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If you'd look up "bay area thrash" in a music encyclopedia, it’s likely that you would find this album as the headline. This is about thrash as it gets; lots of aggression, really heavy riffs, angry vocals, fast tempos and whatnot.
Having a comparable style to early Metallica (mainly the two first efforts) and a few other bay-area groups, Testament weren't uncommonly labelled as unoriginal or "rip-offs", but also, having some great musicianship on board and a recognizable and very thrashy sound, they quickly gained respect from all around and eventually became the 5th biggest selling thrash unit of all time. The band had built up a fairly strong fan base during the four years between the year they formed and the year they released this debut album, so this one sold pretty good as well.
What about that "great musicianship" that I mentioned? Well, Alex Skolnick is obviously the best example, because his lead style is vastly different from for example Kerry King's or Kirk Hammett's, making Testament stand out from the rest of the bay area scene where guitar leads are mostly about lightning-fast shredding or "drilling". Skolnick's style is much more melodic and emotional, but he still plays fast when it's called for, so he does fit into the band's otherwise pretty thrashy sound.
Eric Peterson is a pretty darn excellent rhythm player; while he may be a little hard to hear on this album, he is in no way to be overlooked. A thrashy and heavy rhythm style, which is more notable on later releases, though.
Chuck Billy has to be one of the most menacing thrash vocalists I've ever heard; aggressive and dangerous, but still with a knack for melody, especially on later releases (the majority of the material on this album was written with the far less melodic, but still very good vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza, who quit to join Exodus).
The album opener is my fave on the disc - 'Over the Wall'!!! No long acoustic intro or sampled effect here; this song jumps straight to the point from the first second, but REALLY explodes in your face at 0.15 - pit material right here, no doubt. Check out those excellent tempo shiftings, between the fast tempo and "Restart my life or self destruction...To climb this wall of dark construction!!" The slow down at 1.56 is typical Testament with it's melodic lead melodies and bass work, but really standing out here is the solo which is truly Alex Skolnick at his absolute best. The lyrical theme of the song is jailbreak and it actually slays both Thin Lizzy's and AC/DC's respective 'Jailbreak' songs, no matter how excellent those songs may be!
'The Haunting' has a kind of strange and slightly repetitive main riff, but follows suit as far as thrash goes. Good chorus, and the solo manages to stand out as well.
'Burnt Offerings' is probably the most "grand" and "epic" on the disc, as it begins with acoustics and lead melodies before exploding into the heavy chorus riff followed by a truly blistering Arabic-like lead melody in the verse! The middle section is thrashy as well and overall this song is one of the best and most well-written on the album.
One of the weaker tracks comes next, 'Raging Waters', which in no way lets down in thrash, but nevertheless lacks in quality. It's mostly about fast chugging and pit-moshing, without any particular memorability to make for the occasional lack of substance that flaw a few of the tracks here. Some sections of this song display a bit more melody than the rest of the songs, but they're all kinda forgettable and generally nothing special, really.
While the 2.28 long track 'C.O.T.L.O.D.' may not have any more substance than the previous, the furious and mangle-your-face main riff along with the absolutely anthemic chorus most definitely make up for it. This song was made for the pits, meaning that with this song, Testament wants you to get hurt. Really. The overall brutally and the somewhat short length of the song could make one think of 'Reign in Blood', but while this song is along the same lines in speed and aggression, there is a bigger difference in melody; C.O.T.L.O.D. is very brutal song, but still with a melodic main riff, which most songs in the middle of 'Reign in Blood' aren't really built around (and that's still staying objective, but I'm not a big fan of that record).
Quickly jumping on to my second favorite on the disc, 'First Strike Is Deadly' easily matches the intensity of the previous song, but is even better! Also, if the riffs at 0.21 and 0.37 don't make your head bang hard instantly, then go see your local doctor; it may be a hearing problem or a neck injury (which would make sense, seeing which track that comes before this one!). Both the verse and the chorus absolutely blast; check out the insane Chuck vocals in both! The slow down section at 1.43 isn't half bad - especially when the "DEADLY STRIKE!! Bred to kill!" line kicks in. Yet another great Skolnick solo follows during the slower section, before blasting back into the madness again!
'Do or Die' (Aces High, anyone? "Do or diiiiiieeeee" "Won't you ruuuuuuuun") is unfortunately one of the less memorable tracks on here. A similar problem to 'Raging Waters'; lots of thrash but lacking memorability. It does have a little more substance and some really good sections, but parts like the monotonous chorus just tend to pass by without me taking any particular notice. However, definitely check out the nasty section at 2.56, when that riff really gets kicked off by the drums. Mmm, thraaaaashy.
The chunky 'Alone in the Dark' is probably the most accessible song on here; nowhere as thrashy as the rest, but still memorable and featuring a catchy main riff. The heavy chorus display some deep and growling Chuck vocals while the pre-chorus displays the more melodic side of Testament (which is much more evident on later releases), appealing a little more to the average metal fan, perhaps. Also, the lead work in this song is once again spectacular; check out the intro and middle leads, with Eric backing it up with a great steady rhythm!
'Apocalyptic City' has a good intro before it begins to thrash like mad, though the main riff may be a little lacking in cohesiveness... but maybe it's just my taste. Anyway, especially great Chuck vocals and Alex leads are evident; this is standard thrashy Testament fare. This song features another great solo worth pointing out, especially listen for it at 3.27!
So, apart from a few filler songs here and there, is there anything that brings down this album in general? Unfortunately, there is, and it's the damn production!!
The high-hat is waaaayyyy too dominant, making the ALREADY muddy guitars drown in it. I've heard a good deal of badly produced thrash metal in my life, but this album probably takes it as far as full-length releases go; it's not hard to see why the band chose to re-record some older tunes in 2001 because Atlantic didn't give the band the right to remix the older records.
Other flaws? Well, this album is NOT for everybody, be so sure, because this is, even disregarding the production, some pretty damn raw and chaotic thrash. For some average metal fans, many songs may end up sounding too similar to each other (even if this album features more variety than many other thrash records), but if you see yourself as a fan of thrash generally, then you already own this album (RIGHT?!). But this is still, in one sentence, a highly recommended thrash album to any fan of the genre.