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It’s difficult to fully describe what was going on in the world of Testament circa 1989 when this, their 3rd effort in as many years of putting out studio albums, was unleashed upon the thrash hungry masses. But somewhere between the antics of latter 80s Anthrax and the commercialization of the a number of west coast outfits, Testament decided to plant their flag on yet another niche, this one being trying to merge as many rock elements as possible into the thrash style and try to work it into an outright conventional, formulaic approach. Granted, this is something that had been done circa the earlier 80s when thrash and speed metal were all but completely synonymous, but what is going on here hardly can be classified as fast, save perhaps by rock radio standards.
“Practice What You Preach” is almost Metallica’s self-titled billboard smash 1991 studio album 2 years before the fact, particularly if one focuses on all of the non-atmospheric, mid-tempo work on said album. The lead guitar work is a bit fancier, the bass work is astoundingly clear and almost funky at times, and Chuck Billy’s vocals still tend to resemble Hetfield back during the “Ride The Lightning” days, but much of what is on here could be readily compared to “Struggle Within”, “Holier Than Thou” and “Through The Never” without much of a stretch. Perhaps the biggest contrast between this album and said early 90s commercially overblown super hit is the production job here, particularly on the guitar sound, which is razor thin and all but flirting with late 70s hard rock territory. But occasional overloud chime-ins by the vocal tracking also proves to take the proverbial wind out of some already battered sails.
There isn’t quite anything on here that qualifies as bad or even bland per say, but a good amount of this album is pretty lightweight and definitely points to the gradual slowing down and taming of this style that became know as wiffle thrash. The lone exceptions are the riff happy title song (which is the only thing on here that even comes close to resembling this band’s exceptional debut), the somewhat groovy but plenty heavy “Time Is Coming” and the brief reminiscence of high octane speed metal “Nightmare (Coming Back At You)”. Otherwise, most of what is on here is slow and subdued enough to pass for “Cowboys From Hell”, but without the intricate rhythms and chunky guitar sound. The somewhat corny titled song “The Ballad” is something of a solid ballad, albeit kind of all over the place. Many have pointed to this as being some sort of “Sanitarium” rip off, but between all of the acoustic guitar noodling and convoluted instrumental sections, all that is really present is an overlong continuation of the formula that dominated “The New Order”, but with a less powerful guitar sound.
This is an album that really has not aged very well, as I can remember it sounding worlds better when I first heard it about 16 years ago. It’s sort of a slightly sub par answer to Anthrax’s “State Of Euphoria” meets “The Black Album” without the humor of the former nor the stellar and posh production of the latter. When mixing in all of the preachy political and environmental propaganda (which does not mesh very well with the happy go lucky rock feel of the production), this is an album that misses the mark in spite of all the intricate things going on between Chuck Billy’s strong vocal performance and Alex Skolnick’s fancy guitar gymnastics. It’s far from the worst thing ever put out by a thrash metal band, but it definitely lacks that aggression and flair common to the bulk of the Bay Area scene.