practice What You Preach” and “Souls Of Black”, you know, maybe, but that’s all. When I think about their cult 80s records, “Low” fails utterly. For sure they had to face many problems in those days, but lack of Alex Skolnick is very perceptible and significantly lowers the final mark, even if the guitar works (riffs and leads) are very good (but only ‘very good’). I would like to describe “Low” just correct and right stuff with some excellent moments, but this album is a kind of disappointment after “The Ritual” and its majesty. Of course I was full of understanding, because I knew about the problems with the line-up and I think that this isn’t the most important fact, for sure the main argument to praise the band is that they didn’t give up. The decisive proof was born in 1995, when “Live At The Fillmore” saw the daylight. With no Skolnick, no Clemente, no Tempesta, and no Atlantic records finally, they recorded a genuine thrash live album, a real masterpiece of superb metal, but this is another story to tell…