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Testament IV : Dr Pepper Is Back In Stock - 92%

DanielG06, November 17th, 2020

This album is amazing, Testament’s second best in my opinion. The album begins with an acoustic intro that sounds climactic and even Latin. It increases dynamically and transitions into one of my favourite Testament songs, Face in the Sky. The riffs in this track are haunting, and Chuck’s vocals are at their absolute prime. Falling Fast is another great song, I really like the chorus and think the structure stands out, although the songs on here are all very short, they don’t waste any time, everything is controlled and focused. The production sounds just like Practice What You Preach, only it has that classic twinge of the first two albums mixed in, which is why I prefer this record. The title track is one of the biggest hits, and it’s clear to see why, with Louie Clemente’s technical and impactful drumming, and Greg Christian’s bass work, which is reminiscent of The New Order, only here he is even tighter. My favourite thing about this album is that everyone is working so cohesively and tightly together, it makes the songs so much stronger. Love to Hate and Malpractice are unusual tracks, but once you get into them, they become classics too, with super catchy hooks and Alex’s iconic leads. The Legacy is probably the best song on here, it’s a blast to the past of the band’s early days with Zetro on vocals and everything drowned in reverb the way KFC drowns their chicken in grease.

Overall, a great album, creepy, dark and atmospheric, and above all heavy as titanium and as lethal as typhus. Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson's guitar playing is more virtuosic than ever, almost reaching the level of their first two albums, in which their technical work peaked, the solos on this album are more hard-hitting and less dreamy and dynamic. You could tell that with this album, Testament were trying to establish a new style that has evolved and even matured from their roots, to improve upon Practice What You Preach while retaining the heaviness and tight articulation, while at the same time encompassing new ideas and never recycling old material or resorting to filler. This flawless formula succeeded, although it was unfortunately short-lived. Testament picked up the pace with this one, it’s just a shame that they’re about to shit the bed and not clean it for another 17 years.

Testament's Peak: 1990 - 100%

Testament1990, October 31st, 2020
Written based on this version: 1990, CD, Megaforce Records

After seeing my favorite album of all time turn 30 years old this month, the fourth Testament album Souls of Black released on October 9th 1990. I figure I start writing reviews for albums I love and thought what a better place to start than with this masterpiece of melodic technical thrash metal. Testament has always been my favorite band of all time and I have enjoyed every part of their legendary career to varying degrees minus the Demonic era (majority of Testament fans will understand this opinion). Throughout all of Testament's ups and downs, line up changes, and overall evolution to what they have become today something always brings me back to their initial first 6 album run from 1987-1994. The first 5 albums featuring the original classic lineup consisting of Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick, Greg Christian, and Louie Clemente. Today I give my thoughts on what I consider to be the best Testament record and in my opinion the best thrash metal record ever released. I know thats a bold statement compared to the undeserving hate I see this album get from the casual listeners of the band all the way up to the diehard Testament fans like myself. Very few people feel the way I do about this record but here's why I hold it in such high regard.

First off this album kind of gets a lot of hate or is generally ignored due to a few reasons. The band sort of rushed this release out to get on the biggest tours of their career at the time which was the European leg of the Clash of the Titans tour, and the North American leg of Judas Priest's Painkiller tour as they needed a new product to tour on as support for Megadeth and Judas Priest, both releasing new albums in 1990. Many claim the production and mix is absolutely horrible. Most people I find do not care for the classic analog production/mixes in the first place considering today's super polished and in my humble opinion sterile and lifeless production/mixes. A lot of folks also don't really like the band sort of slowing down a tiny bit to add a bit more melody to the tunes. This album however is not the same sort of slowing down as what took place on their 5th release 1992's The Ritual. This is the last Testament record with the original lineup that still is 100 percent thrash metal. I still really enjoy The Ritual as it is an incredible album in its own right, but it was a step in a different direction compared to the first 4 releases.

I may be a bit biased as Testament is my all time favorite band across all genres of music, but this era of the band in particular (1987-1990) is where I believe they peaked in sound, musicianship, technicality, and songwriting. Starting off with the production and overall tone of the album. This album has a really ominous and dark atmosphere as the guitars are nice and crunchy reminiscent of The New Order guitar tone but a lot more punchier. Alex Skolnick's lead sound here is the best it's ever been throughout his entire career as its nicely saturated with a eerie but beautiful delay and reverb. Skolnick's leads on this record are ridiculously melodic and jazzy yet still retaining the aggression of a metal guitar solo. Keep in mind this was 1990 back when metal albums weren't over polished and over produced to the point to where all the humanistic qualities are stripped from them. It has its flaws of being muddy here and there production/mix wise, but I love those old school analog thrash metal production/mixes where it is not over polished. For me it is the greatest type of production and mix to my ears and I wish albums were still produced and mixed like those classic records of the 80's/early 90's.

Souls of Black is more on the darker side unlike its predecessor Practice What You Preach which had a more lighter type of sound and atmosphere in my opinion, but still had the power and aggression like any thrash album from back then had. Chucks vocals sit perfectly in the mix as he is super up front and powerful sounding he does have a lot of reverb on his voice which to me sounds great as it adds to that ominous haunting element the album has. The drums are decent sounding not the greatest but they pack a powerful punch which contrasts the guitars extremely well. The kick drums are really audible and the snare is nicely saturated in a bit of reverb. My only gripe is the bass is virtually unheard aside from the intro to the title track and the intro to "One Man's Fate". Other than that I absolutely love the sound of this record and even the cover art is pretty wicked and present's an insight on how the record is going to sound which is very dark, eerie, and aggressive yet very melodic and catchy at times. I like to think of Souls of Black as the darker version of Practice What You Preach, from the cover art to both of the albums sounds and atmosphere's they are very similar and contrast each other outstandingly well.

Souls of Black has every type of thrash tune packed into its just under 40 minute run time and a beautifully composed ballad, which was daring at the time for thrash acts like Testament. The album kicks off with a short instrumental Spanish sounding acoustic guitar piece titled "The Beginning of the End" that is intellectually composed and bridges its way into the onslaught of crushing riffs and some of the most well crafted and memorable guitar solos in history (literally this album is a clinic for lead guitar). Songs like "Face in the Sky", "Absence of Light", "One Man's Fate", and even "Seven Days of May" all have catchy mid tempo moments in them giving them a nice balance between speed and the more devastating bridges and pre guitar solo riffs which make the songs more memorable rather than them flying through each song at 100 mph like their debut album The Legacy (which there is nothing wrong with).

Souls of Black also has its faster tracks like "Falling Fast" and "Love to Hate" which start out quite blistering keeping the roots of the bands sound well intact while expanding upon its sound with a track like "Malpractice" which is one of the most technical and progressive tracks they have put out within their lengthy career. The title track "Souls of Black" is a mid tempo banger that has one of the catchiest choruses in the bands legendary catalog. Last but not least we have the ballad track titled "The Legacy". This is not the first time the band dabbled with more slower ballad type of tunes as the previous album featured one ironically titled "The Ballad". "The Legacy" really is the apex of their ballads and they pull it off with excellence and ease just like the rest of their laid back ballad tunes they would continue to write for the next few years. Testament are the absolute kings of the thrash ballad if that's what you want to call it and they show that here with a track like "The Legacy". With all this being said Souls of Black is extremely versatile and not just a one trick pony album. The band was not afraid to display a wide variety of elements and influences during this era that separated them from the rest of their contemporaries at the time.

On to each members performances across the album as a whole starting off with my favorite part, the guitars. Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick by this point have solidified their dominance as a rhythm/lead guitar duo this album is standard business for them as they both create some of the most haunting riffs and harmonies together. Eric has a really good structure to the songs making them all differ from the next while still remaining consistent. Eric's riffs on Souls of Black are incredibly sinister and really technical at times putting on a nice display of rhythm technique. Peterson is no slouch when it comes to writing extremely memorable and catchy riffs and parts that stick in your mind well after listening to the album. Eric Peterson has shown here on Souls of Black another reason why he is the main songwriter and driving force behind the Testament machine we all know and love, churning out a barrage of some of the most menacing, vicious, and technical riffs of his entire career. Eric and Alex have also displayed here with Souls of Black and the rest of Testament's extraordinary body of work over the years they have been together that they are one of the best and most lethal guitar duo's in history.

What more can I say about Alex Skolnick here. His solo's on this record are still to this day the best he's ever tracked in the bands lengthy career. Every solo packs every bit of emotion possible in them and is a roller coaster ride of technique and precision on how to play thrash lead guitar. The man knows how to write the most interesting and thought provoking ideas on the guitar and they contrast with Eric's riffing to a tee. Skolnick's solo's on Souls of Black have a perfect flow and wild tempo shifts never feeling predictable or the same from song to song. Alex uses a wide variety of techniques at tons of different tempo's here including super fast exotic modal scale runs and some of the most gorgeous arpeggios ever swept. Throughout the first 4 records up to this point Alex has done nothing but get better and better with each release of the bands career, packing more and more technical and progressive insanity into the guitar solo's ultimately culminating and peaking on Souls of Black. There is not much more that can be said for Skolnick as he is one of the most influential and best, if not the best lead guitarist the metal genre as a whole will ever witness. Skolnick's performance on Souls of Black is absolutely astonishing and a feat that many lead guitarist's can not replicate. His tone, phrasing, and attention to detail in his solo's are what separate him from the rest by miles. Souls of Black is the reason why he is my all time favorite guitar player and the main reason I wanted to play lead guitar.

Chuck Billy is as powerful and commanding as ever here displaying all his vocal abilities across the album with brutal growl's heard in "Falling Fast" to his normal vicious vocal tonalities from the previous 3 records. He even displays his softer side in the ballad "The Legacy" which to me is one of the many highlights of this album. The only type of vocal not displayed to his full potential here is the high pitch shouts heard on the debut album and in the Aerosmith cover "Nobody's Fault" on The New Order where half of his vocals in the song are pretty high in range. Chuck is a lot more aggressive, dark, and slightly less melodic than what we saw on Practice What You Preach. Chuck's vocal approach to the songs on Souls of Black keep a nice sense of direction and pace never singing too fast or too slow within the varying tempos the songs provide him throughout the record. Chuck's performance here is top notch and should not be ignored as his voice is one of the best parts of the bands ever evolving sound while still establishing the fact that he is one of the most powerful and versatile vocalists in the metal genre.

The rhythm section Greg Christian and Louie Clemente are doing what they do best here as the time keepers of the bands iconic sound suiting the songs to the best of their abilities. While they certainly are nothing like the rhythm section that the band have today they still provide a solid foundation for the songs to flourish. Clemente's drumming here is more relaxed than the first two records but more aggressive than his work on Practice What You Preach and has a lot more breathing room to incorporate different and more fitting drum beats for the songs rather than the standard fast thrash skank beat through the entire tune. Christian's bass playing is quite reserved and suits the songs blissfully and he shines on his respective parts. I just wish he came through the mix more often like he did on Practice What You Preach but overall he is great at holding down the groove that the band was expanding upon during the 1989/1990 era and is a solid backbone to Testament's sound. Clemente and Christian were more of the type of players to do what is best for the song rather than attempt to show off their crazy abilities on their instruments. They took a more backseat approach to making the best possible songs they could which is highly respectable and to this day they are still my personal favorite rhythm section the band has had.

Overall this record is incredible for being written and recorded in 6 weeks. No other band could pull that off as excellent as Testament did with the help of legendary producer/engineer Michael Rosen. While I wish they had more time to do this record it is absolutely perfect the way it is. This will always remain my favorite Testament record and favorite album ever crafted. I never understood the hate that the 1989-1992 era gets but Testament prove here with Souls of Black that every song doesn't need to be extremely fast or brutal for it to be a great thrash record. The whole album is all killer and no filler there is not one low point throughout its just under 40 minute run time. For me this is the peak of the bands sound and it is a shame that fans and even Testament themselves throw this album along with the entire 1989-1992 era under the rug. Souls of Black is a criminally underrated album that should not be ignored. If you haven't heard this album I highly recommend checking it out as it is a lesson on how to thrash without all the stereotypes that surround the genre. If you like your thrash a bit more melodic, catchy, and technical rather than the more barbaric approach a lot of bands took during the the thrash golden era of 1983-1991, then this album is going to be right up your alley.

Souls of Decency - 55%

Petrus_Steele, April 21st, 2020
Written based on this version: 1990, CD, Megaforce Records

I wouldn’t say this is exactly a return to form, but it’s not overly as bad as Practice What You Preach. While Souls of Black is more generic, lifeless and maybe even mediocre, most of the songs here aren’t as awful as I thought. Surely, the quality decreased, but unlike what I said about the predecessor; the kind of record you’d only play once just to forget about it, Souls of Black is a bit more memorable.

Not sure what that prelude’s substance is all about since it only includes an acoustic guitar and nothing more, though near the end of the track, it sounded pretty good. Makes me wish that last few seconds’s substance was longer. As for the opening song, it’s got a catchy Slayer-ish riff, but clearly unoriginal. From Chuck’s vocals, you still get that James Hetfield vocal style, while the song remains entertaining musically. Not too much to seek here. So far, Testament have written some terrible title tracks. The title track in question has a bittersweet bass intro and even more catchy riffs, leaning towards the groovy side of the band that’s not polished well. It also has a weak guitar solo, compared to earlier records. The next two songs are self-explanatory, when the keyword for the first one being absence, it reeks more than the last two songs. However, the other song tries to maintain quality for the songwriting and riffage but doesn’t quite succeed. More of love/hate situation. Seven Days of May mostly sounded standard and it’s the weakest among the only three technical songs. However, its explosive technical guitar solo makes you forget how simple that song is.

Falling Fast takes a more aggressive approach. The vocals sound awesome, while the riffs remain on the rather satisfying side. For some reason, it gives me Black Sabbath vibes. Thankfully, the second portion of the album returns to a proper momentum from a technical perspective. Malpractice might be the most technical song on the album; a feature returned from the predecessor. Great guitar solo, great rhythm from the bass and guitars, and the vocals sound much better. One Man’s Fate feels more atmospheric and heavy, yet slightly maintaining technicality. Now for the finest song: The Legacy is what cools things down and offer you amazing melodies from both the vocals and the instruments. Very undeserving considering the aspect of the album. But it’s like with the predecessor’s The Ballad, The Legacy also offers a heavier side.

I can hardly call this an improvement over the disappointing Practice What You Preach. Even that album had a better style to it, while Souls of Black is that uninspiring. However, there are a few excellent songs to pick from this album, while others show some sense of potential. As a whole, it would have been better if the band kept on developing their technical sense, as they showcased in the last record. The best songs are Falling Fast, Malpractice, and The Legacy.

Face In This Guy! - 89%

Sweetie, November 24th, 2019

This record's follow-up The Ritual was what I considered to be Testament's "black album," but Souls Of Black was the biggest hint in a calmer direction. Rest assured though, despite that being the reason why a handful of people dislike this, it's still a heavy record. But the main thing that separates this from the following album is the fact that the writing is a lot sharper, the songs have more hooks, and most importantly, it isn't overly fucking long.

One of the biggest weapons that the fourth record possesses is that it was able to extract what made Practice What You Preach so monumental and not totally plummet it into the ground (despite it not topping it). "Falling Fast" is a criminally overlooked number that jumps around from bouncy punches to simpler riffs. Ascending patterns and howling vocals only add icing on the cake. This whole tune is a perfect combo of a stripped down aesthetic with technically advanced writing. That then segues into the title track, which displays one of Greg Christian's finest moments in the band's whole run. The way it achieves a feeling of terror in such a smooth way is beautifully done, and the metaphoric lyrics are spot on. Oh, and that speed-picked bridge in "One Man's Fate" needs far more attention than what it gets.

Transitions are another thing that Souls Of Black does really well, and that's evident right from the starting gate. The soft intro's abrupt but fitting jump into the main riff of "Face In The Sky" is an incredible one. That riff is also a very beefy and powerful one, which the album retains for the entire run. The exception is of course "The Legacy," which may not be heavy but is incredible in its own right. I chalk that all up to the fact that it's easily the most soothing tune the band ever wrote; even more than "The Ballad" off of the previous effort. It may not be a better song, but it casts a better feeling.

The reason that this didn't quite match the previous potential is from nothing more than some of the middle songs lacking the magic. A small gripe, but tunes like "Love To Hate" do show a slight step-down compared to the majority of what makes this up. Otherwise, this is fantastic. The writing, the lyrics, the accessible but still heavy approach, all make it a classic. Essential hearing in my opinion.

It's live or die. - 51%

Galactus, November 22nd, 2019

Similar to Exodus' trajectory after their classic debut Bonded By Blood, Testament feel a little aimless after the release of their magnum opus The Legacy. Unable to hit similar heights with the decent follow-up The New Order, and taking a step or two in the direction of accessibility with Practice What You Preach to inconsistent results; Souls of Black could have cemented Testament's position on the thrash metal pantheon. Unfortunately, this album did little to showcase Testament's undeniable ability, and is ultimately a non-step.

Clearly, being pushed to release an album every year hampered all aspects of Testament's development. Style, quality of songwriting, and even production barely progress notably from 1987, with 1994's death-groove Low finally offering a definitive "change". Before finally pausing for a year before releasing The Ritual, Testament's four albums in four years is not an achievement of talent, but whiffs of a label trying to ride the back of a movement for all it was worth before the scene's predictable, incoming implosion. This cynicism is harmful to Souls..., which winds up a derivative, ineffective stylistic combination of the preceding two albums.

It isn't a dumpster fire, but there really is little to recommend here. Elements of Testament's accomplished brand of thrash are incorporated throughout, but the songs generally adhere to the unusual, laboured hybrid of groove, thrash and heavy metal the band began to develop immediately after The Legacy. The one true thrasher "Love to Hate" sticks out awkwardly, and despite breathing a little life into proceedings, too closely emulates the superior, crowd-pleasing "Into The Pit" for my liking. Despite the prominence of the guitars and vocals, it is the distinct lack of hooks that kills this album; it's hard to distinguish these songs past a certain point, making it a chore to finish the album. Chuck Billy has always been one of the most interesting vocalists in the genre, but has little to work with here, with many of his performances sounding half-hearted and interchangeable, where you can usually count on him to light up the band's lesser material.

Admittedly, the album kicks off with a sliver of promise. "Face in the Sky" is typical post-The Legacy material: on and off syncopation, mid-tempo thrash riffs and relatively stripped-down hooks to warrant repeated listening. Compared to this one song, the rest feel as though they were written quickly in the studio and recorded without any quality control. There's no shortage of twists and turns; there's an unpredictable complexity to much of the songwriting, but it rarely convinces. Breaks and solos simply exist as an element of each track and nothing more. Despite the abundance of riffs, Souls... falls flat, so the rest of the album would have benefitted from the streamlined approach taken with "Face in the Sky". Such a move may not have held up well against their contemporaries, who were essentially at their peak at this point (think of the live material available to Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Overkill etc. in 1990!), but Testament were clearly lacking the inspiration or willingness to further carve out their niche.

Even nonsense like the '80s ballad "The Legacy" (the spiritual successor to the misguided "The Ballad") doesn't render Souls... a total disaster, but compared to the classic releases of '90, namely Persistence of Time, Rust in Peace, Seasons in the Abyss, and even lesser attempts like Impact is Imminent, it's a massive disappointment and a missed opportunity.

Spin To Win:
"Beginning of the End"/"Face In The Sky"

Uneventful - 35%

Felix 1666, November 18th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1990, CD, Megaforce Records

I have seen all the positive reviews here and I must say that I am surprised. From my (probably dubious) point of view, "Souls of Black" stinks. Compared with real thrash classic, I can, or even must, confess that it is a mega-stinker. To say this hurts, because I have always been a loyal follower of the band and their Legacy demo is one of the very few that I possess. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that my loyalty allows me to speak the - subjective - truth.

Well, the world is not just black or white and "Souls of Black" has some positive elements. The conservatively structured "Face in the Sky" marks a strong beginning and its catchy chorus does not lack class. But it is surely no coincidence that exactly this number opens the album after the brief intro. "Face in the Sky" is built on a more or less fast rhythm, but the song is far away from speedy thrash eruptions. This feature indicates a general problem. The entire material lacks speed and this is, in combination with the fact that many choruses are going nowhere, almost unforgiveable. The title track, for instance, sounds like a song of a thrash band that intends to go for new horizons - and the commercially designed ballad "The Legacy" reinforces this impression. What a shame that they desecrate their original band name and their glorious debut with such a lukewarm number. Aggravating this situation, the production sounds hollow and fairly powerless. It is more or less well balanced, but this does not mean that the overall impression is convincing.

More impressive is the fact that the lyrics of the closer deal with the massacre in Beijings Tiananmen Square from the year 1989, if my interpretation is correct. The intelligent lines ("They called the murders minimal / Described their victims as criminals") push the musically decent yet unobtrusive song on a higher level. Its solo belongs to the better ones on this album, but I admit that this statement is of little informative value when looking at the other tracks. All pieces have predictable patterns and many of them lack inspiration, just consume "Falling Fast" or "Absence of Light" with its shitty solo. Frankly speaking, there is not much that keeps sticking in the mind. The songs pass by and nothing happens. The somewhat kitschy artwork completes the picture.

No doubt, 1990 was no good year for the world wide thrash scene. Regardless of the individual class of albums such as "Seasons in the Abyss", it was obvious that many groups had lost a lot of their initial verve. "Souls of Black" mirrors this loss in a painfully clear manner. It is worse than the unspectacular "Practice What You Preach" and this alone demonstrates the dilemma. Uneventful is the word that describes the nadir of Testament's catalogue, although a comparatively angry, coherent track like "Love to Hate" would probably work in another context. But here is no other context far and wide. "Souls of Black" stinks.

Simpler, samey, but sometimes sweet - 73%

gasmask_colostomy, January 10th, 2016

I think that Testament had (and still have) the potential to be the greatest thrash band of all, but setbacks with time, with bandmambers, with production, with illness, and with the media-constructed "Big 4" meant that they have never achieved as highly as some might have expected. In the 80s, Testament were always a contender though, ever since their debut 'The Legacy' shot a hole through 1987, while their next few albums were generally met with approval, if not the same ecstatic respose. I have a couple of personal problems with Testament's early work and early thrash in general, though I must admit that their mixture of aggressive riffing, sublime melodic lead work, and Chuck Billy's distinctive vocals attract me more than many of the Slayers and Metallicas of our world.

'Souls of Black' shares some of these issues to a small extent, solves a few, and also adds a couple of its own, weighing in at a similar overall quality to 'The New Order' and 'Practice What You Preach', while lacking the startling impact of 'The Legacy'. In the first place, some of the production deficits are less pronounced, giving the sound a slightly greater punch and added crunchiness to the rhythm guitars, even if the bottom end of the mix sounds muddy and we can't catch the full skill of Eric Peterson's right hand, nor always distinguish the movements of Greg Christian's bass from the clattering fog of percussive noise. The times when the tone feels just right are when Alex Skolnick floats a solo across the taut underbelly of his bandmates, since his lead tone is light and dreamy, saturating the dry sound with sweetness and juice and pleasantly breaking up the saminess of some of the sections. His solos on this album are quite probably the best that he ever put to tape and play a huge role in making 'Souls of Black' as distinctive as it is.

The reason why Skolnick's contribution is so important is because their is a tendency to fall into a slump mid-album, where the songs begin to blur together. Looking at song length, one can see that the writing here is a little less involved than the fleshier numbers on 'Practice What You Preach', so any additional detail is a blessing. Crucially, the song structures are very predictable for the most part, generally following a simple intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-lead break-bridge-chorus structure that leaves little room for surprise besides the energy of the performance (which the production deadens a little) or creative riffing, vocal lines, or those solos. Peterson does provide some good riffs, though as mentioned the lower-pitched ones stand out less from the mix. There are some generic Testament riffs, such as the one that opens 'Absence of Light', but the instantly recognizable one from the title track, the few main riffs of 'Seven Days in May', or the chorus riff from 'The Legacy' are great examples of how creative he can be at times. Peterson's variety is all the more important on 'Souls of Black', since this is a rather slower album than its predecessors, having few songs that thrash for their entire length; what happens in this case is that the listener can detect the rhythm of the song before recognizing the riffs, a grumble that more power in the guitars would have fixed. One final factor contributing to the album's saminess is Chuck Billy's vocal performance. While as powerful as usual, he doesn't produce the quantity of memorable vocal lines that made 'The Legacy' album steer clear of boredom. There are indeed some valiant attempts to deviate from the bonehead thrash metal singer formula, such as the sustained notes in 'Malpractice', but there are no more than three or four styles for the whole album and the phrasing patterns are not quite as creative as they need to be to give the simple songs a catchy effect.

For all that, there are good moments throughout the album. Those searching for speed may be placated by 'Falling Fast' and 'Love to Hate', the former of which thrashes most convincingly and sounds best at high volume, standing on your feet, clenching your fists. 'Face in the Sky' and 'Souls of Black' both manage to achieve a balance between modest musical ambition and memorability, while 'The Legacy' is a ballad that doesn't merit quite such a long build-up yet undeniably succeeds with a poignant and huge-sounding chorus. Individually, songs all have their merits, despite the slight disappointments of 'Absence of Light' and 'Love to Hate', although there are few absolutely killer moments that I can totally lose my mind to, a complaint perhaps resulting from the steadier pace here.

'Souls of Black' is neither a poor nor a great album, which suffers from some similar songs, a weak production, and a slightly limited vocal performance, though makes up for it with some creative riffs, exquisite melodic soloing, and songwriting focus (say what you like about 'Practice What You Preach' and 'The Ritual', they could both have been cut down a bit). For die-hard 80s thrashers, this might be a little slow and hooky; for lovers of more modern-sounding metal, it might sound weak and puny; for those who are willing to be forgiving of some small flaws, it's a more than worthwhile listen.

Hodgepodge - 71%

StainedClass95, July 30th, 2014

This is an interesting record. Many bands combine elements from their previous works and release that as an album. The difference is that most bands do this towards the end of their career. Honestly, this record reminds me of Surgical Steel and Angel of Retribution in terms of intent. The problem is similar as well, it's not done as well as the first time around. This is not band and is well-executed self-worship, which I'd chalk up to youth.

From their debut, we have the closing song. Seven Days of May sounds to me like it could have been a b-side from that album. It's not very good, and it would be bad if it weren't for the nice solo, but that just brings it to below-average. From New Order, we have the opening track and the production. The opening track is a boring noodler that would have fit right at home on that album. The production on here also reminds me of that one. It has a nice, full feeling that their other early efforts lacked. The problem was that it also leads to the bass being quieter than it was on Practice. From that album, we have the Legacy. Admittedly, I like this one more than the Ballad, but I don't really enjoy either one. Pretty much over a quarter of this is wasted from the start.

In fairness, the bass isn't quite as quiet as it was on their sophomore, so he can still be heard. This does much for the music, in terms of shoring up the mediocre riffing. The soloing is also as good, maybe even better, than before. Skolnick's style really is rather unique. Poland is maybe the closest, but even then it's still fairly different. Chuck is as good as ever, and his lines on Face in the Sky and Malpractice do stick with me. The lyrics on here seem rather paranoid. Usually I don't agonize over lyrics, but it is odd how much this band fixates on entities out to get them. It honestly reminds me of some of my family reunions, if any of them had musical or vocal talent.

On the production, this often has a very mechanical feel. I can't quite explain it, but it almost feels like an extremely toned-down and less bassy Legion. It has a very concentrated, dense sound that can pack a punch, albeit a much smaller one. I can't quite say if this was intentional, as I don't sense any atmosphere from it. Judging from the cover, I would expect a somewhat darker feel. This isn't happy, but it's not morose or anything either. All of this isn't quite harmful to the record, but it is somewhat odd and abnormal.

I don't feel that this is as good as its predecessors. It isn't nearly as consistent as Legacy, nor does it peak as high as Practice or even New Order. It's really bizarre to me how a young band can be cobbling old ideas together this early. I understand being rushed, but this feels like a compilation at times. I can't say that I would recommend this as a whole album to a thrash fan. This has way too much low-level material grafted onto the beginning and end. I would say just rip Face, Falling, the title track, and Malpractice. There's a few more solid songs, but nothing really special.

Gently applies the brakes, without slamming them - 75%

autothrall, September 6th, 2012

Souls of Black was not exactly a massive swan dive in consistency or quality from its predecessors, and it seems to be genuinely appreciated by a large swath of the Testament audience. But for the first time, I felt like the band wasn't really progressing anywhere, and though I might accuse Practice What You Preach of its filler track ("The Ballad"), there were actually a number of songs here that have never cried out to me. I've always thought that this was a symptom of the band running out of steam: they must have been exhausted after the first three, and to an extent Souls of Black seems 'rushed' out the door. I do enjoy the lion's share of the music here, but I'd be hard-pressed to remember the rest if I wasn't currently listening for the write-up.

Aesthetically, it's quite similar to Practice What You Preach, only the mix seems shoddier. The bass is less prominent, the guitars dingier, and there seems to be more of a reverb saturation. I even detect a little hiss to the CD, but again, I've hardly tracked down a remaster for it or compared it to other digital formats. At any rate, compared to records like Rust in Peace, By Inheritance or Seasons in the Abyss, it seems as if it was underdeveloped just to get it out to stores on time and maintain that one album/year cycle that wasn't always the best blueprint for success (as Metallica has proven time and time again). The only exceptions are the vocals of Chuck Billy, which are just as consistent and poignant as any of the previous records, and Alex Skolnick, whose leads seem to carve out quality from whatever bedrock they're settled into. There are also a bevy of surgical, semi-tech thrash riffs even in a few of the weaker cuts that would have been so much more excellent with a better mix of instruments. I also dug the cover art here, another proxy for the band members, though the title font is hammy as hell; combined with the heart, it makes me feel like I'm on a Valentine's date at some diner, being served by Dementors from the Harry Potter universe.

As for the song selection, it's set up quite similarly to Practice, with in my estimation the best material all wedged up front in the track list, and then a simmering down and compromise for the later numbers. After the Mediterranean mystique of the acoustic intro "Beginning of the End", "Face in the Sky" crashes in with some decent grooves playful spikes of lead guitar, and other standouts include "Love to Hate", "Falling Fast", "Absence of Light", and "Malpractice". I go back and forth on the title track, a woozy groover with a clear hard rock influence permeated by harsher, thrashing guitars, but it's not out of place here, and also might have fit in flush with the third album. The only real stinker here is "The Legacy", another shitty power ballad track that you can bet your ass was included because of "The Ballad"'s market penetration, but comes out even wimpier than the last. The other late cuts like "One Man's Fate" and "Seven Days of May" also fall short of the quality I'd expected, and as far as I'm concerned the last 15 minutes of the whole record should just have been left off (an EP would have sufficed, and given the band some breathing room).

In the end, for all its flaws, Souls of Black still has that ability to evoke some nostalgia and transport me back to a time and place of significance; it's not as if the band just suddenly sucked, and in fact my favorite material was still to follow. I recall seeing the band play some of this material on the Painkiller tour with Judas Priest and Megadeth, and I certainly played the heck out of my tape for a few weeks, but its charms faded rather quickly, and I would find myself steering back to The Legacy or The New Order. A good album, just not a great one; worth buying if you love the first three, but not a strong place to start if you're a virgin to their sound. I'd love to hear most of it fully remixed or remastered, perhaps even recorded again with more power to the guitars, but as it stands, I don't set aside much time for this these years.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

Putting the blackened soul back into thrash. - 86%

hells_unicorn, September 7th, 2011

The term underrated can be a bit relative at times, but when a solid collection of thrash gets panned by a band’s most ardent mainstays and even by the ones that created it, something has to give. It’s somewhat understandable to not be wholly impressed with an album because it was a little rushed (Testament had been invited to go on some big tour not long after this was released), but the end results of “Souls Of Black”, the 4th album of this bunch of Bay Area bruisers, is quite powerful, particularly in comparison to their past 2 albums. How was this accomplished, some may ask? The answer is, quite simply, that all of the gimmicks have been dropped and Skolnick and company have decided to get back to basics.

While definitely not the fastest and most furious offering out of the thrash scene, this is about as pure and raunchy of an offering as can be expected from the genre circa 1990. In addition to being auspiciously shorter and sweeter than most of the mid-boggling epics being churned out by Heathen and Overkill at around this time, it’s also a lot more straightforward, almost as if time had been turned back about 3 or 4 years. The production is a good deal rawer here, almost to the point of sounding like a slower, simpler version of a Dark Angel recording post-1985. The guitars are crunchy and free of the tinny rock character that neutered much of “Practice What You Preach”, the lead guitar is complementing the album rather than carrying it, and the acoustic interludes and balladry have been scaled back to more reasonable levels.

Between Chuck Billy’s still youthful and irreverent shouts of angst in the mold of 1984 James Hetfield and a wicked riff set that is clearly right out of the Exodus textbook, this thing manages to cook something fierce, even when caught in mid-tempo land. Whether it be “Face In The Sky”, “Love To Hate” or “One Man‘s Fate”, things have largely rocketed back to the splendor of the band’s formative debut release, though with a greater mixture of upper-mid tempo work during the verses, which allow the raunchy vocal work to do its thing with little distraction. Sometimes things get a little bit groovier as on the title song and “Absence Of Light”, but the energy and attitude isn’t diminished in the slightest. The only areas where things get a little sappy and overblown is the cliché 80s ballad “The Legacy” and the somewhat gratuitous 36 second fit of acoustic shredding that kicks off the album in “Beginning Of The End”, almost as if the band is taking some cues from Jeff Waters (see “Beneath The Remains” for a way to pull off a brief acoustic intro that better melds with an intense thrash album).

This barely takes a backseat to Testament’s seminal debut, and is a much better and more consistent version of what Metallica should have become after “Ride The Lightning”. While everyone else was trying to outdo each other with how many technical feats they could jam into 40 minutes of album space or explore the limits to how far a thrash fan’s attention span could be stretched on a singular song (think “…And Justice For All” and “Victims Of Deception”), this band decided to get back to basics, and it worked out quite nicely. For any old school fan who doesn’t want their drums overtly click oriented, their bass either muddied up or funky, and their guitars thinned out to the point of losing their punch, or something seeking to fill up the entire 80 minute memory limit of a standard CD, this is an essential purchase to complement a collection of classics circa 83-87, from a year long after such albums were commonplace.

Best of the Classic Line-Up - 90%

OldSchoolKid, April 1st, 2009

Testament will always be one of those bands that divides opinion amongst the headbanging masses. This is nothing new as there are many bands out there that divide opinion. However, with Testament it always seems like opinion is divided from album to album...give 10 metal-heads a chance and you'll get 10 different "top 3" lists of Testament albums.

I will now go on record to say that this is, in fact, my favorite of all the "classic line-up" Testament records, even moreso than The Legacy, because this is the album where they truly perfected what they do best.

We all know the story of this album, the guys had three months to write, record and produce an entire album. I think this is something that worked in the band's favorite as I've always believed Testament had a habit of overthinking things and, as a result, releasing albums that seemed to reflect more what they thought they should do as opposed to what they simply should have done.

I won't argue whether or not Testament was the most creative band out there and admittedly, in 2009 this material doesn't even seem all that heavy or all that metal, but remember this was released in 1990 and "heavy" meant something completely different than it does now. What Testament were was a second-wave Bay Area thrash band with a devastating lead guitar player that played a more mid-tempo, song oriented brand of thrash...a brand of thrash that would never blow one's brains out with high riff counts or high BPM counts but, at its best, took solid riff sets and constructed them in a thoughtful manner.

I remember someone calling Testament "thinking man's metal" and for better or worse, that's as good a description as I've heard.

SOULS OF BLACK represents thinking man's metal at its best as the band strikes with devastating riff after devastating riff, where no riff ever overstays its welcome and where everything flows brilliantly. What results is the most consistent album of Testament's career. "Face In The Sky", "Falling Fast", the title track and "Seven Days Of May" stand up to anything the band ever did and "The Legacy" is, in my opinion, the best "ballad" the band ever did.

To my ears, the only place where the album suffers is in production. Chuck Billy is so far back in the mix and so drowned in reverb that it sounds at times as if he's singing in a different room. It's a shame to because Billy gives the 2nd best performance of his career on this record (not too far off his work on "Low"). On the other hand, the rush job probably prevented Peterson and Skolnick from overproducing the guitars, and that's a good thing because they sound like thunder on this record...crunchy yet still with that trebly bite that was missing from "Practice..."

Need I say anything about Alex Skolnick? His soloing really got better and better with each album and it is no different here...just check out the solo to "Face In The Sky" and the way he works over the riff and tempo shifts...awesome!!!

Mine is only one opinion of course and, again, 10 other people will have 10 other things to say, however if there is one album that best represents classic era Testament doing what they do best, it is SOULS OF BLACK.

A Winner!!!

Badass Album - 95%

ForestRaven35465, March 6th, 2008

Although there album was not well defined due to it's submissive results, the intent was highly spoken. The album was blatantly reviewed and expressed. That however was not the case, having releasing this album was a opportunity for the band to be heard more for how creative they could have been. Thereafter having be able to play the Painkiller tour with Judas Priest and Megadeth, this was thought of as a great opportunity for the band to be heard and given a proper realization for the era, having this album released in 1990. The album not being introduced widely for it's real intent and realization of the bands nature was still however regardless of it's reviews and thoughts was highly underrated in my opinion, and should have been realized and understood in it's own sense.

This album being released two years after "The New Order" was expected of it's real catchy references and slick intros. Such as songs like Into the Pit, The New Order, Disciples of the Watch, and The Preacher. "Practice what you Preach" was also a strong out-front in epidemics. However it may seem the band really bumped it's volume and showed it's true passion in "Souls of Black" in songs they longed for to be heard such as The Legacy, Love to Hate, Falling Fast, Absence of Light, Malpractice and of course Souls of Black. The disappointment of the albums results were highly critical. "Souls of Black" however being not the most highly viewed of their work it was still a really heavy album. Yet the album was still shown as being one of their major works and possibly the most popular to viewers.

The talents of Louie Clemente (drummer) and Eric Peterson (rhythm guitarist) were very well grounded as well Alex Skolnick's beautiful melodies and Chuck Billy's vocals reaching new heights of passion towards the music and really showing the love with strength more. So this was really thought of as "weak stuff" as lots of people will claim but true Testament fans will tell you different and expressed their views with different regards.

One Last Classic - 85%

DawnoftheShred, March 3rd, 2008

Anyone who’s followed Testament’s career knows that during the 90’s, they altered their style to attempt to appeal to the mainstream, much like most every other metal band of the decade. But just before they “sold out,” they put out one last, often overlooked classic by the name of Souls of Black. Recovering from the blatant Metallica worship and harmless execution of their Practice What You Preach album and resurrecting the darker atmosphere from their first two albums, Testament let loose with one last thrasher that while not even comparatively destructive as their first album, still stands on its own as a damn solid representation of the band’s prowess.

Sporting a clear but rough bass-heavy production, Souls of Black is basically the reincarnation of The New Order without all the silly interludes. It usually doesn’t stray from mid-paced territory, but it’s vicious when it does. Chuck Billy still kinda channels James Hetfield’s style, but less so than on PWYP (excepting a few really noticeable moments). And Louie Clemente pounds away like a madman and Alex Skolnick still shreds like a motherfucker. What did you expect; this is a Testament album after all. One nice new aspect is Greg Christian’s bass finally playing a potent role in the mix, allowing his talent to show (see the intro to the title cut for a good example). But this album really isn’t much different than what came before it, it’s more to show that the band still had playing power (proving PWYP to be merely a fluke) rather than to tread new ground. There’d be time for new ground on the following albums, after all.

So anyway, the songs. A nice acoustic intro leads into opening cut “Face in the Sky,” one of many signature Testament tunes from this album. The songs are all a bit more distinctive than the ones from the previous album and many are classics, such as the title track, “Malpractice” and “Seven Days of May.” Note the band’s improved lyrical capacity as well. Near the end of the album, “The Legacy” stands out, as it’s one of the few power ballads the band has written. The mellowness delivered is somewhat unwelcome, but the song is written well enough to justify its inclusion. And if you don’t like it, that’s why the skip button was invented.

And did I mention that Alex Skolnick fucking rules? His technique is just as stunning as when he first ripped it up on the Legacy demo, but on Souls of Black, he plays with a purposeful sense of melody and precision at a magnitude unseen in his prior work. Guitarists take note: these solos are some of his best.

Okay, so this isn’t an ultra-fast ’86 thasher. It nonetheless beats the shit out of what Exodus and Sacred Reich were doing at the time. Don’t count it out ‘til you hear it for yourself.

Third best album - 90%

morbert, October 9th, 2007

Although not as good as “Practice What You Preach”, for it contained a lesser amount of quality Peterson riffs, it was fortunately better than “The New Order” (which had some classic songs but as a whole a very inconsistent album) and everything the band released since 1992. Biggest problem compared to “Practice What You Preach” is the rather skinny sound this album has and – as said – a lesser amount of memorable Peterson riffs. Not that there aren’t any good riffs here, there were still some of them (‘Falling Fast’, ‘Souls Of Black’, ’Love To Hate’, ’Malpractice’) fortunately.

I really miss the prominent bass guitar sound from “Practice What You Preach” but the intro to the title track is extremely good. The guitars however have got plenty of definition and also the vocals have a really good production here. Talking about the vocals. This album is one of the most melodic ones Chuck Billy has recorded. His vocal melodies however are not all of the same quality. Sometimes they work fine (‘Falling Fast’, ‘Souls of Black’, ‘Face In The Sky’, ‘Malpractice’) but on some songs they fall out of place a bit with the intensity of the composition (‘Absense Of Light’ , ‘One Man’s Fate’, ‘Seven Days Of May’)

Compared to “Practice What You Preach”, this time there were more up tempo moments (especially ‘Falling Fast’, ‘Love To Hate’), making up for the incidental shortage of memorable riffs and providing a varied album. A song such as ‘Malpractice’ is very reminiscent of the “Practice What You Preach” album and very remarkable is that the song ‘One Man's Fate’ including its vocal line could have come straight from the Mordred debut album “Fools Game” and for that matter I think this songs would have sounded better with Scott Holderby on vocals.

I’ve never been too fond about the song ‘The Legacy’ which still feels like a failed attempt at writing a sequel to ‘The Ballad’ (“Practice What You Preach”) but without an up tempo thrashing climax. Before I forget, of course there are some great Skolnick leads and solos to be found all over the album.

Finishing after “The Legacy” and “Practice What You Preach”, this album can be considered a great Testament album and their last true old school thrasher. Best songs: ‘Falling Fast’, ‘Souls of Black’, ‘Love To Hate’ and ‘Malpractice’.

Stagnant Thrash - 70%

karma_sleeper, July 19th, 2007

“Souls of Black” marks a step down in speed and a step up in ‘heaviness’ for Testament. And while it may not measure up to what was already on the table at the time of release, don’t let that stop you from enjoying it. While some might call this effort second rate thrash, there is plenty to enjoy and keep you listening – if only for a little while.

Yes, “Souls of Black” could be called underrated. There are plenty of catchy riffs, killer leads, and speedy drums to capture your interest, but I think it is important to take into consideration the time of its release. The early to mid 90’s marked a shift away from the glory days of thrash. Big name bands of the genre like Megadeth and Metallica put out more melodic and accessible releases: “Countdown to Extinction” and “Metallica (The Black Album)” respectively, effectively changing the direction of the scene. Other bands experimented with cross-genre efforts incorporating techniques from power, gothic, and even industrial metal. Testament followed suit soon after in ’92 with “The Ritual,” a melodic and catchy album riding the wave of more commercial releases. And because of the close proximity in terms of release dates to these new developments in thrash, “Souls of Black,” to many, sounded like a throwback to the 1980’s. I also think “Souls of Black” marks the beginning of this transition for Testament, and for some, the downward spiral of the band and hence the last great release.

The throwback charge is a legitimate one, unfortunately. You can definitely hear it in the production values of the album. They simply aren’t up to par with what was going on at the time. Despite the musicianship of the band, I think it really hurt generate interest in the release. Skolnick’s leads are solid, the vocals are killer, and Testament sports one hell of a drummer, but it just lacks polish and the recordings are a bit quiet and even muffled. In no way does it do the talent of the band justice.

But like I said, the riffs are hard, the leads are catchy and enjoyable, and there are some great songs. The openers are particularly memorable. Several songs feature some awesome guitar work, but sometimes the riffs can seem really forced and hokey. The ballad on the album is also fairly enjoyable. Unfortunately, there’s also a fair amount of filler material. Additionally, many of the songs sound incredibly similar to songs from previous releases. While this may be good on a nostalgic level, overall, it speaks ill of the band in terms of musical maturity. Where is the development of style and the honing of skill? It just is not present and this is what makes this album ultimately mediocre. It’s different than the first albums, but it’s also the same and that makes it awkward.

Let’s be honest, though. I certainly don’t expect every heavy metal album I hear to be groundbreaking or blow me away. That’s just unrealistic. I want my music to be fun. And despite my negativity, “Souls of Black” is fun. But when you look at a band, you want to watch their style and sound progress. That’s not unrealistic. You want to see some sort of progression. That does not happen here, making the album stagnant and monotonous. While progression does take place later on the in the band’s history, it’s of a different, more experimental nature than the kind I am trying to describe.

“Souls of Black” is a good thrash album and it is not second rate, but there is a lot that could have been done to make it better. Testament is a band littered with lackluster efforts. Some of that laziness makes its way here. And while it may have sounded like a throwback to the 80’s when it was released, I think it’s sufficiently on the border of the 80’s and 90’s for metal fans of today to ignore that accusation. However, this fact does affect the production value of the album and the overall enjoyment of the sound.

Much better than what came before it - 78%

Mungo, March 18th, 2007

After the bad, inconsistent and pussy-thrash effort of 'Practice What You Preach', Testament released the much improved 'Souls of Black'. While the previous had few good riffs and more than half of it wasn't worth listening to, 'Souls of Black' is where Testament picked up in quality again, delivering a solid thrash album.

Pretty much everything 'Practice What You Preach' contained is improved upon on here. The riffs are much more powerful and original, which results in more headbanging. The production, for once, is good for a thrash metal album, with the guitars rightfully in the forefront and the drums actually having some weight this time around. The guitar tone has improved a lot as well. While on previous records it sounded pussified, weak and lacked balls, on here it actually has some punch and power to it. Sure, it's nowhere near as heavy as the production on 'Slaughter in the Vatican' was, but it suits the style of thrash Testament played. The vocals have improved as well, which Chuck no longer going through the motions and instead providing a more aggressive style of singing. The Metallica influence is still present, but it is no where near as bad as it was on the previous release. For once, you can easily tell the songs apart, as although some do sound similar they are different enough to be distinguishable.

There aren't really any bad songs on here. Even the token ballad of the album, 'The Legacy', is quite enjoyable and has some very good heavy sections. There are still some songs which border on half-thrash but on here they are thankfully not as common. When they do come up they are still quite enjoyable due to solid riffs driving the songs forward. The solos remain awesome in each song (which is to be expected from a guitar player such as Skolnick) and are still very nicely done.

So if there are so many good points, why the above average score? Well this is still pretty average stuff at times, and there is nothing new on offer here. While originality is not really a big factor I consider when reviewing albums it can drag a record down without some of it. As said before, the Metallica influence is still there and props it's head up every now and then, which is seen occasionally in the vocals and riffs.

In conclusion though, this is nearly on par with their first album and certainly worth getting. There's more riffs, more balls, and better production on offer, and anyone that likes some good thrash should definitely consider picking this one up.