6. Titans of Creation (2020)
I want to take a moment to give a bit of a bird’s eye view on Testament’s whole discography and levy a major critique against their music. Without a doubt, these guys are some of the most talented musicians in the whole heavy metal genre, but they don’t take a lot of risks with their music. So much of their material lands in the same sonic territory in that they are almost always in a medium-high tempo. They never go Mach 7, but they also never really break down into some creepy-crawly doomy metal riffage, and I find that to be a bit disappointing. “Well, that’s not the Testament sound,” you say. And you’re right, it’s not. But that absence isn’t because of a lack of ability, it’s because as a group they actively avoid adopting that style as part of their sound, which, to me, makes it seem like the band has “rules” as to what kind of elements can be incorporated into Testament’s music.
If I had one complaint about Testament as a whole it’s that they do seem to “play it safe” a lot of the time. The downside of being a reliable artist is that you rarely surprise the audience. Testament is not the kind of band that ever seems to illicit a strong emotional response in the listener in the same way some of their peers do (you know which ones I’m talking about.) For most metalheads, Testament is a good band, but rarely are they anyone’s absolute favorite band that they will defend to the death. I sometimes wish I would see someone respond to their music with more than “Yeah, that’s badass,” or “Yeah, they’re pretty good I guess.” I think it’s great when a band has group of diehards that will support them through whatever, and a group of adamant haters that will never enjoy what they put out. That kind of passionate response is a product of artistry that is lawless, undeniably honest and from-the-heart. I hate to say it, but Testament never seems to have achieved that kind of response. The band just exists where they’re at and have basically hit the glass ceiling.
All of that is just my personal opinion on their career and is in no way meant to disrespect any of those guys. I have nothing but respect for them as individuals and as musicians. I just wish that even for one album this band would throw caution to the wind and really try some wild, wacky ideas in the name of artistry without worry about how it would impact their fans, sales, or the business side of Testament.
5. Practice What You Preach (1989)
4. Low (1994)
3. The New Order (1988)
2. The Ritual (1992)
What I like about The Ritual is that it has a pretty unique identity within the band’s catalog. Where The New Order and Practice were “sister records” and Souls of Black was a lesser version of those two albums, The Ritual saw the band re-work their sound ever so slightly. Where The New Order included an Aerosmith cover, it’s on The Ritual where Testament takes that 70’s hard rock influence and transforms it into a more muscular, metallic version. The band sounds energized and intent on undoing any damage they may have done to themselves with Souls of Black. While most thrash fans have an unhealthy obsession with everything needing to be faster and faster, the fact is that a lot of heavy metal sounds best at slightly lower tempos. Black Sabbath, the inventors of the genre rarely play what would be considered “fast” by today’s standards, and to continue the comparison to Metallica, songs like “The Thing That Should Not Be” and “Sad But True” tend to pack the biggest wallop in the live arena. Perhaps it’s not just the lower tempo themselves, but the dynamic of having a variety of different speeds scattered throughout a concert. A sign of true musical chemistry is when a band can lead the crowd through a sonic journey by pacing their show. Some bands will open with a full-on, blistering face-melter. Sometimes it’s a slow buildup and there are peaks and valleys over the course of the show. That isn’t so prevalent with opening acts, but once a band reaches the point in their career where they are playing longer sets, they have to be able to conserve some energy to make it last an hour or more. It’s easy to play at break-neck speeds the whole way through a 25-minute set. Not so easy when you’re going for an hour and a half. Even if you can physically pull it off, it still causes a bit of ear-fatigue on the audience. Ultimately, no one stays 21 forever and any band that sticks around long enough will eventually want to mature into a more dynamic version of themselves.
Almost every guitarist will at one point find that it’s not about how many notes you can cram into one measure, but about squeezing the most grit and feel you can out of the strings against the frets. However, it’s not as if Testament are going down a route of spacey, effects-heavy psychedelic music… it’s rock n’ roll, and it’s still heavy metal! This album really lets Eric Peterson solidify his role as rhythm guitarist and Alex Skolnick continues on the path toward Shred City. Some of the leads on this record are the tastiest solos he’d ever laid down up to that point. Greg Christian is laying down some great groove, making up for some of Clemente’s simple-but-effective beats. There are occasions where Chuck Billy sounds like he’s not entirely sure how to sing over slower, more spaced out chord changes. There are certainly some points where it seems like maybe he had a few too many beers and could’ve given the track a bit more from the gut- the title track verses seem like he’s searching for something, but hadn’t quite figured out what to do. However, he sounds as good as ever on songs like “Electric Crown,” “Let Go Of My World,” and “As the Seasons Grey.” It’s not a perfect record, but rock & roll isn’t meant to be perfect. As a listener, it’s satisfying to hear a band try to stretch their sound out a bit. If you recall earlier in this article, I wrote how I felt Testament often fail to experiment with their sound. The Ritual isn’t extremely experimental music, but it certainly changes the formula that had grown a bit tired over the course of four very similar records. The Ritual in my mind is the original Testament striving to create the absolute best album they could, and it’s that drive for success that make me rank it as the 2nd best record. There is only one album in their discography left to discuss, which leads us to my #1 draft pick…
1. The Gathering (1999)
Go back in your mind to the year 1999 and ask yourself what the biggest names in metal were doing at that time. If you think about it, it was actually a pretty dark year for a lot of metal bands. Metallica was neck-deep in their mainstream radio rock era writing songs for the Mission: Impossible 2 soundtrack. Slayer had just released Diabolous In Musica one year earlier, an album that many consider their career low-point. Megadeth released Risk in 1999 as well. Anthrax was all but dead in the water. Sepultura had just split with Max Cavalera. Even relative newcomers Machine Head jumped the nu-metal shark with 1999’s The Burning Red. Not even the mighty Pantera was active in 1999. Dude, even Alice In Chains and Soundgarden were defunct by 1999. I guess if you were into Red Hot Chili Peppers or Limp Bizkit and Korn you were in good shape, but if you liked fuckin’ METAL, it was tough times indeed. Not to say there were no good metal albums released in 1999, but things were definitely in a slump and you had to dig into the underground to find anything worth a shit. Of course Testament was pretty far off the mainstream radar, but they did have name recognition in the world of heavy music, and when you have the line-up they did, you’re bound to attract a bit of attention.
In my estimation, The Gathering is just as good as Master of Puppets. It may not have the widespread recognition that Metallica’s name brings, but on a purely musical level, it ups the ante on every single aspect of the Testament sound. It has all the necessary ingredients to make a fuckin’ SICK album and it puts them together in just the right quantities to make it delicious. The raw talent and amazing performances from everyone involved makes every song bad ass in it’s own unique way. The record possesses a crystal clear production that had a direct influence on how many thrash and death metal albums were produced going forward, and even today over 20 years later it still sounds fresh. Very few records can say that the sound still holds up so many years later. Master of Puppets holds up. Rust In Peace holds up. Death’s The Sound of Perseverance holds up, and The Gathering holds up too. With a line-up of some of the best musicians in the genre, an album full of extremely well-written songs and a high-quality production value, it’s pretty clear that The Gathering is hands-down the best Testament album.
Undoubtedly you will have your own opinions on rankings, so leave a comment below and let us know what you think!