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For me Testament are one of those bands which peaked way too early. In my eyes they never ever topped their debut "The Legacy" and although they released many great subsequent releases, I do not think any of them match this. Sure Testament explored more creative pastures, they even crossed the hazy line between thrash metal and death metal in the later 90's. But their debut for me is their best, no matter how one dimensional people may accuse it of being. Now my reasoning for why I prefer this over any Testament release may seem juvenile, but upon closer inspection it would make perfect sense. "The legacy" when looking at it for all intents and purposes is an atypical thrash album, from the later 80's which is not innovating in terms of heaviness or originality. But why does it work? The simple reason it works is because whether you're completely new to Testament (like the listeners back in '87), or you've delved into their later recordings, realistically all you're expecting is an average attempt at thrash metal. But instead your breath is taken away, these guys are competent musicans and unlike later releases they don't go over the top. For me "The new order" and "Practice what you preach" are great thrash albums, but tend to disappear up their own ass. And anything post "Souls of black" can be great from an objective point of view, but thrash classic territory it surely aint. So this their debut is an onslaught of thrash, but delivered in a disciplined style akin to Metallica, now and again exploring the more raw and abrasive routes recently tread by Exodus. But most of all despite this album showcasing a new improved guitar god (Alex Skolnick), it never deviates into self-indulgent fret wankery which "The new order" is definitely guilty of, with its interludes and endless complex riffs and quirky musicianship. If you ask me no matter what era of Testament you listen to, you should always trace the roots to it's logical source "The legacy" no matter what imperfections this album holds.
This album has the weakest production in all of Testament's discography. But anyone who appreciates "Master of puppets" knows visceral guitar punch is not everything, and sometimes a track's stength can carry itself into the files of mandatory listening. And saying that Chuck Billy would achieve better vocals on the follow-up album, and Skolnick would take no prisoners on the next album. In fact the next album had a more mature overall feel, something which was amplified even further on some later releases. So having said all that, why does "The legacy" still cast a shadow over the output of Testament since? For me the simple reason is song writing...they stick to a simple thrash formula, rarely pulling surprises out the hat (well the only surprise is the competence of the guitar leads), but at the same time retaining an infectious feel to the tracks. I know every track on this album front to back, but from the next two albums I could probably only hum along to "Into the pit" or "Sins of omission". Being catchy isn't everything that is for sure, but the sound and feel this album has captured is truly awe inspiring. It has a perfectly balanced mix between epic first tier attempts, straight to the deprived rawness of many thrash outfits ferociously playing gigs hoping for recognition, lost in a world of beer and macho individualism. It's that perfect mix which pretty brings out the best in Bay Area thrash, something "Eternal nightmare" gets all the accolades for, but truth be told that album doesn't have nothing on this one. Testament proved that "Darkness descends" or "Reign in blood" was not the only way to make waves in the metal scene, merely a year after those two great releases. We have an album that was probably released too late for it's own good, and let's face it if it had been released in 1986 the easily influenced masses would probably be culling any other release of that year. And sometimes you get a sense the bands signing delayed the time of this release, as it almost seems like an album from 1985 landing in the uncertain world of 1987. Death metal had not quite been established (unless you are one of those who consider Possessed death metal), and other thrash heavy weights like Sodom were just starting to take things up a gear, so the timing was still quite reasonable but to me it does not actually sound like it belongs in 1987, which for the most part makes it ten times more promising than releases of the 87/88 period.
"Over the wall" despite it's raw guitar tone, and hermit like vocals is actually quite an anthemic track. The opening riffs are instantly recognisable, and the speedy grooves which follow the verse are near on devestating. The solo is simply lush though, the first taste of the great lead guitar work to follow. "The haunting" is less memorable but I still know it in it's entirey after over two decades of listening, and reading the lyrics almost put a smile on my face...
"Headless ghosts fill the halls
Shadow plays of grief and pain
Phantom speaks his final note
Tenants of the castle slain"
Yes those lyrics seem very oldschool indeed, but remember this outdates the likes of most established death metal so it was still widely accepted and not seen as obsolete for it's time. The nostalgic value of the lyrics is priceless, let alone the catchy riffs. There are more tracks of a worthy note even if you're not entirely impressed, such as "First strike is deadly" which has definitely gone down as a classic in most thrash circles. "Alone in the dark" carries on in the infectious manner of the opening track, throw in a few dazzling leads for good measure. "Apocalyptic city" has some quite interesting lyrical content, about an arsenist hell bent on vengeance, and the gentle but eery introduction to the track is misleading to the carnage that follows. Chuck Billy's vocals are raw, but had he been on top of his game this album would have lost it's raw velocity. This album holds enough surpises without too many tempo changes or breakdowns, an ode that surprising the listener does not depend on the tracks coming to a screeching halt. As for the drums? Well I'd be lying if I said I hadn't heard better, but they are fitting to the music despite lack of intensity. A lot has changed since the release of this album, to be fair a lot was changing during the release of this album. Death and Napalm Death had released tyrants in the genre, and the young metal heads of the time fled for their more extreme fix. But if I'm being completely honest thrash was still king, so it would kind of make sense that "The legacy" would still get respect despite the changing of the guards. But the even more amazing thing is that you can still appreciate this album, even with all that historic hindsight. "The legacy" is aptly named as it is Testament's true legacy, and if I'm being honsest I was a fool to hope they could ever match this one.