Welcome to another “Album by Album Challenge.” For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.
This time around I am making my way through the discography of legendary Bay Area thrashers, Testament. For nearly 30 years, Testament has been delivering their signature sound to the masses and have put out some of the best thrash metal ever made. From 1987’s Legacy to 2012’s Dark Roots of Earth, I took in every album, song for song, and documented my thoughts on these albums. As always, hearing the albums like this, in this context, made for a truly awesome listening experience.
Release Date: April 21, 1987
The Good: Over the Wall, The Haunting, Burnt Offerings, Raging Waters, COTLOD, First Strike is Deadly, Do or Die, Alone in the Dark, Apocalyptic City
Released in 1987, Testament hit the scene and hit it hard with their debut, The Legacy. Things kick off with a kick to the head with “Over the Wall” which just may be one of the greatest thrash songs of all time. That fucking guitar solo just shreds my face time and time again. “Raging Waters” is a song that I always forget about but hearing it in this context made me realize that I have sadly overlooked that song for way too long. “Curse of the Legions of Death” is a fucking juggernaut of a song and the closing track “Apocalyptic City” just never lets me down. Song for song this album just doesn’t stop. There are zero weak moments and zero eye rolling moments. Chuck Billy is without a doubt a fucking monster on this album and why he’s not held in higher regard as a metal vocalist is beyond me.
I’m going to have to go out on a limb here and say that this just maybe the greatest debut thrash record of all time. I’m sure so many of you are going to say Kill ‘Em All but man, even as great as that album is, it doesn’t stand a chance going up against The Legacy. When this album came out in 1987, I was all over this album like flies on shit. nearly 30 years later, The Legacy still holds up. As a matter of fact, even it’s kind of shitty production does a lot for this album. I just love that it is so raw and so full of fire. Listening to this album in its entirety reminded me just what a strong, relentless force Testament was. What an amazing way to start things off.
The New Order
Release Date: May 10, 1988
The Good: Eerie Inhabitants, The New Order, Trial By Fire, Into the Pit, Disciples of the Watch, The Preacher, Nobody’s Fault, A Day of Reckoning
What a monstrous follow up to the amazing Legacy album. The New Order was an album that I didn’t really pay much attention when it first came out. I remember buying it but aside from the stellar “Disciples of the Watch”, “Into the Pit”, and their cover of Aerosmith’s “Nobody’s Fault” I really didn’t remember much about this album. At first listen I have to say that right off the bat, it’s the shitty production that kind of makes it hard to listen to. The debut’s production kind of lent itself to the album but this time around it just doesn’t seem to cut it. The songs and the performances are so fucking great on this album that they really deserve a much better production.
There isn’t a single bad song on this album and like I said, after hearing it with its shitty production, I now remember why I didn’t listen to this album all that much. I will say that I found myself really digging the fuck out of this album more so than I ever remember. I know Alex Skolnick gets a lot of fucking praise and while I agree that he is amazing, it’s Chuck Billy that I feel like is the MVP. What a monster fucking singer. This really was a great album of material and while the production might be lacking, the quality of the songs and the performances really does outweigh it. This album will definitely get some more spins from me in the near future.
Practice What You Preach
Release Date: August 8, 1989
The Good: Practice What You Preach, Perilous Nation, Envy Life, Time is Coming, Blessed in Contempt, Greenhouse Effect, Sins of Omission, The Ballad, Nightmare, Confusion Fusion
First off, I have to ask. How is it possible that Testament’s 3rd album is the worst sounding album they made up to this point? I mean, this album sounds like a fucking 4-track demo. That aside, once again, Testament delivered an album of solid material with not one ounce of filler. The title track is every bit as awesome as it’s always been. That song is just so fucking good. “Blessed in Contempt” is probably my favorite song off of this one which is funny because it’s a song that I never really paid much attention to. Even “The Ballad” is fucking great and after hearing this, I feel like that Metallica might have even lifted their ideas to “go soft” from this song but doing so with horrible results. This song just fucking kills!
All in all, this another creatively flawless album that is completely doomed and damned by its shitty production. I totally understand now why bands go in and not just remix but completely re-record albums. It’s so disappointing to me that these albums have so much stellar material on them but the albums are pretty much unlistenable. I really would love to see Testament go back and remix all of these album so that they don’t sound like they were recording on a 4-track recorder.
Souls of Black
Release Date: October 9, 1990
The Good: Souls of Black, The Legacy,
The Indifferent: Face in the Sky, Falling Fast, Absence of Light, Love to Hate, Malpractice, One Man’s Fate, The Legacy, Seven Days of May
Souls of Black. Ya know, I’ll be honest and say that this is my least favorite album up to this point. There’s just something about this album that seems to just lack something and I wish I could put my finger on it. As a matter of fact, it almost sounds like it could be an album comprised of songs that didn’t quite cut it to be on Practice What You Preach.
Production wise, this album isn’t much better and to be honest it almost sounds identical to Practice What You Preach. That’s why I feel that it sounds kind of like a collection of b-sides from that album or something. Aside from the title track and “The Legacy” which are both absolutely stellar songs, none of these songs really jumped out at me or hit a chord with me. This album just feels a bit flat for me and just kind of uninspired.
Release Date: May 12, 1992
The Good: Electric Crown, So Many Lies, Let Go of My World, The Ritual, Deadline, As the Seasons, Grey, Agony, The Sermon, Return to Serenity, Troubled Dreams
What can I say about this album? I absolutely loved this album when it came out back in ’92 and listening to it now I can totally see why. This was such a change for Testament. I remember a lot of kids thinking that they had “gone soft” and I even have heard this album referred to as Testament’s very own “Black Album.” Well, call it what you want but what I call it a strong, powerful album that shows that Testament had way more depth and dynamics to their sound and style that we knew. Every song on this album is great and it’s such a dynamic album. I personally found this album to be way better than Souls of Black.
This shift in direction for Testament was a great one and I feel like it opened the doors for some new fans. Unlike the Metallica album, I didn’t feel that this album showed weakness. I feel like it showed the band’s ability to go into unchartered waters and still manage to sound like Testament. I think it’s really unfortunate that the band ignores this album as much as they do. This album is chockfull of strong material and it was their best sounding album production wise up to this point. This really is a great listen even 20 something years later.
Release Date: October 4, 1994
The Good: Low, Hail Mary, Trail of Tears, Shades of War, All I Could Bleed,
The Indifferent: Legions in Hiding, P.C., Dog Faced Gods, Chasing Fear, Ride
After the success of The Ritual, you would think that Testament would ride the wave of their popularity but instead, the band experienced a shake up when founding guitarist Alex Skolnick and drummer Louie Clemente announced they were leaving the band. The band replaced them with Death guitarist James Murphy and White Zombie drummer John Tempesta. The result of this new lineup spawn Low which definitely has Testament heading into a more heavy direction and even at times dipping into death metal with Chuck Billy doing some death style vocals.
I had never really given this album much attention as I pretty much had passed on Testament at this point. This album was a really pleasant surprise and it has some really strong material. The title track kicks things off and right off the bat I was loving it. “Trail of Tears” just may be one of Testament’s most amazing songs to date. It’s so melodic and beautiful and it sounds like an extension of what they were doing on The Ritual. While there are a lot of strong songs on this album, there are a handful of songs that I felt just kinda “meh” about. Hey, it’s bound to happen. If anything, I wouldn’t go on a limb and say that this is an amazing album. I can see the appeal that this album has to many fans but it just teeters a little too much on the side of death metal at times for me. I will say that five really great songs on this album are worth having as they are some of Testament’s strongest songs to this point.
Release Date: June 24, 1997
The Bad: Demonic Refusal, The Burning Times, Together as One, Jun Jun, John Doe, Murky Waters, Hatreds Rise, Distorted Lives, New Eyes of Old, Ten Thousand Thrones,
So now I remember why I stopped listening to Testament. At this point, they didn’t even sound like Testament anymore. I’m really not sure what they were going for on this album but it sounds to me like they were trying to be a death metal band. It’s almost as if they were trying to prove themselves to be heavier and whatever. In all honesty, I can say that if I did like death metal that I would probably think that this was a really great album.
Since this challenge is solely based on my own personal opinion, I have to say that this album is just flat out terrible. There wasn’t a single on this album that did anything for me besides give me a headache. Is this why Skolnick left the band in the first place? I can see why he left if this was the direction that the band wanted to take. I don’t dig this stuff at all and in my opinion is an album that I feel wasn’t really necessary. Just sayin’.
Release Date: June 8, 1999
The Good: Do Not Resuscitate, Down for Life, Eyes of Wrath, True Believer, 3 Days in Darkness, Careful What You Wish For, Riding the Snake, Allegiance, Hammer of the Gods
The Indifferent: Legions of the Dead, Sewn Shut Eyes, Fall of Simpledome,
Wow. I really didn’t know what to expect going into this album. After the last album, I was really expecting more of the death metal thing but what I got with The Gathering was so much more than I thought I would be getting. The Gathering was recorded around the time that guitarist Eric Peterson was doing his side black metal project, Dragonlord. I can really hear the elements of melodic black metal all throughout this album on songs like “DNR” and “Eyes of Wrath” while “True Believer” exercises a fair range of dynamics and tempo changes in addition to some stellar vocal work from Chuck Billy.
I really loved that this album seemed to be such a dynamic and exciting album to listen to. It is such an unpredictable album and I never knew where the next song would take me. This alone made the listening experience a really exciting one. Production wise this has to be Testament’s greatest sounding album to this point. I really enjoyed the fuck out of this album and it’s an album that will definitely be getting some repeat spins from me. Even the more death sounding songs towards the end didn’t put me off nearly as much as the songs on Demonic as they definitely exercised a bit more versatility in the overall compositions. This was a truly great gem of an album and I’m so glad that I crossed paths with it.
The Formation of Damnation
Release Date: April 29, 2008
The Good: More Than Meets the Eye, The Evil Has Landed, The Formation of Damnation, Dangers of the Faithless, Henchman Ride, Killing Season, Afterlife, F.E.A.R., Leave Me Alone
First off, THIS is how I wish all those earlier Testament albums sounded. This is without a doubt one of the best sounding albums I’ve heard. Sonically, it’s perfect and the material on this album from start to finish is just flawless. The minute the first song, “More Than Meets the Eye” kicked in, I could already tell you how fucking great it was to hear Alex Skolnick back in the fold. His sound and style are all over this album and even though he only wrote one tune on this album, there’s no denying just how crucial and important his style of playing is to the Testament sound. “Dangers of the Faithless” definitely holds the flag for my favorite song on this album and “The Persecuted Won’t Forget” just proves once and for all that the “old dudes” can still do it and do it so much better than anyone.
Listening to The Formation of Damnation was like hearing a band making a comeback. With the return of Skolnick, Testament constructed one of their greatest albums to date and delivered a platter of songs that proved that their best days still lie ahead of them. This is the album that rekindled my love for Testament and sent me right back into the throws of their stellar live shows. These days, not only is Testament making some of their best music but they are putting on some of the most amazing live performances out there.
Dark Roots of Earth
Release Date: July 27, 2012
The Indifferent: Native Blood, Dark Roots of Earth, True American Hate, A Day in the Death, Cold Embrace, Man Kills Mankind, Throne of Thorns, The Last Stand for Independence
After the Formation of Damnation, I was so fucking excited to hear Testament returning to their more classic formula of doing things. I felt that that album had a lot of great moments and it really re-kindled my love for the band. With Dark Roots of Earth, I can’t help but feel that it left me kind of scratching my head and wondering what they were going for on this album. On Formation of Damnation, I can’t help but feel like Testament was trying to abort their more classic sound for a more modern sound.
The songs on Formation of Damnation aren’t bad. As a matter of fact, I listened to the whole album straight through and I found some truly majestic, musical moments. “Cold Embrace” has this very Iron Maiden-esque guitar solo but in all honesty, it’s more that Chuck Billy’s vocals is what turned me off the most from this album. I just feel like he’s trying really hard to find a new voice when the old Chuck Billy voice, in my opinion, was fucking perfect. This may end up being an album that will grow on me the more I listen to it but right out the gates, this album just left me feeling a bit flat and disappointed.