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An Interesting Direction - 82%

pinpals, May 29th, 2007

Like a lot of other former thrash bands of the 80's, Testament released an album in 1992 that showed much more accessible songwriting and wasn't nearly as heavy. This was to be expected and charted higher than any other Testament album. Exeunt Alex Skolnick to Savatage. Testament recuit James Murhphy and release perhaps their heaviest album yet. What is surprising is that it is more groove metal than thrash. Perhaps even more surprising is that it doesn't suck.

Testament got a new producer in GGGarth, who had also done work with Rage Against the Machine, and had the album mixed by Michael Wagner. The guitars are in the forefront, with the vocals and drums in their appropriate places, not too buried, but not too far up front either. The result is a much heavier sound that is unlike anything else Testament's peers were doing at the time, with the exception of Overkill of course.

Also new to the band is John Tempesta, who had done some work in Exodus and White Zombie. His work is outstanding and he makes this the first Testament album where the drumming is a highlight as opposed to being...well...there. Louie Clemente never progressed past Lar$ styled drumming and is one of the many reasons that Testament never became as big as Slayer and Anthrax, both of whom had excellent drummers.

This change in direction gives Eric Peterson a chance to take a new approach to riff-writing, and as a result, the riffs are much stronger than anything on "The Ritual." There may be only one or two main riffs in a song, but they hit hard and are a breath of fresh air. New guitarist James Murphy does a fine job of replacing Alex Skolnick; many of the solos would sound like Skolnick was playing them except that Murhpy's guitar sound isn't quite as strong. In fact, many Skolnick-isms appear throughout the album; perhaps Skolnick wrote all the solos before he left the band and Murphy just played them. That would explain why Murphy's performance here was so much better than his lackluster work on "The Gathering." Even so, the solos are just as much of a highlight as on any previous Testament album.

The best solo of the whole album can be found in "Dog Faced Gods," a song that shows Testament exploring the borders of death metal. The guitars chug and Chuck Billy growls during the verses, yet delivers clean vocals for that kickass chorus. This song is one of the best that Testament has ever written and is one of the more unique songs in their catalogue. The title track gives a pretty accurate representation of what the rest of the album is like, and although it's a good song, I feel more could have been done with it. It starts out with a terrific riff and Chuck Billy mixes his more traditional growl with a death growl, although not nearly as much as on "Dog Faced Gods," but the song doesn't progress at all, and seems somewhat inadequate. The album as a whole offers consistantly strong heavy metal until about the very end, where the riff and songwriting slips a little.

The only exception to this is the ballad "Trail of Tears." After writing two of the best metal ballads ever with "The Legacy" and "Return to Serenity," Testament decided to stick with genre cliches. The singing, build-up at the end, solo, clean-to-heavy guitar transitions are all predictable and have been done much more successfully by other bands. Thankfully, this would be the last ballad the band would write.

Even though "Low" is far from essential, it's still a nice heavy album to headbang to and is much better than pretty much anything else that was being released at the time. The songs are solid pretty much from start to finish and this album is great to listen to while driving.