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I don't know why people have a problem with this album. Sure, it's no "The New Order," but it doesn't try to be. And that's why it succeeds. The Formation of Damnation represents the perfection of the "modern thrash" sound. Modern thrash isn't really even thrash at all (more like groove played fast with the occasional thrash riff), but if you have any stomach for it at all, you'll be able to appreciate this album's greatness.
Let me just say, it is damn good to have Alex Skolnick. The Gathering would have been a lot better if he'd been around, and his solos really make this album stand out. Riff-wise, it's about what you'd expect: fast, somewhat groove-oriented, sometimes thrashy, backed up by Paul Bostaph's intense pounding on the drumset. Not much bass to be heard under the guitars, drums, and vocals...but that's a pretty common thing in modern metal albums. And then there's Chuck Billy; you either love him or you hate him. I, for one, am a big fan, and he's in fine form here. As always, he mixes it up between snarling clean vocals and death growls, with the balance perhaps a little more on the clean side than on The Gathering.
There are some real smokers on this album. After a grandiose intro track, "More Than Meets the Eye" kicks things off with a lot of intensity. The terrific chorus and even better guitar solo make it a real standout. "The Evil Has Landed" is another gem and is solid enough to overcome the terrible pun in its title. "F.E.A.R." is pretty killer as well; Chuck's vocals in the chorus (which is amazing) recall James Hetfield's better days. The title track isn't as strong as those three, but is terribly catchy and showcases Chuck's death growls. There are few songs that seem a little bit like filler, but they all have their moments. Nothing bad enough to use your skip button.
Bottom line: if you enjoyed Testament's past couple albums, you'll absolutely love this one, as it is definitely a refinement of that sound. If you weren't too crazy about The Gathering but didn't mind the style, then you should definitely pick this up. But don't expect true thrash. Testament knew exactly what kind of album they were trying to make, and they pulled it off perfectly. Highly recommended.