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Lower Than Low - 30%

Petrus_Steele, April 23rd, 2020
Written based on this version: 1994, CD, Atlantic Records

1994 in metal was sure a hell of a year: classic extreme metal albums like The Bleeding from Cannibal Corpse, ...for Victory from Bolt Thrower, and Transilvanian Hunger from Darkthrone. You also have the debuts of Pantera‘s Cowboys from Hell; the band’s reintroduction and what started it all, and Machine Head‘s Burn My Eyes (which I regard as having one of the best debuts in history). Basically, these two bands and more American bands that were the first of the NWOAHM (that’s “new wave of American heavy metal” for the youngsters). How’s Testament exactly part of the wave you may ask? Well, knowing they’re one of the pioneering thrash metal bands, however, after five consistent thrash metal albums and moving to another record label that contractually ended with Low, they joined the arising trend of groove metal. Seeing as Pantera made an impact in the early 90s to overcome grunge’s rise to popularity and still make a household name in the music industry until the end of time, bands like Fear Factory, Machine Head, and Sepultura joined them, and this includes Testament.

As suggested by the genre, you can mostly listen to repetitive rhythms and wah-wah effect as if there’s no other sound. Not even Pantera was that hefty, so the quality is already low. What’s interesting to me the most is the updated lineup. Just to point out, Low is the last record with bassist Greg Christian who would only appear again in the next decade. But as for said updated lineup, you have ex-Exodus drummer John Tempesta which you’ll hear from again in the 2001 re-recordings album First Strike Still Deadly, and ex-Cancer, ex-Death, and ex-Obituary guitarist James Murphy. You’ll find his true area of expertise in the band’s second and last death metal record The Gathering. While I’m also taking into account Chuck’s frequent death growls in this record, I’m not too keen about this album’s ideas. I believe that with this kind of lineup, Low should have been a whole different and a better record than it is.

The vocals’ inspiration came from Pantera‘s Phil Anselmo. You can clearly listen to it in Legions (In Hiding). While I’m impressed with Chuck’s tone and layer, as he sounds like a beast, I just know he could do better than that. It makes him sound unoriginal. That’s not all. It’s either that or he goes strong in yet another James Hetfield vocal style. Again, the most generic aspect of groove metal contains repetitive rhythms and over-exaggerated wah-wah effect. The melodies and guitar solos weren’t that mind-blowing. With a “resume” of working in bands like Cancer, Death, and Obituary, James simply done a much more sophisticated and creative work than what he offers here. Drums are really forgettable, and while the bass had an experimental approach in this record, Steve had more impressive performances earlier in his respective career.

As experimental as this album is, there’s a small pick on atmosphere which you can listen in Trail of Tears. Still continuing with the ballads, Trail of Tears is no less. A little overwhelming, but the guitar effects here manage to fulfill the atmosphere decently enough. Same with the bass. Chuck melodically has always been better, but here he adds a bit more layer. Taking the instrumental tracks into account, they were also experimental, yet directionless. The interestingly Urotsukidōji‘s opening bass solo and its melodies were quite the surprise. The rest of the music, however, sounds simple. It’s not around the last minute where the heaviness actually delivers, but to a certain extent. Can’t tell if it’s just a depressing Black Magic Woman cover, but that’s pretty much how Last Call sounds, on repeat.
Had I started listening to the band as I planned four years ago, maybe I would’ve cherished this album for what it is. Unfortunately, I have to break the ties here between the 70% and 90% ratings and give my low rating for this disappointing and unsatisfactory record. So since this album is really all about gaining heaviness over quality and memorable songs, the best songs are the single Dog Faced Gods (although it becomes a bit redundant overtime), and Chasing Fear - being the best song overall. Of course, not excluding Trail by Tears.

The Whole Club Was Lookin' At Herrrrrr - 76%

Sweetie, November 19th, 2019

The ‘90s would see a time where just about every thrash metal band experiments with groove metal in one way or another. While I touched on this in describing Demonic, Low was where Testament began tampering with it. They pulled it off a lot better here as well. It also wasn’t predominantly loaded with death growls, but only beginning to test them out (even though we all know the first true one was on “Envy Life” in 1989, riiiiiight?). In any case, despite being absent of Alex Skolnick, I found this to be a pretty decent stab at the new direction.

Things admittedly take a slow start, and it’s worth knowing that the sixth Testament disc is very much a grower. Part of the art is knowing how to execute the groove correctly, and one spin of “Hail Mary” should be convincing enough. Everything from that intro, to the drum patterns, the explosive bass-charges, and the layering of the vocals is spot on. What’s extra nice is that it also refrains from being one-sided, as the song immediately after “Trail Of Tears” is a softee that capitalizes on Chuck’s voice even more.

Although this was a step up regarding interesting content from its predecessor, I also can’t say that Low is without some of the same faults. For starters, it certainly could be trimmed up (but not as much). The start/stop rhythm patterns are what give this such an identity of its own, but at the same time they can become rather exhausting. James Murphy definitely deserves some credit though, as he had some large shoes to fill. The solo work of “Dog Faced Gods” is some of his finest.

If all that isn’t enough, then I can at least call this a fun release because of the variation and the turn of direction. There’s still plenty of thrash to dig up, lots of hooks, and fun tunes. Just overstays its welcome a tiny bit.

I like you for your warped demented ways - 82%

CannibalCorpse, March 10th, 2019

Twenty-five years ago, in a time where classic metal was way past its point-of-no-return in terms of decline and decay, an army of groove metal bands where following the lead of Pantera and chasing the success of toning-down-your-shit like Metallica and so many others - even Testament themselves - did in this painful entry to the 1990s. While the latter's own The Ritual was the continuation of slowing down and catering to the masses, Low felt like a loud stray bullet, without completely sacrificing their integrity and recognition value which had already suffered from their lack of consistency in the late 80s/early 90s.

To put it simply ladies and gentlemen, this is the path that groove metal should have taken after the alienation of thrash. Low is mighty aggressive and yet rarely dabbling in proto-nu-metal waters, not relying on bouncy, single-note non-riffs and bendings that started to devour the scene by the mid-90s with the uprising of Korn and similar cancerous spreading, which sought to terminate heavy metal's most vital functions. Instead of following the obvious trends, Testament presented a more-than-subtle flirtation with the then more extreme ends of the metal spectrum, mainly death metal. Sure, there's a lot more modern groove to this than ever before in their sound – the (d)evolution of 90s metal took the world by storm and they wanted their share of the cake – but as I said, it's a route taken without the total abandoning of the mighty guitar riff and that surely could not have been an easy task in 1994.

Obviously, the band's progression into this entity had a lot to do with the departure of their trademark lead guitar player virtuoso Alex Skolnick and his replacement being no other than James Murphy of Death and Obituary fame. While some of Alex's tasty sweeps and melodic licks are a thing to be missed, James' more aggressive, punishing approach does fit the sledgehammer-riffing very well and even the album's sole track where the listener is not being battered by heaviness,“Trail of Tears”, is equipped with a blistering and highly memorable guitar solo.

Yet, what would Testament be without the mighty Chuck Billy? He's always been in possession of one of the most recognizable voices within the thrash metal realm but this album is were he first started utilizing a technique that borrowed a lot from the death metal growlers of the time and it's amazing how much brutality and atmospheric qualities his chords brought to the table on this one. His (almost) clear singing voice on the aforementioned “Trail of Tears” ballad almost feels a tad out out of place since it's the only piece here without a predominant use of said commanding tone – a unique style that one is easily becoming accustomed and even attracted to while listening.

A few more honorable words should be said about John Tempesta's short stint with the band: this man slays! Killer tone, thunderous grooves and a ton of skill all put into one boiling stew of crushing madness! Yeah, the riffs are heavy as fuck and the rumbling bass does its job accordingly (thanks again to Mr. Petersen and to Mr. Christian for taking that route) but time and time again, this monstrous drummer carries the songs and provides a spicy technicality often absent in what is usually referred to as groove metal.

One glaring flaw that needs to be pointed at is that the album COULD have been absolute killer, if it wasn't for it meeting its untimely death way before the actual end of its running time; after a very enjoyable run concluding with “All I Could Bleed” the record takes a nosedive into absurdity and fragmentation with “Urotsukidöji” being a very uneven, confused mess of instrumental ideas. It doesn't flow well at all and features a few weird spoken word samples ripped from some Asian Manga film. Apparently this should have some meaning, but in reality it's nothing but distracting and I skip this song every single time, even though there's a few good sections in there. Sadly, these are just not outstanding enough to be salvaged. Similar things can be said about the last 3 tracks; they feel as if the guys had a few rather rotten ideas that somehow just had to be turned into songs. Maybe contractual obligations were the reason why those mostly lackluster pieces needed to be included, but hell, I rarely get through all of those and I don't see why any fan of the band should. At least - in the age of all things digital – skipping the crap is easier than it's ever been, so we should leave it at that and be thankful for the album's first 30 minutes of headbanging delight.

Well, you know – it's 2019 already, you should have heard of this one already since it is 25 years old this year, but if you have been living under a rock for a few decades or discovered the band a lot later, be sure to spend some time with Low since it's one of the bands strongest and most interesting records. Don't be fooled by those who say that their mid-era is not worthwhile since it's only Demonic (and partly The Gathering) which took this approach too far, amplifying the modern death metal influences even more, but without the riff-laden substance and the ageless charm of this record presented here.

Highlights: Low, Hail Mary, Trail of Tears, P.C, Dog Faced Gods

originally written for

High’n Low Hunters on a Crazy 90’s Safari - 78%

bayern, February 27th, 2018

Testament, along with other US practitioners (Metal Church, Exodus, Vio-Lence, etc.) were (un)lucky to start their career very strongly with an eponymous debut that left every subsequent effort in its shadow. The more immediate string of efforts that followed this unsurmountable “Legacy” were all good in their own way, but each left something to be desired considering the impressive head-start. Still, the band accumulated a sizeable following worldwide their fans firmly convinced that if there ever had to be an expansion of the Big Four of the US Thrash brotherhood with a fifth act, this had to be Testament.

There may be some justification of that claim as, provided that the borderline for the Big Four formation was the end of 1990, the guys didn’t quite put a foot wrong throughout their 80’s output; but neither did any of the other, both previously mentioned and not mentioned here, bands if you think of it. There were no flops witnessed in the late-80’s on the American front under any form so suitable candidates for this proverbial vacancy were definitely more than just one.

It remains a mystery why these promises remained unfulfilled provided that if viewed as individuals Testament ranked higher than any other single thrash outfit: Chuck Billy, the true vocal talent; Alex Skolnick the wizard, the finest guitar player to have ever operated within the thrash metal confines; the always-reliant rhythm-guitar provider Eric Peterson… I guess a big reason why it didn’t quite work out was that the guys never set their minds on what they wanted to be, vehement no-bars-held thrashers, or more expansive metal providers without residing within strict genre boundaries.

Still, this hesitation status worked all right all the way to 1992 when the divisive “The Ritual” came out, showing only too well that it wasn’t thrash the band wanted to play during the uncertain 90’s, and that their fans had to bid farewell to their hopes for a potential “The Legacy II”. If the audience had any such hopes in the first place, though, as their idols were straying further and further away from their shining roots… until they hit the bottom with the “lowest” of them all, the album reviewed here… well, those were at least the expectations for this opus under the circumstances, coming right after the band’s arguably weakest effort at that stage, and also accompanied by the departure of none other than Skolnick, followed by the drummer Louie Clemente. Replacements were quickly found, though, and the ship was boarded by James Murphy, another renowned axeman, coming fresh from the excellent one-album stunt, the death metal project Disincarnate; and the former Exodus drummer John Tempesta.

Looked almost like a new beginning, the guys willing to carry on with hopefully the intentions on doing better than that last instalment, with the new additions to the crew looking really promising. And the ships sails on with the title-track which doesn’t promise too many changes from the preceding relaxer, its leisurely mid-tempo stride solely shaken by Billy’s first genuine attempts at more brutal, deathy performance. Doesn’t sound much like a deal, this beginning, but “Legions (In Hiding)“ is already an angrier, more boisterous cut with a few sincere attempts at more intense thrashing. “Hail Mary” tests groovy/post-thrashy waters, but is far from a blatant Pantera-worship with tasteful melodies provided by Murphy all over the latter increased for the very cool ballad “Trail of Tears”, a staple for the band proposition and one of their finest achievements in this department.

“Shades of War” is a rowdy mid-paced thrasher, another characteristic cut before “P.C.” reminds of the tastes of the time again with its nervy aggro jolts which have no chances whatsoever on the dynamic headbanger “Dog Faced Gods” that will bring sweet memories of the band’s 80’s feats excluding Billy’s death metal-ish growls that occupy more space here. “All I Could Bleed” almost makes it two in a row regardless of a couple of thick grooves disturbing the peace, but “Urotsukidōji” would be a bigger excitement, a really cool all-instrumental track with clever technical decisions, obviously designed by Murphy as it resembles the style on his solo works quite a bit, the man providing copious amounts of twisted leads on it, among other niceties. “Chasing Fear” thrashes with verve as well with great atmospheric melodic respites supplied by Murphy again, overcoming a few groovy bumps along the way, the ultimate retro thrash ride here being “Ride”, an invigorating roller-coaster which will bang the head for about 3.5-min before “Last Call” serves the lyrical, balladic epitaph being a short lead-driven all-instrumental track.

By all means more interesting and much more thrashily executed than “The Ritual”, this effort showed the fanbase that the band still had it in them, and that they could sound relevant during the mid-90’s without necessarily shedding their skin beyond recognition like many of their contemporaries before and after them did. It wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, but was a fitting addition to versatile discography that definitely had room for at least one classic/modern metal hybrid. The replacements did a very good job especially Murphy whose inspired fretwork all over made Skolnick’s absence barely felt, serving some of the finest moments on the album. The “flirtations” with the groove may have caused frowns here and there among the fanbase, but there were much worse, lowlier offenders out there for one to perennially pick on this opus.

Besides, there were also other, more controversial decisions to come soon for which the band received more or less deserved invectives, like the near-death experience on “Demonic” three years later, for instance, which may have been adhered to in order to match Billy’s newly discovered brutal vocal bravado. Again, it wasn’t exactly a flop, and provided that the guys managed to pull themselves together again for the much better “The Gathering”, few should have been the genuinely disgruntled with the guys’ 90’s exploits. The new millennium saw Skolnick re-uniting with his comrades for three more outings, all of them fairly capable, albeit served on very irregular intervals one major cause for that being Billy’s prolonged fight with cancer. With the man restored to full health, fortunately, the Testament saga is far from over, and more highs (and lows) will be provided for the always loyal, if slightly doubtful at times, fanbase.

But not so low that it punches you in the dick - 73%

autothrall, September 5th, 2012

Taking into account the rather lukewarm reception received by most of their 90s records, it's a miracle Testament never felt the urge to fuck off and write to the Korn audience. After The Ritual, an album I happen to love, which streamlined and simplified their 80s output into a pure heavy metal chassis, I had half-expected the Testament Black Album. Yet Low was actually a reversal of paradigm, a modernization of their 80s sound clad in the muscular progression of production values, and easily more aggressive than its predecessor. It also saw the first shift in the Californians' classic lineup of the first five albums, with John Tempesta (Exodus) replacing Louie Clemente, and death metal mercenary James Murphy (Death, Disincarnate, Obituary) filling in the surprise vacancy left by Alex Skolnick. All things considered, Low represents a fairly smooth transition.

If the sorry 90s rubbed anything off on Testament, it might have been the slight influence of groove metal circa bands like Machine Head or Pantera, but while I've met people who consider this their 'groove' album, I am driven to disagree. There's even more of an emphasis on the mid-paced chugging guitars, and they sound a lot more massive than, say, Souls of Black or Practice What You Preach, yet at their core the rhythm progressions follow similar patterns, they've just got a lot more meat on their bones in cuts like "Low" itself, or the caustic "Shades of War". Sure, there is some bounce to "Hail Mary", "All I Could Bleed" or "Chasing Fear", and you could jump da fuc up to those if you were so inclined, but it's still the same dark thrash metal, with a not dissimilar, atmospheric grandiloquence coursing through its veins as the older works. Where a lot of people turned to this group for the impressive leads of emergent guitar guru Alex Skolnick, the focus here seems even heavier on the mechanics of the rhythm guitars. Murphy is, of course, a seasoned shredder himself, and it was interesting to hear him experiment on the instrumental "Urotsukidoji" (named for the perverse tentacle porn anime) alongside some of Greg Christian's bass acrobatics.

Elsewhere, Low is business as usual. I didn't notice a huge difference between John Tempesta's style and his predecessor, though the guy was certainly rigged to provide a harder pummeling for the 90s audience. While Demonic is generally considered the album in which Testament foraged further into death metal pastures, you certainly hear a bit of that here through Chuck Billy's increasingly guttural inflection on a tune like "Dog Faced Gods", which is one of the most impressive and brutal on the album, with some Vio-lence like picking sequences dowsed in the big man's guttural abuse. There's also the requisite 'ballad' here, "Trail of Tears", above which Billy implements the clean, melodic timbre of "The Ballad", but while its not one of my faves on this album, it's at least smooth enough to forgive, with a nice lead tucked into the chugging bridge, and lyrics that serve as a foreshadowing to their latest effort, Dark Roots of Earth. There's not a lot of faster material on this album, but then there hadn't been for years; nonetheless, I did feel that there was a bit too much of a cantering tempo to much of Low that often feels samey or repetitive in tone, if not precise riff structure.

Also, very few of these tracks have had an impact on me in the long run. Like Souls of Black, I felt as if there were about 4-5 really good tunes, and the rest are disarmingly average, whereas The Ritual has had me glued to much of its run time for the past 20 years. Though they do tackle a few interesting subjects like ancient Egypt ("Dog Faced Gods"), a lot of the political, psychological, conspiracy lyrics were admittedly bland even by Testament standards. Still, I should point out that, while it was for me the least impressive of their full-lengths to its day, this is no steaming pile of shit like Slayer released with Diabolus in Musica, or Megadeth's Risk, or Metallica's Load. Though not quite as successful as they might have desired, Testament managed to weather its mutating roster and the questionable influences of the prevalent trends without losing its sense of identity. When you compare Low to The Legacy or The New Order, it sounds like a mild evolution of the same group, rather than some disconnected abortion of a career. Not one of their best records by any means, but it proudly keeps its head above the water.


The Thrash Shades - 85%

Tlacaxipehualiztli, July 8th, 2012

One very important thing needs some words of explanation before writing about this Testament’s sixth release. Well, I consider their previous work “The Ritual” as one of the best metal album in my collection. Even if there are some no thrashy sounds and no furious and rapid tunes well known from their two first albums, I put “The Ritual” exactly next to these cds. Thus I had big expectations as well as some grave apprehensions due to Testament changed the lineup: no drummer Clemente, and no guitar master Skolnick as well (especially the absence of Alex was like a shattering blow for me!). Of course the band prepared some kind of foretaste, but it was the only live Ep. Reading many interviews with the band, they felt a real strong desire to make a heavier album. “The Ritual” was just a past woven by the compromises (as they said), so the main creators Billy and Peterson were looking at the upcoming future with optimism, although thrash started to die or change its musical face. So, as the musicians stated, “Low” had to be a return to the glorious roots of Testament past…

With entire trust I went to the local musical shop and bought the tape… The first seconds with “Low” was a real shock. I was just smashed in to the ground. The perfect drums and guitar cannonade made my eyes open really, really wide. For sure the production is more powerful than on “The Ritual”, but one surprise is yet to come, namely with the chorus and the words “…show some mercy…” Chuck shows a new way of singing: growl! And this is the beginning of the new road definitely, however this kind of vocals are not used here too often. The second newness: James Murphy on lead guitar, well known death metaller (Death, Disincarnate, Obituary) joins the crew just like John Tempesta on drums. Both musicians stamp their mark on the first track (and whole album), especially solo lead is first class. “Low” attacks with heaviness, aggression and anger, this is absolutely great song on the start. The second “Legions (In Hiding)” isn’t such a mad track, the mid tempo dominates here with very interesting dialogue between two guitarists in solo leads. The next “Hail Mary” (or “Hell Marry” as it was written in Polish Metal Hammer during Testament’s interview he, he…) is like a electric shock – probably the best one with very thrilling guitar motives, Testament didn’t used to play in this way, but this is still crushing thrash metal: powerful riffs, rhythm section, fine solo and superb vocals. It ends suddenly to give place “Trail Of Tears” which is a… ballad. Yes, it’s true, the band shows lighter sounds, just like on “The Ritual” (“Return To Serenity”). It is some kind of surprise because musicians were willing to play only hard and heavy stuff. This ballad is written by Peterson himself and what can I say about it? This is absolutely ripper in their discography even if I talk about ballad song, “Trail Of Tears” undeniably joins the big two from the glorious past “The Legacy” and aforementioned “Return To Serenity”. The structure is rather conventional, we have lighter sounds in stanza and heavier in chorus plus many great memorable and heart-ripping solos. Another interesting fact: this is the last ballad recorded so far, of course I do not count acoustic versions on the next live record.

“Low” is raging in these first four songs, but suddenly the moments of break down arrive, which dominate in “Shades Of War” and “P.C.”. And I do not know why, maybe it refers to rather average riffs, which simply they don’t convince me… Fortunately this temporary benumbment passes away, when “Dog Faced Gods” enters the stage. This is almost death metal killer with paralyzing opening, quite fast riffs, double bass attack and Chuck growls (clean vocals only in chorus). As the title says, I can also find there oriental-like guitar lead by James. The structure of the song is like a presage to the future musical trials of the band. The next “All I Could Bleed” is interesting too, with some speedups in the middle and memorable as always guitar leads. In turn “Urotsukidōji” stands here as instrumental remembrance of glorious days of „Hypnosis” or “Musical Death (A Dirge)” from the second album. But even there are flashy bass lines and guitar leads, nothing is going to dethrone these masterpieces from “The New Order”… The end of “Low” is close, but fortunately one song has a strong position. Its name “Chasing Fear”, one of the best “Low” tracks with excellent opening and furious chorus, in the middle there is a bright, ‘climatic’ slow down, I also admire killing guitar show of Erik and James. Really good work! Before the last very calm outro, “Ride” (simple yet energetic song) is rather in the vein of two weaker tracks I mentioned somewhere above.

To put all the things together and say something on the end: Testament wanted to record heavier album and they did it undeniably. But also they told about “Low” as their best work so far. And here I can’t agree with them. Maybe this is better than “Practice What You Preach” and “Souls Of Black”, you know, maybe, but that’s all. When I think about their cult 80s records, “Low” fails utterly. For sure they had to face many problems in those days, but lack of Alex Skolnick is very perceptible and significantly lowers the final mark, even if the guitar works (riffs and leads) are very good (but only ‘very good’). I would like to describe “Low” just correct and right stuff with some excellent moments, but this album is a kind of disappointment after “The Ritual” and its majesty. Of course I was full of understanding, because I knew about the problems with the line-up and I think that this isn’t the most important fact, for sure the main argument to praise the band is that they didn’t give up. The decisive proof was born in 1995, when “Live At The Fillmore” saw the daylight. With no Skolnick, no Clemente, no Tempesta, and no Atlantic records finally, they recorded a genuine thrash live album, a real masterpiece of superb metal, but this is another story to tell…

A 90s album that didn't completely disown the past - 74%

hells_unicorn, September 8th, 2011

The notion of Testament without their chief attraction Alex Skolnick burning up the fret board might be a tough thing for old school fans of said Bay Area thrashers to comprehend, but after the very middle of the road oriented, Metallica-like “The Ritual”, that is what everyone was face with. Combined with the eventuality of the recording industry suddenly becoming hostile to guitar solos and crisp heaviness, one could very well assume that this would spell the end of Testament the thrash metal band. It is a foregone conclusion that any viable 80s band would be impacted by the changes going on in the mid-90s, but it is with great pride that I say that this band did not go the route of Robb Flynn or Scott Ian.

Just to keep everything in perspective, “Low” is by no means a conventional thrash album, nor is it an attempt to bring the 80s back into the 90s the way Iced Earth’s “Burnt Offerings” did. This is more along the lines of a compromise between the better elements that were being brought forth by Pantera (which was dependent on a lesser known and superior band in Exhorder) and the slowed down character of “Souls Of Black”. It’s flavor is definitely within the context of the grooving, bluesy rocking character of the 90s, but still hard edged, technical and respectable. Bassist Greg Christian and newly recruited drummer Joey Tempesta both make a hell of a racket on this thing, and newcomer lead guitarist James Murphy proves to be very capable, though not quite as flashy as Skolnick.

Song for song, this album is a predictable and logical successor for the band’s previous work with a few occasional surprises. In keeping with the more intense vocal style brought out by the onslaught of death metal in the early 90s, Chuck Billy takes a few occasions to release some toneless barks of the Chuck Schuldiner persuasion, and the overall heavier and darker guitar tone sounds like it took a few cues from “Human” along with the 2 Exhorder albums that everyone heard in Pantera’s early 90s work. The obvious candidates for solid, mid-tempo heaviness include the title song, “Shades Of War” and “Chasing Fear”, while a few songs including the frenetic riff fest “Dog Faced Gods”, the instrumental shred fest “Urotsukidoji” and the Pantera on steroids speed fest “Ride” take the metronome up several notches.

While definitely not an out and out classic, “Low” displays that there was definitely some room for a harder, nastier version of thrash that could be down tempo, yet not dumbed down. It probably won’t appeal as much to the crowd that look to their first two albums as what the band ought to sound like, but anyone who has any appreciation for the stuff they’ve done since 1990 will find a solid album in a year mostly dominated by hypnotic proto-mallcore drivel. Picture what Machine Head might have sounded like had Robb Flynn injected a bit more of his past with Forbidden and Vio-Lence into their otherwise modern sound and kept the first two songs on “Burn My Eyes”. And also picture Flynn sounding a bit closer to James Hetfield and not like a crappy Layne Staley knockoff.

A Trail of Tears - 90%

screamingfordefender, April 21st, 2011

As a huge fan of the early thrash metal scene, I admit that Testament's popularity could've skyrocketed had they made some smarter choices in the 80's. In retrospect, It's a bit surprising how they didn't establish themselves alongside the likes of Metallica and Megadeth as one of the true heavyweights of the thrash metal genre. Every ingredient is there, staring you, right in the face, the songwriting, the talent and the charisma, Testament had it all.

The biggest hurdle this band faced was their reputation for being a decent second rate Metallica clone rather than a band with it's own identity. I think "Low" is finally where they forged an identity for themselves but this came way too late for their own good. The 90's was an age dominated by grunge and a band called Pantera. "Low" sees the band expand their sound while still keeping their root elements intact. This is far from being a pure thrash metal record, The band adopts a refreshing, modern approach with some clear death metal influences brought in by new guitarist James Murphy.

Chuck Billy does his best James Hetfield impersonation every once in a while but has fully developed his own unique personality by now. Despite the departure of Alex Skolnick and Louie Clemente, the new members fit in quite comfortably and the band sounds reborn.

The album is helped by a nicely balanced, potent production job that gives this album a fairly distinct sound. "Low", The title track makes for a crushing introduction with massive riffing and Chuck's brilliant, soaring vocals. Testament waste no time with a punishing opener to kick things off in style. "Legions (In Hiding)" marches on with some huge, catchy grooves and Chuck's experimentation with new death metal style vocals. Worth mentioning also is the drumming, A more active and varied style of drumming that accentuates the brutality a bit more than their previous records.

"Hail Mary" is where perhaps Chuck Billy sounds most like James Hetfield "I am alive, I feel dirt in my eyes". The riffing has a flavor that is sometimes quite reminiscent of James Murphy's work with Death. Metallica's influences are still quite abundant on tracks like "Shades of War","P.C." and "Chasing Fear" which bring forth some ...And Justice For All and Master of Puppets influenced aggression. Testament's songwriting now has a newfound consistency to it, the filler material present on their previous albums is completely absent.

"Dog Faced Gods" should have any warm blooded thrash metal fan banging their heads in joy. This was the mid-90's and they said thrash was dead. Testament successfully turn back the clock with the vicious chugging riffs and catchy choruses that the band is well known for. "Trail of Tears" is another ballad by this band, this time bringing back memories of Fade to Black and Welcome Home (Sanitarium). The melodic lead work oozes class and taste as they successfully manage to craft a slower, more moody song. Chuck Billy is right at home here even if the lyrics themselves are a bit shallow.

"All I Could Bleed" has an interesting vibe to it and some moments that sound like late 80's Exodus. Not a personal favorite of mine but not bad at all. "Ride" has Chuck Billy repeatedly screaming Ride!.... for a chorus and you just know that the band is running out of ideas. "Urotsukidoji" is an interesting, mostly instrumental composition that makes use of voice samples with some interesting results. The band's experimentation largely impresses with slick bass work, menacing grooves and some inspired guitar soloing which again reminds me of Murphy's work with Death. "Last Call" brings the album to a completely anticlimactic ending.

All in all, Testament's sixth album is probably their most consistent offering. The band doesn't fall prey to their age old clichés that dragged the band back and have finally found their stride. This is an effort that is to be respected and deservedly so. A potent mix of thrash metal with a wide range of classic and modern influences coupled with good songwriting makes this an album a definite winner.

A New Identity for Testament - 72%

JamesIII, January 24th, 2010

All things considered, Testament never had a spectacular career as a thrash band. Yes, both "The Legacy" and "Souls of Black" were good, even great by some means, but the finger pointing of Metallica clones was always persistent. Obviously, there were worse bands out there who carried the same label as a poor man's version of that Big 4 member but a band like Testament always had the potential to do something better. Not necessarily extraordinary, as their back catalog professes, but definitely worthy of mention.

After the very lackluster "The Ritual," a few changes occured. For one, Alex Skolnick exited the band and was replaced by James Murphy. I always liked Skolnick, who has proven himself a more than capable axeman, but Murphy fills in quite nicely. As someone already said before, it does sound almost like Skolnick already wrote parts of this album because it plays out in a way that it seems like he's still there. John Tempesta replaces Louie Clemente behind the drum kit, and good thing as I think he actually upstages his predecessor on this album. The most noticable difference, however, is Chuck Billy. After some time of filtering in James Hetfield and to a lesser extent, Dave Mustaine influence, he has decided to start something more unique to himself. I commend Chuck Billy for this, and while he's never been my favorite vocalist, I actually like what I'm hearing from him. He also did this on "Demonic," but make no mistake as this album leaves that one in the dust.

The music itself reminds me a little bit of what Machine Head did this same year on "Burn My Eyes." That shouldn't scare anyone away as that is simply a distant comparison, the music is similiar though this album has more thrash influence and doesn't waste its time with long winded songs full of section changes and shifts. Instead, you get some full on chargers in songs like the title track, the catchy "Hail Mary," the thrashier "Dog Faced Gods," among others. The band also throws in a commendable ballad in "Trail of Tears," which I understand represents Chuck Billy's Native American heritage.

While there are a few stand-outs, a few of these just lack interesting ideas. The bass driven instrumental "Urotsukidoji" might be an interesting moment for Greg Christian but it comes off as filler. "Ride" is also pretty much filler material, it packs a chorus meant to get the adrenaline flowing but it never does, instead running through the motions then coasting to the finish line. "Last Call" is also a bit of an unpleasant surprise and a questionable closer/afterthought and seems downright silly.

At the end of the day, this is an underrated album for Testament. It shows them leaving behind the Metallica comparisons, considering this kicks the shit out of anything Metallica was farting around with at the time. Its basically a mixture of groove and thrash, which was big at the time though I'd argue this works better than "Far Beyond Driven," and Chuck Billy can definitely emit those growls better than Anselmo could. "Low" is a rather fine album all things considered, definitely worth looking into for fans of later day Testament. Its not the band you knew in 1989, they've crafted a different identity for themselves, one I would dare say fits them better anyway.

How low can you go? - 70%

avidmetal, January 13th, 2010

This is probably the best thing they've put out since when?. Souls of black?. No. This is their best album since "The Legacy" itself. Let's face it, After they released their first album in 1987, They quickly changed their approach to making music, They even released a pop-thrash MTV friendly 'Practice what you preach'. I wonder if people here are old enough?. Testament are underrated?. Absolutely not, There was a time when the music video for 'practice what you preach' and 'souls of black' was heavily circulated on MTV and other TV channels, almost as much as the big 4 themselves.

They tried every trick in the book, Music videos, and this false claim that they're "Underground metal legends". They never were that big in the underground scene and they failed breaking into the mainstream because their lack of charisma wouldn't let them. They're overall a pretty decent band who've made some good songs and one really great album.

This isn't nearly as bad as the terrible 'Demonic'. Let's start off with the vocals, Chuck billy is a good vocalist but i can't help but feel as if he just lets out this mix of high pitched screams and death growls just to sound impressive. "You know why i do this?, because i can!". His voice feels so unfitting sometimes that it takes the focus away from the pretty decent instrumental work behind him.

A new guitarist makes his way into Testament, But it's still the same old story, It's the same heavy-ish fast riffs which feel very much inspired by bands like Metallica, Exodus and Megadeth in their prime. The solos are decent but strangely feel unconnected with the rest. The drumming for the most part is solid, The production is honestly, Great. Everything sounds pretty sharp. If Testament's first album had this kind of production, Maybe more people would've taken it seriously. Who knows?. Their popularity could've sky-rocketed.

There are a bit too many Mid-paced sections which progress to absolutely nowhere. Chuck Billy lets out his screams every now and then to make sure we're not asleep. "Low" is a pretty good opener, probably their best since "New world order". The 2nd and 3rd tracks feature really funny choruses, It isn't southern enough and it's not metal enough. They're just weird. "Dog faced gods" is a pretty solid track, This kind of energy translates well into live performances. The guitarists do a lot of pit pleasing crunchy guitar riffs on this one. "Urotsukidoji" is a decent instrumental track. For those people who don't know, The voice samples are taken from the anime called "Urotsukidoji". They are played in reverse over the riffs.

The album seems to lack any kind of progression, It just feels like a series of unconnected songs, 12 songs which basically could've made their way on any other Testament album. Overall This is only for the Die-hard Testament fans, It should please them. After this, They'd hit Serious lows with "Demonic". "The gathering" is a pretty solid offering, If you're looking for a good Testament album, I suggest you skip this and try "The Gathering".

Their one great album - 87%

CrystalMountain, May 7th, 2009

As a pure thrash band, Testament were always kind of second rate. I mean they had some truly great songs, but in my opinion they never released a *great* album until this one. Calling it great may be a BIT of a stretch, but it's pretty fuckin' good though, and more importantly it's consistent from start to finish(all though it does fade.) Really though, how long could they continue to make generic thrash? They had all ready grown quite stale by the release of The Ritual and if they had continued down that path they would be long gone by now, but even to this day they still put out decent albums.

There were some pretty big changes in Testaments sound with this album, obviously Chuck Billy's deep growl was probably the biggest change. Also, exit Skolnick and enter Murphy. While I'm actually NOT a big fan of James Murphy, he does bring a much needed freshness to Testaments sound. By this time they had worn out the simple, by the books Metallica inspired thrash they played early on, and were in desperate need of something new. This album is much groovier and bottom heavy, and really it sounds like a heavier Pantera. But don't let that scare you away. The production is damn near perfect, they finally got a good sound after years of struggling with thin production.

The title track kicks the album off nicely, it's heavy as fuck yet groovy thrash. The vocals in this song are excellent, and Chuck mixes things up nicely. "Fuel the fire for war, it's man against mankind!" Good fist pumping stuff. "Legions(In Hiding" is pretty similar and contains some great groove riffs and the solo is pretty damn impressive and odd sounding. "Hail Mary" has one of the better riffs on the album, almost mid-eastern sounding. And it easily has the catchiest chorus as well. "Trail of Tears" is a straight up power ballad, and I will admit that it took a while to grow on me, but I fuckin' love it. Chuck Billy really sounds great, his clean vocals will impress you if you've never heard them. "Shades of War" is one of the more straight up thrash songs, and it's fucking heavy! This is probably the most underrated song in their entire catalog, it's pretty similar to the title track off of Practice What You Preach but with a much thicker sound. "Dog Faced Gods" as others have mentioned is damn near death metal, and they pull it off surprisingly well.

It does start to grow tiresome at around track 9(the quirky bass instrumental.) Songs like "Chasing Fear," "All I Could Bleed," and "Ride" are really bland and stale. Not quite filler, but they just lack any sort of punch. "Last Call" is completely unnecessary, and if they would have shaved off a few tracks, and took it from 12 to say 9 or 10 it would have been much better. But there's really not a whole lot to complain about, there are 6 or 7 kick ass songs on here and that's ALOT more than I can say for most albums. So check it out if you like thrash, and don't mind a little groove, you can't go wrong.

An Interesting Direction - 82%

pinpals, May 29th, 2007

Like a lot of other former thrash bands of the 80's, Testament released an album in 1992 that showed much more accessible songwriting and wasn't nearly as heavy. This was to be expected and charted higher than any other Testament album. Exeunt Alex Skolnick to Savatage. Testament recuit James Murhphy and release perhaps their heaviest album yet. What is surprising is that it is more groove metal than thrash. Perhaps even more surprising is that it doesn't suck.

Testament got a new producer in GGGarth, who had also done work with Rage Against the Machine, and had the album mixed by Michael Wagner. The guitars are in the forefront, with the vocals and drums in their appropriate places, not too buried, but not too far up front either. The result is a much heavier sound that is unlike anything else Testament's peers were doing at the time, with the exception of Overkill of course.

Also new to the band is John Tempesta, who had done some work in Exodus and White Zombie. His work is outstanding and he makes this the first Testament album where the drumming is a highlight as opposed to being...well...there. Louie Clemente never progressed past Lar$ styled drumming and is one of the many reasons that Testament never became as big as Slayer and Anthrax, both of whom had excellent drummers.

This change in direction gives Eric Peterson a chance to take a new approach to riff-writing, and as a result, the riffs are much stronger than anything on "The Ritual." There may be only one or two main riffs in a song, but they hit hard and are a breath of fresh air. New guitarist James Murphy does a fine job of replacing Alex Skolnick; many of the solos would sound like Skolnick was playing them except that Murhpy's guitar sound isn't quite as strong. In fact, many Skolnick-isms appear throughout the album; perhaps Skolnick wrote all the solos before he left the band and Murphy just played them. That would explain why Murphy's performance here was so much better than his lackluster work on "The Gathering." Even so, the solos are just as much of a highlight as on any previous Testament album.

The best solo of the whole album can be found in "Dog Faced Gods," a song that shows Testament exploring the borders of death metal. The guitars chug and Chuck Billy growls during the verses, yet delivers clean vocals for that kickass chorus. This song is one of the best that Testament has ever written and is one of the more unique songs in their catalogue. The title track gives a pretty accurate representation of what the rest of the album is like, and although it's a good song, I feel more could have been done with it. It starts out with a terrific riff and Chuck Billy mixes his more traditional growl with a death growl, although not nearly as much as on "Dog Faced Gods," but the song doesn't progress at all, and seems somewhat inadequate. The album as a whole offers consistantly strong heavy metal until about the very end, where the riff and songwriting slips a little.

The only exception to this is the ballad "Trail of Tears." After writing two of the best metal ballads ever with "The Legacy" and "Return to Serenity," Testament decided to stick with genre cliches. The singing, build-up at the end, solo, clean-to-heavy guitar transitions are all predictable and have been done much more successfully by other bands. Thankfully, this would be the last ballad the band would write.

Even though "Low" is far from essential, it's still a nice heavy album to headbang to and is much better than pretty much anything else that was being released at the time. The songs are solid pretty much from start to finish and this album is great to listen to while driving.

Their last good album - 80%

Mungo, March 24th, 2007

After releasing a few good and a few bad thrash records in the 80s and early 90s, Skolnick left the band and in his place came James Murphy. The result was a slower, more groove orientated sound that still had its roots in thrash metal. While some people say this a bad thing and that they sold out or something similar to that, this still remains a pretty damn good album that holds up to their previous stuff well, and coming after the boring 'The Ritual' makes it even better.

The first thing which must be noted is the excellent (*gasp*) production job. Yeah it's polished, but it makes it sound heavy as hell, and suits the sound of the albums well. The guitars are rightfully in the forefront of the mix, the drums have some weight to them and the bass is audible. One problem that Testament had before this album was the lack of riffs, and quality ones at that. This is fixed on this album, as the riffs sound different to each other and despite having a groove sound to them are still pretty heavy, helped in part by the guitar tone which is nicely done and a far cry from the light, pussy guitar tone seen on 'Practice What you Preach'. There are on average about three or four riffs to a song, with a main one usually taking up most of the song time. The new direction taken means there isn't as many solos as before, and without Skolnick in the band the amount is decreased even more. However, this isn't really a big issue, as they are only thrown in when necessary, and are kept simple and short. Chuck Billy's vocals are still pretty good, and he does more death metal growls on here than before but still prefers to stick to clean vocals.

There are a few main standout songs on here. The first is the title track, which has an excellent mid paced riff that destroys everything in its path. The chorus is catchy with some good vocal lines and there is a good solo halfway through. 'P.C' is the shortest song on here coming in at only 2:50. It starts off with sounds of people snorting crack before a hell of a riff takes over and drives it forward. Add in a simple yet effective solo and it's another winner. 'Dog Faced Gods' is another highlight with its heavy riffing and death metal-ish vocals in the verses combined with some clean vocals and a slower riff in the chorus. It then speeds up halfway into a solo before going back to the verse.

All of this adds up to a pretty damn solid album. While occasionally it seems a little uninspired and a bad riff props it's head up now and then, for the most part this is competent thrash metal that still holds up today. Unfortunately this would be Testament's last album worth listening to. It's not perfect but it's pretty good, and while it's not as good as their first effort this comes recommended to anyone into Heavy Metal in general.