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Let’s get one thing out the way first. I want my thrash metal to be fast, vicious, and brutal. If it’s not fast, vicious, and brutal, it had better be melodic and/or catchy. If it doesn’t fulfill any of these criteria, chances are I won’t like it very much.
In comes Testament’s latest album, “The Formation of Damnation”. In light of the preferences stated in the above paragraph, I’m afraid I might not be able to give the album a fair shake, but then again, music reviews are always to a certain degree subjective, so I won’t back down from the opinion I have reached over time.
“The Formation of Damnation” is a very top-heavy album with the best tracks all coming at the beginning. In fact, the impression the listener gets after spinning the first four songs (including a short intro that kicks things off in convincing fashion) is quite deceiving as these songs are all very good quality-wise. However, by the time track number five, “Dangers of the Faithless”, rolls around, the initial euphoria quickly gives way to disappointment. Sadly, of the last seven tracks on “The Formation of Damnation”, only the wildly entertaining “Henchman Ride” with its galloping riffing can match the quality of the first four while the rest is nothing more than largely forgettable, generic “modern” thrash.
Let my briefly clarify the “modern thrash” label I have just slapped on this record. Generally, the songs are based mostly on mid-tempo groove instead of high-speed shredding (with the exception of the few tracks pointed out above) and use only a rather limited amount of riffs and tempo changes. Sure, there are plenty of nice guitar solos delivered by well-known standout guitarist Alex Skolnick, and the drumming courtesy of Paul Bostaph is, of course, top notch. Another positive asset is the very crisp recording and mixing job handled by Andy Sneap, though this may be a point of contention as the album might sound just a little too polished for some people's liking. Oh, and it definitely is true that many of the albums recorded by Sneap over the last decade or so have a tendency to sound very much alike.
But overall, what the album sorely lacks is a certain killer instinct that I am always looking for in a thrash record. Instead of delivering some all-out aggression, “The Formation of Damnation” is mostly too controlled for its own good and, in spite of the flawless musical performance, frequently has that generic going-through-the-motions feel to it. I just fail to see the artistic statement the band is trying to make here, and if they indeed tried to make one, the album falls short in too many areas for it to be taken very seriously.
In conclusion, while calling it bad would be too harsh of a verdict, “The Formation of Damnation” most of all is painfully mediocre with only four really good songs (plus a short but sweet intro) out of a total of eleven. To make matters worse, it ends in a very unsatisfactory manner with the particularly lackluster trio of “Afterlife”, “F.E.A.R.” and “Leave Me Forever”. Trimmed down to the four or five worthwhile songs, this would have made an awesome EP, but as it stands, the album can only be recommended to long time fans of the band.
Choicest cuts: More Than Meets the Eye, The Evil Has Landed, Formation of Damnation, Henchman Ride.