Thursday, July 28, 2011

Album of the Moment - Testament's "The Formation of Damnation"

I got to see Testament live in Lincoln, Nebraska late summer/early fall of 1999, just a couple months after the release of their album "The Gathering".  I went to a CD signing at an awesome local record store (now defunct, *sniff*), and then went to the show later on.  I was please that it was the full line-up from the CD, with original members Chuck Billy (vocals) and Eric Peterson (guitars), along with the awesome James Murphy on guitar, Steve DiGiorgio on bass, and of course the legendary Dave Lombardo on drums.  It was a monster show, and an unforgettable night of fabulous thrash metal.  I heard my favorites from "The Gathering" and "Low" as well as a few older cuts that I loved.  The band seemed primed for a comeback, given the modest radio success of "True Believer" on rock radio (despite being somewhat cheesy), and then they sort of went silent after that tour.  Granted, they kept busy with side projects, live albums and such, but Chuck Billy battled cancer during a sizable portion of the band's self-imposed downtime.

Then in 2008, they came screaming back onto the scene with their first album of brand new material in almost 10 years and I was STOKED.  This was a band I had enjoyed for a number of years, having been introduced to them late in high school via their 2nd album "The New Order" and solidifying that fandom via their "Souls of Black" and "The Ritual" albums, only to rediscover and rekindle my fandom years later with "Low" and then "The Gathering".  How does the band hold up with 4/5 of the original members plus the awesome Paul Bostaph?  Pretty well!  I didn't give this album much of a chance when I first bought it, honestly, because it wasn't quite as heavy as I had hoped (standing next to "The Gathering" it seemed like a step backward), but upon repeated listens and recently re-ripping it to the computer to throw on my iPhone I have discovered that this is truly a solid album worthy of the band's legacy.  Musically, I put this somewhere in between "Souls of Black" and "Low", and production-wise as well.  It's clean like "Souls" and has some bottom end and weight like "Low".  There are even a couple of surprising touches, like the modern "scream" vocal that doubles with Chuck on a couple spots in the title track, and the almost Dave Mustaine-esque solo in "F.E.A.R.".

Overall, not their best work, but a fine album after almost 10 years of brand new material, so definitely worth picking up if you're at all a fan of Testament, or even just thrash metal in general. It retains the band's signature melodic sense but keeps things heavy, and remains listenable and interesting throughout, even if a couple of the tracks are a touch repetitive and "longish".  Testament has said in interviews that their next album (due out in 2012) is shaping up to be a mixture of this album and "The Gathering" which thrills me, because that album was so heavy and driving, and had probably the best production values of any Testament album to date.  If they can pull of the melodic sense and retain Alex Skolnich's trademark lead sound but have the heaviness and punishing sound of "The Gathering", I'll be a happy camper.

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