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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.