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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.