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With only a mere week to go before the grand release of the latest excursion into all things thrash by Testament (otherwise known as “Dark Roots Of Earth”), these Bay Area veterans have decided to mark the occasion with yet another peek at the emerging beast in “Native Blood”. For those who have taken a bit of a liking to the first single “True American Hate”, the same story is basically told here, as when Testament commits to a particular approach, they tend not to deviate from it within a singular studio album the way Anthrax or Megadeth might. The only point of contrast that really exists on this single is that the overall assault is a bit less vicious.
This is a song that is all but completely defined by catchiness, as most of the principle ideas are right out of the familiar melodic mishmash of NWOBHM and punk themes that dominated their sound in the 80s, but repackaged with a much more raucous and punchy sounding modern production sound. There’s an extended blast beat right in the midst of this thing that is heavily reminiscent of Eric Petersen’s stint with Dragonlord, but here it sticks out like a sore thumb and all but shouts out at the listener that he is itching to put another album out for that project. Chuck Billy’s vocals are still heavily shouted in character, but a bit smoother and more Hetfield-like than on “True American Hate”.
The only place where this thing loses steam and falls a tiny bit short of being a new classic in the mold of recent reformations of older thrash outfits with a more modern sound is that damn spoken passage at just past the 3 minute mark of this song (just after the fairly impressive guitar solo reminiscent of Marty Friedman circa “Rust In Peace”). Essentially what starts off as a really catchy, fast but not quite speedy thrasher spends about 35 seconds in “Far Beyond Driven” territory for no real reason. The lyrics throughout the song are somewhat plain and contrived, but at this point they degenerate into that annoying, tough guy posturing crap that Phil Anselmo seems addicted to in the mid 90s, and would feed into the even crappier version of it exhibited by so-called nu-metal/mallcore bands.
Nevertheless, this is a pretty decent song that provides a much more optimistic picture of Testament’s soon to be 10th studio album (11th if you count the “First Strike Still Deadly” studio revisiting of past material) than what was the case back in the 90s. It’s not really in the same mold as the nostalgic, throwback albums of late that have been cropping up all over the world, but there’s enough traditional thrash mixed in with the mode of recent Andy Sneap thrash album productions (see recent Megadeth and Exodus albums for reference to that) to keep even a number of the rugged traditionalists satisfied.
To be fair, I haven't really listened to Testament with any real amount of focus in probably close to 20 years. I tried their 90's stuff, and it wasn't bad, just that there were other bands doing what they were trying to do, but doing it slightly better. They always seemed to me to be slightly behind the times (remember when they tried their hand at death metal, only about 6 years too late?), and this single just doesn't bode well for me for the upcoming full length.
Imagine if Metallica tried to play a Pantera song (albeit with WAY better musicianship than Metallica could ever hope to muster)... that's what this song screamed at me from the first moments in. Actually, throw in a bit more Exodus worship than normal for these guys and that's pretty close to what I'm hearing here. The song starts off with a classic early 2000's Exodus gallop, but then when everything kicks in it just falls into Metallica/Pantera territory. The nail in the coffin for me is the atrocious spoken word part in the middle of the solo. I just don't get that. Didn't bands stop doing that in the mid 90's? Oh, and all due respect to the musicians involved, but the blast beats just seem horrifically out of place. They are played very well, (after all, it IS Gene-Freaking-Hoglan) but the inclusion of them in the arrangement should have been questioned.
Then the song fades out. It fades out. Did I mention it fades out? It does. It fades out. Is this the 70's? Metal, and thrash metal in particular, should not fade out. I have always held the opinion that when bands fade out their songs, they couldn't think of a good ending. Here's an idea... just end it. "Bang!" Thank you, goodnight Albuquerque.
I've liked Testament for a while, at some points in time more than others, but this song made me realize something... they have always been incredibly derivative. The first album was an Exodus album, then they wanted to be Anthrax for about a decade (for whatever reason), then, um, death metal, then... well you get the idea. Now they want to be a thrash Pantera. Pass.
It doesn't suck, it's just not really that good. It's extremely well played, just not so well written. I expected more, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. I hope the new album is better than this.