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As a huge fan of the early thrash metal scene, I admit that Testament's popularity could've skyrocketed had they made some smarter choices in the 80's. In retrospect, It's a bit surprising how they didn't establish themselves alongside the likes of Metallica and Megadeth as one of the true heavyweights of the thrash metal genre. Every ingredient is there, staring you, right in the face, the songwriting, the talent and the charisma, Testament had it all.
The biggest hurdle this band faced was their reputation for being a decent second rate Metallica clone rather than a band with it's own identity. I think "Low" is finally where they forged an identity for themselves but this came way too late for their own good. The 90's was an age dominated by grunge and a band called Pantera. "Low" sees the band expand their sound while still keeping their root elements intact. This is far from being a pure thrash metal record, The band adopts a refreshing, modern approach with some clear death metal influences brought in by new guitarist James Murphy.
Chuck Billy does his best James Hetfield impersonation every once in a while but has fully developed his own unique personality by now. Despite the departure of Alex Skolnick and Louie Clemente, the new members fit in quite comfortably and the band sounds reborn.
The album is helped by a nicely balanced, potent production job that gives this album a fairly distinct sound. "Low", The title track makes for a crushing introduction with massive riffing and Chuck's brilliant, soaring vocals. Testament waste no time with a punishing opener to kick things off in style. "Legions (In Hiding)" marches on with some huge, catchy grooves and Chuck's experimentation with new death metal style vocals. Worth mentioning also is the drumming, A more active and varied style of drumming that accentuates the brutality a bit more than their previous records.
"Hail Mary" is where perhaps Chuck Billy sounds most like James Hetfield "I am alive, I feel dirt in my eyes". The riffing has a flavor that is sometimes quite reminiscent of James Murphy's work with Death. Metallica's influences are still quite abundant on tracks like "Shades of War","P.C." and "Chasing Fear" which bring forth some ...And Justice For All and Master of Puppets influenced aggression. Testament's songwriting now has a newfound consistency to it, the filler material present on their previous albums is completely absent.
"Dog Faced Gods" should have any warm blooded thrash metal fan banging their heads in joy. This was the mid-90's and they said thrash was dead. Testament successfully turn back the clock with the vicious chugging riffs and catchy choruses that the band is well known for. "Trail of Tears" is another ballad by this band, this time bringing back memories of Fade to Black and Welcome Home (Sanitarium). The melodic lead work oozes class and taste as they successfully manage to craft a slower, more moody song. Chuck Billy is right at home here even if the lyrics themselves are a bit shallow.
"All I Could Bleed" has an interesting vibe to it and some moments that sound like late 80's Exodus. Not a personal favorite of mine but not bad at all. "Ride" has Chuck Billy repeatedly screaming Ride!.... for a chorus and you just know that the band is running out of ideas. "Urotsukidoji" is an interesting, mostly instrumental composition that makes use of voice samples with some interesting results. The band's experimentation largely impresses with slick bass work, menacing grooves and some inspired guitar soloing which again reminds me of Murphy's work with Death. "Last Call" brings the album to a completely anticlimactic ending.
All in all, Testament's sixth album is probably their most consistent offering. The band doesn't fall prey to their age old clichés that dragged the band back and have finally found their stride. This is an effort that is to be respected and deservedly so. A potent mix of thrash metal with a wide range of classic and modern influences coupled with good songwriting makes this an album a definite winner.