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I can remember the very first time I listened to The Legacy. It was on a pair of shitty headphones in a used music store and at the time, it was one of the most intense and technical thrashers I'd ever heard, quickly becoming a personal favorite. Though I've since discovered faster and heavier things, I've always seen this as a prime example of a thrash debut done perfectly right. Imagine my surprise to find that the album that had so often kicked my ass was somewhat panned here on the Metal Archives. Had my youth blinded me from seeing it as it really was? These negative reviews prompted a relisten, which I'm quite pleased to admit that it only reinforced my opinion on this album's greatness.
I really can't understand why more people don't like this. The Legacy is a solid display of pretty much all the aspects you could want in an '87 thrasher. First off, Chuck Billy rules. Though the band kicked ass as Legacy with Zetro as frontman, Billy has far more presence. This album was released a few years before he started pulling James Hetfield impressions, and he still maintained the ability to let off a stellar shriek every now and again. No complaints there. So what about the rhythm section? Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick are fucking riffmasters. Most of this is full-force thrash insanity, with the frantic pace kept by the proficient Louie Clemente, but it's in the mid-paced and half-time riffs that these guys really show their stuff. There are some absolutely brutal crushing riffs in the bridge sections of "Do or Die" and "First Strike is Deadly" as well as throughout the album and there's dozens of killer harmonized riffs, such as the opening to "The Haunting" and the fucking amazing verse riff of "Burnt Offerings." These riffs flow perfectly with the soaring vocals of Chuck Billy to create a uniquely occultic atmosphere that you'd be hard pressed to find on another thrash album. This is only strengthened by the album's lyrics, which cover a variety of topics from said paganist ritualism to prison breaking and arson. I admit that Greg Christian's bass work doesn't play as much of a role on here as it will on future albums, but it's nice nonetheless.
The absolute highlight of the album, however, is the lead work of Alex Skolnick. Technically impressive beyond his years, his solos are far more melodic than the brunt of thrash players at the time (your Kerry King imitators, for instance) and undeniably skillful. Listen to that epic lead buildup in "Over the Wall," the harmony section from "First Strike is Deadly," the absolute insane sweeping passage from "Apocalyptic City," hell, listen to them all! Every solo on here is masterfully crafted and the only thrash guitarists even comparable to Skolnick here are Jeff Waters (of Annihilator notoriety) and perhaps Lee Altus. Dimebag Darrell could be considered, though at the time (1987), Pantera weren't exactly a thrash metal band.
So surely there must be something amiss here that has caused The Legacy to achieve the criticism it gets, and I think I've figured it out. Some of the songs on here are a bit longer, lyrically, then thrash songs of this period traditionally are, excepting Dark Angel of course. But rather than progress the song and create new verse riffs as the lyrics unfold (see pre-Reign in Blood Slayer), Testament chose to simply repeat the established verse riffs a few more times to match the length of the lyrics. This never really appeared as a problem to me, as the songs aren't long enough to end up sounding repetitive, but I can see how this might bore some people, especially those used to faster, more diverse albums. Take "Alone in the Dark," a catchy mid-paced thrasher that has something like three or four verses, all using that same verse riff. But again, I've never seen it as a problem, so why should I subtract points from my score because of it?
Thrash fans, I implore you: give this a chance. If not for the great lyrics, the classic riffs, or the vocal performance of Chuck Billy, at least check it out for the killer soloing.
Highlights: Every damn one