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Raising the bar again. - 78%

hells_unicorn, June 21st, 2008

It is an understatement to say that 9 years is a pretty long time to wait for a new album, so the plight of any die-hard Testament fan was probably nothing to be envied before this came out. A comparison could be made to what Guns n’ Roses fans have had to deal with while waiting for Chinese Democracy to finally be completed, combined with suffering through third rate grunge/rock courtesy of Velvet Revolver. Personality issues don’t fit the reasoning for Testament’s delayed release, but regardless of the cause of the stagnation, they have finally managed to put out something that their fans can sink their teeth into.

“The Formation of Damnation” doesn’t really listen like a 2008 thrash metal release because most of it was written long before now. Nothing underscores this better than the lyrics of “The Evil has Landed”, which lyrically sounds like it was written the very next day after September 11th, 2001. The modernistic tendencies of this brand of thrash definitely run parallel to their 90s material, although Chuck Billy’s vocals are not quite as guttural as before. Elements of Pantera/Metallica influenced groove metal still persist at times, but they’ve been scaled back to reasonable levels and make way for a respectable amount of speed and quality riffing.

There is a good deal of positive elements on here that put this slightly above most of their 90s material, the most obvious aspect being the line-up. Unlike Metallica and other bands these guys are accused of imitating, the principle focus is the lead guitar. Alex Skolnick outclasses both Hammett and both of Slayer’s lead attack men with a reserved blend of metal/rock sensibilities and moderated shred, somewhat similar in character to Dan Spitz, but with a fatter tone and a longer overall average duration. Highlight solos can be found on “The Persecuted Won’t Forget” and “Killing Season”, though the quality of the lead work is extremely consistent from start to finish.

Likewise, although there are still some remnants of the lackluster “The Ritual”, the songwriting approach has improved drastically on here. Some shades of the older, epic style that was heard on their 80s material occasionally pop up, although the band doesn’t really bother with acoustic material anywhere on here. “More than meets the eye” has a decent up tempo gallop feel to it, not quite a full fledged speed assault, but definitely a keeper. “The Persecuted won’t forget” goes in between a few Slayer-like dissonant harmonized riffs and a good variety of sectional changes during the middle section. “Henchman Ride” and “F.E.A.R.” actually don’t bother with much mid-tempo build up and represent the two purist manifestations of thrash on here, loaded with speed and aggression.

Naturally like any modern thrash release, regardless of how much reaching back there is, some extremely lame ideas creep their way into some songs. “Leave me alone” has this really stupid section at about 2:15 where Chuck just starts growling nonsense in perfect rhythmic unison with the rest of the instruments. It is almost as bad as that stupid “I am the judge and I’m slamming my gavel down” part of “Dirty Window” was, and mostly likely was inspired by Metallica’s 2003 musical abortion. Fortunately Testament elected not to copy the ridiculous production sound of said album. There are also some weak groove-oriented sections in other songs, particularly “Dangers of the Faithless” and “Afterlife”, that are dwelled upon for too long, but most of the extremely bad moments are minimized to just the closing song, which really does drag down the ending of what is otherwise a mostly solid album.

This doesn’t quite fall into the category of a great comeback like MegaDeth’s “United Abominations”, but it definitely outclasses a lot of what older bands in the thrash scene have been up to of late. Testament were always a tiny bit behind the curve in comparison to their forefathers, but they’ve managed to maintain the positive elements of their sound on here and have provided something that is worthy of the thrash audience’s attention. If you like good aggressive thrash with jagged edged vocals, a good heavy/modern production, and can tolerate a small helping of mid-tempo groove from the early 90s; this will be worth your time.