In this day and age, the lineup for the “Big Four” of thrash has been seemingly carved into stone by the Metal media; however, the lineup of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax certainly leaves something to be desired for those who have followed the respective careers of the aforementioned bands. While I will refrain from finger-pointing and especially naming names, I think a consensus can be established that the forward progression of each of those lauded groups is suspect at best. There are, however, other bands not included on the list that have prosperously matured over the years. These include Exodus, Death Angel, and the focus of this article and best candidate for forward-thinking Thrash, Testament. Going back to the ‘90s, a time when so many greats seemed to stumble and fumble the ball, Testament retooled their approach. While The Ritual disappointed some with its decidedly commercial leanings and was, to coin a term, under-Thrashed, the band returned with the seminal Low which kickstarted the second half of their career in a much more abrasive fashion. Following that, Demonic, and later, The Gathering upped the ante featuring an ever-increasing doubling down on consistently heavier material. Now, we are on the eve of the release of the band’s latest, Titans of Creation, and people are sure to be clamoring to get the scoop on how the album fits into the band’s impressive discography.
Testament open the album with the über chunky “Children of the Next Level,” a track that establishes a powerful precedent. The first impression is clear that the sound here is weighing heavily on the Thrash roots of the band’s past. Not content to rest on their laurels, though, the band manage by way of extremely varied sections to move things forward. The groove is so absolutely essential in the context of the song and they truly nail it with a closed-fist militant enthusiasm. The third track, “Dream Deceiver,” is closer to what could be labeled Traditional Metal than other recent releases by the band. The listener is treated to the wise use of Chuck Billy’s immense vocal talents as he reconciles recent efforts with his storied past work. The man still has ample pipes, something truly evident in this third track.
Testament have consistently released albums with powerful production and this latest release definitely follows that trend. The guitar tone is truly gargantuan, chocked full of thick rhythms, and is incredibly precise. The articulation of the riffs is staggering as one can hear every note played eschewing any chance of muddiness. In fact, the guitar sound is so cutting edge that it wouldn’t be surprising were it used as the go-to template for heavy Extreme Metal across myriad sub-genres. The rhythm section is vitally important, a fact not lost in the production. Gene Hoglan, the consummate professor of percussive innovation, delivers a pummeling performance that comes across as more natural than many of his peers. Simply put, there is no reliance put upon highly-processed triggers that seem to mechanize many drum sounds effectively sucking their life force like some predatory, preternatural vampire. Thankfully, a more prominent role is given to bassist Steve DiGiorgio. The bass is way more aggressive in both the mix and play style that his presence is felt across the album, a deserved recompense for the man who is practically the best low-end harbinger in the entire world of Modern Metal and it is satisfying that his tone and playing truly shine throughout the course of the songs presented here. The bass intro to the tenth track, “Code of Hammurabi,” is a grooving, wah-pedal influenced exercise sure to grab one’s attention and shine a more prominent light on the man’s immense talents.
The immense talent of Alex Skolnick is also on more prominent display with this new release. Perhaps being able to split his time between his Jazz ensemble and the Bay Area Thrash Titans has afforded him a surge in creativity. Whatever the case may be, his playing is absolutely on fire on this recording, a perfect complement to the violent rhythms conjured by the right-hand sorcerer, rhythm guitarist, Eric Peterson. Case in point is the fourth track, “Night of the Witch” where he truly pushes the envelope with an amazingly inspiring solo. While the use of wah pedal has been overdone by many of Metal’s “elite” lead players (Kirk Hammett), the wah-infected solo on the fifth track, “City of Angels,” features a dirty low growl exacerbating the power of the solo and giving truly mind-blowing results.
Another track that should be mentioned is the eleventh, “Curse of Osiris,” for it is undoubtedly the heaviest on the album. With judicious use of blasting, a brutal segue is created from the fast-paced gallop established during the verse. Chuck Billy even employs a new technique, a vocalization that is highly reminiscent of Black Metal. Along the way, though, the band doesn’t forget to include their trademark groove in a visceral explosion specifically aimed at the circle pit. It’s hard to imagine any of the previously mentioned “Big Four” being able to create a more cutting-edge track bridging the future with their legacy as Testament have done on this monumental song.
The final verdict after listening to the album numerous times is that it has a balanced sound that blends past achievements with more liberal ideas present within Modern Metal. To put it bluntly, it sounds like a combination of New Order and Practice What You Preach injected with anabolic steroids and lifting loads beyond their recommended weight. There is more experimentation in Extreme Metal tropes creating a fully jarring experience. In a situation paralleling Germany’s post-WWI situation with the Kaiser, it is abundantly clear that it is time for one of the “Big Four” to abdicate. Should they not choose to do so, it is in the hands of the fans to forcibly dethrone one of them to make way for the new order! This is the new blueprint for Modern Thrash if not Metal in general. Titans of Creation = Titans of Thrash!