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Another fine Testament album - 87%

Agonymph, April 26th, 2008

Generally, there are two opinions on Testament's long-awaited follow-up to 'The Gathering'. One side thinks it's the best thing Testament has done since the eighties, the other side is either disappointed or otherwise not impressed by 'The Formation Of Damnation'. I think expectations are more instrumental to one's opinion than ever here. Those who expect the second coming of 'The Legacy', mainly because of the return of lead guitarist Alex Skolnick and bass player Greg Christian, will most likely be disappointed. But those who expect another quality Testament album, will probably find something to their delight here. I know I did. And there's of course people who don't like this web site's most criminally underrated band in the first place anyway.

With that said, I must admit that 'The Formation Of Damnation' is probably not an album the band couldn't have made without Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian. Most of the music was written by longtime members Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson, as usual. The sound present on this album isn't radically different from 'The Gathering' either, although I must admit that I enjoyed 'The Gathering' - my favorite Testament-album - a bit better. The sound on this album is probably best described as a mixture between 'The Gathering', 'Low' and a few hints at their eighties days.

First thing I noticed about the album is the large amount of mid-tempo songs. This isn't necessarily a complaint; a good song is a good song, regardless of how fast it is, but there is the risk that semi-interested people won't be able to keep the great ones ('The Evil Has Landed', 'Afterlife', 'Leave Me Forever'), the good ones ('Killing Season') and the mediocre ones (the unbelievably boring 'Dangers Of The Faithless') apart and will just generally dismiss them as "those midtempo tracks" and won't bother after that. Still, I think there is enough variation to keep the album interesting. It was just something that struck me upon first listen.

Highlight of the album for me is 'The Persecuted Won't Forget'. That opening riff! My freaking god! That just gets my head banging immediately. And what follows is a killer track. Quite epic for Testament proportions as well. This is simply the best thing they have done since...well...'The Fall Of Siple Dome'...but if we ignore the album that one is on, we'll have to go back to 'Sins Of Omission' on 'Practice What You Preach' to find something equally awesome. There's a lot of changes, especially in the middle part of the song, still every shift in the song makes sense. Something which also goes for the following 'Henchmen Ride', which comes in as a close second when it comes to my favorites of the album. It also has a nice, catchy chorus, which appears quite often in the song, but doesn't get annoying.

But there's a lot more to enjoy on 'The Formation Of Damnation'. Opening track 'More Than Meets The Eye' is catchy and powerful. The riffs pound freely and cause a strong sense of Thrash euphoria for yours truly. The title track rips and tears through everything and shows why Chuck Billy is still the best grunter around. I'd rather have him singing clean, but he does a great job here. 'The Evil Has Landed' is a great, pounding song, despite the bad pun in the title. 'Afterlife' is a beautiful song and surprising is closing track 'Leave Me Forever'. I wasn't surprised that Greg Christian co-wrote this song, as the song heavily relies on a rather a-typical bass line. Something brilliant about this song is that it constantly goes counter-expecation-wise, it constantly builds towards climaxes it deliberately doesn't answer to. It gives the song the atmosphere of an extreme rage which needs to get out, but is forcedly held back. That fits the lyrics about divorce perfectly.

Speaking of which, some of the lyrics are quite interesting. Further investigation of the songwriting credits shows that Steve 'Zetro' Souza (formerly of Exodus and in fact Testament's original singer) co-wrote the lyrics to more than half of the album, including the most interesting two songs lyrics-wise, 'Leave Me Forever' (as mentioned, about divorce) and 'Afterlife' (about the death of the father of - apparently - one of the two writers). Only one song doesn't feature Chuck Billy as lyricist and that is the Skolnick-penned (musically as well) 'F.E.A.R.'. Not really special, quite standard Metal, but it fits the nice Thrasher it is quite well.

There is really not much to complain about on this album. 'Dangers Of The Faithless' is a track that has thus far failed to create any interest for me and I doubt if it ever will. But the rest of the album is great Testament to me. If Testament-fans criticize this album, I wonder what they WOULD want to hear. Okay, many years have passed, but it's not as if Chuck Billy WANTED to take a break. Testament has proven its right to exist with another fine album.