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I’ve never cared a whole lot for the media created terminology used to label various waves of metal beyond perhaps as a casual point of reference in history. This is doubly so with regards to the various waves in the 80s thrash metal movement, where artificial tiers were put together by certain media outlets in order to qualify those who came first or sold the most as being the standard. Never was this line of categorization proven to be more misleading than with regard to Testament’s somewhat untimely, yet utterly astounding debut “The Legacy”. This is an album that, regardless of sales numbers, could stand toe to toe with anything put out by the so-called Big 4, and even some of the alleged 2nd tier, whom were on many occasions wrongfully upstaged by said bands.
What has been put together here is a fast, aggressive, dark, and downright nasty collection of songs that rival the intensity of Slayer, the polish of Megadeth, and the sleaze drenched mayhem of Overkill. This is a Testament album that is defined not by its lead guitarist, though Skolnick makes just as tantalizing a racket on here as he’s done since, but by an all out, collective mastery of the craft. This is an album where the rhythm riffs put forth by Eric Peterson (among the more underrated rhythm guitarists in the style) and the rest of the rhythm section play a pivotal role in shaping the character of the album. But perhaps even more auspicious than the whole of the instrumental arrangement is Chuck Billy’s wild vocal performance, upstaging both Hetfield and Araya in the nastiness department, and all but outright challenging Blitz Ellsworth in the higher end, gritty screamer’s club chairmanship.
It is often asked, why is this album regarded as a classic? The answer is, to put it bluntly, that this album came out in 1987 rather than 1985 (when half of it was written). Given the strong melodic underpinnings of many of the riffs and the general tendency towards older, NWOBHM infused speed metal, the character of this album is a bit old fashioned when considering where the scene was headed by this point. Some of this is taken into account within many of these songs as the riff set is up to snuff with the technical tendencies of post 1986 thrash, but when hearing the singing, catchy tendencies of much of “Over The Wall” (arguably the greatest speed/thrash song ever put out) and “Alone In The Dark”, it’s almost easy to mistake much of this album for a wannabe “Show No Mercy” emulation. In similar fashion, “Burnt Offerings” makes several riff paraphrases of “Four Horsemen”, to the point of sounding almost like a 2nd working of “Mechanix” in a slightly faster and more intense fashion than the famed song that ultimately came out of it on “Kill ‘Em All”.
However, at the same time that this band seemed to be looking backward to a few years prior, there is also some material on here that is actually looking ahead to thrash metal’s soon branch out into death metal. Perhaps the most obvious example is “The Haunting”, which while having a conventional thrash growl with a handful of banshee shrieks, has an overall atmospheric and dissonance to it that isn’t all that far removed from what Chuck Schuldiner was putting behind his guttural ravings on “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy”. “First Strike Is Deadly” also really brings home the Slayer influences, to the point of almost flirting with the intensity that was picked up on by Possessed and Morbid Angel, though the overall character of the guitar sound and vocals is still very firmly entrenched in the thrash paradigm.
Of all the albums ever put forth by Testament, this is the one that really demands not only continued consumer activity, but also recognition as a true classic that was the victim of a lack of attention by the recording industry in the earlier 80s alongside Overkill. This fully embodies the outward intensity, fury, and virtuosity that has been exemplified by other powerful Bay Area bands such as Vio-Lence and Dark Angel. This band gets a bum wrap as being a Metallica clone with some heavy Exodus influences, but the truth is that at their peak (ergo this album), this band was able to outclass the former at just about every turn except the originality department. It all depends on what is more important, being the first to do something, or doing it well in spite of what has happened before.