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Mainstream-itis was the disease that hit the thrash scene hard at the end of the 80's. The whole progressive thrash thing wasn't catching on, leaving the remaining bands the options of adapting to the new conditions of the popular music scene or being wiped off the face of the earth. Apparently mid-tempo half-thrash was the daily special on the Bay Area menu and unfortunately, Testament ordered up. After two albums of competent material, the would-be-legendary thrashers put out the mismatched, incongruent Practice What You Preach, most likely to try and emulate the success of Master of Puppets. It almost worked, as PWYP is the band's best-selling album to date (I think), but commercial success never, ever dictates an album's true worth. Listen to this album after The Legacy, The New Order, or any other solid 80's thrash release and see its mediocrity shine through.
Mid-paced is the name of the game here. I'd say that roughly 60-70% of this album is mid-tempoed at best, with many passages being even slower. There's so few actual fast thrash sections that hardcore fans of the first album would be appalled. Now the mid-paced riffing is still generally good, evident in solid title track. But wait for that effectiveness to run out real fast. "Perilous Nation," "Envy Life," and "The Time is Coming" almost crawl in their by-the-numbers halfassedry. Chuck Billy spends a lot of time trying to work on his melodic singing, losing much of his earlier harshness and attempting to replace it with James Hetfield-esque vocal mannerisms and imitation death growls. The riffs come and go without standing out. Even the band's lyrics raise qualms, considering that they've abandoned their occultic niche and adopted a generic attitude towards politics/environmental issues/religion that's been done quite well before Testament ever got their hands dirty in it. "Blessed in Contempt" saves side one from complete mediocrity (well that and the title track), featuring some actual fast thrash, some mighty catchy riffing, and a cool chorus melody to boot.
"Greenhouse Effect" opens side two and I'll be damned if it isn't catchy as fuck. The spiritual predecessor to Annihilator's "Stonewall," this one utilizes the finest in Testament's trademark harmonized riffing plus some pretty sweet gang vocals in the chorus and some nice tempo changes. "Sins of Omission" keeps this rejuvenated feeling alive and well by being the best damn song on here, as well as one of the band's finest. Great lyrics, riffs, solos, vocals, everything. Then there's "The Ballad." Now come on people, am I the only one who thinks this thing was written tongue-in-cheek? Or at least a little bit? I mean it's a power ballad that they fucking call "The Ballad," the lyrics are almost too generic to be taken seriously, there's a long ass, incredibly well-written acoustic intro segment, and it ends as an all-out thrasher. I don't think they took it too seriously. The album ends up with the quick number "Nightmare," which is just cool enough to distract you from the proggy yet stupid instrumental "Confusion Fusion." If the repetition doesn't kill you, the annoying bass will. All in all, about half the album rules and the other half well.... doesn't.
Also let it be noted that Alex Skolnick's presence is worth an extra 20 or so points here. If Eric Peterson played all the leads (I think he actually starts playing some on here), this would have very little going for it. If you thought he shredded it up on the last two albums, PWYP will blow your mind as you hear him rip through some of the finest solos of his career. Quite enough to save this in my point of view.
Conclusion: on one hand, no, this album isn't very good. But on the other hand, it doesn't deserve to get lambasted as much as it does, considering there are some good songs on here. Chances are you won't be putting it in your top ten thrash albums of all time, but you might like a song or two, so I carefully recommend it.
Highlights: "Sins of Omission," "Blessed in Contempt," the title track