Sound: Just to clarify to those who are unaware, 'First Strike Still Deadly' is not an album of original material from bay area thrashers Testament. it's an album full of re-recorded songs from their first two records, the legendary 'The Legacy' and it's impressive followup 'The New Order'. The reason for such an album was only due to label issues - the record label that released their first two albums refused to sell the rights to the band, or wanted too much money. I forget, but instead of fighting their previous label the band just decided to re-record some classic tracks in one neat little package. I'm not going to go on about the songs themselves as you can read reviews on 'The Legacy' and 'The New Order' for that sort of information. First of all, the production and overall clarity of the album is a massive improvement upon the original recordings (obviously, being recorded 14 years later) and nothing is too upfront or too quiet in the mixes. The band chose John Tempesta to do drumming duties and seeing the man played on 1994's 'Low' record, there's no surprise that he absolutely nails every song. Returning axeman Ale Skolnick is on top form here too, though his jazzy guitar tone doesn't fit some songs and he changes some of the solos (some for better, some for worse, others are hardly noticable). Bass master Steve DiGiorgio does a flawless job keeping up with the pace, Eric Peterson does what he's always done, and Chuck Billy is as frightful as ever - however, the last two tracks on the album ('Alone I the Dark' and 'Reign of Terror') feature original singer Steve 'Zetro' Souza on vocals. This is a nice addition since these tracks were originally recorded on the band's 1985 demo when they were still known as Legacy, so it's a pleasent end to the album. However, it's not all good - some songs benefit more from the re-recordings than others. Tracks like 'Into the Pit', 'Over the Wall', 'The New Order' and 'The Preacher' sound far better than their original forms, whilst 'Burnt Offerings', 'Trial by Fire' and 'The Haunting' aren't neccessarily better, but are just as good as their former recordings. Problem being that the speed of some songs completely ruin them - 'First Strike Is Deadly', 'Disciples of the Watch' and 'Reign of Terror' are noticably slower than their previous incarnations and it's takes away the energy these tracks had before, wheras 'Alone in the Dark' has the intro played too fast and the rest of the song played at a much slower speed than the original. Throw Alex Skolnick's jazzy lead tone on top of some of these and it almost ruins the album by making it feel too polished and too clean, and it just takes away all the aggression these songs had years before. But since these are re-recorded tracks, bettering the originals was a daunting task in the first place. // 6
Lyrics: Again, I'm not going to mention the lyrical content here because that's what the reviews of the original records are for. But vocally, Chuck Billy is on top form here. He gives the old songs the same treatment as he did on the 'Live at the Fillmore' CD, some tracks sounding far better because of it. If the originals albums hadn't ever been released and his record was new material, it wouldn't have been out of place next to 'Low' or 'The Gathering'. But in my opinion, the real shine on this album comes from Steve Souza - regardless of how brilliant Chuck is, Zetro is just amazing. He sings 'Alone in the Dark' far better than Chuck (and alwys did in my opinion) and he sounds so vicious on 'Reign of Terror' that Chuck just couldn't compete even if he tried. And the lyrics get top marks too, but go and read another review for that. // 10
Overall Impression: it's extraordinarily difficult to come to a conclusion on an album such as this. On one hand, some songs have benefited greatly and some are merely 'pretty damn good', but on the other hand some are almost ruined by Alex's overly-jazzy lead tone and the slow nature of the tracks. But us much older Testament fans can always revisit the original recordings for our nostalgia fix I suppose, that's the beauty of re-recordings I guess and it's extremely surprising that the band managed to better nearly half the songs on the album in one way or another. As I mentioned earlier, standouts have to be a, 'The Preacher', 'The New Order', 'Over the Wall', 'The Haunting', 'Burnt Offerings' and 'Alone in the Dark'. The only reason I suggest 'Alone in the Dark' is because despite the ridiculous speed variations, it's an incredible song nonetheless and it's still a relatively good rendition. I'd probably suggest this record to those who are just starting to discover Testament, as nowadays the newbies want top-quality production and the original recordings might put them off. Still, it's not a terrible album - everyone's performances are top notch, the production is ace and every single track is a classic. The problem is, as I mentioned before, re-recording such influential and classic songs is very brave and there's always a huge chance that it'll fail. But as it stands, 'First Strike Still Deadly' isn't too bad yet yet I wouldn't call it an essential purchase.
'First Strike Still Deadly' was originally released in 2001 on Spitfire Records. It was then re-released in 2004 as the second disc of the 'Days of Darkness' compilation, then reissued on it's own in 2008 with an alternate cover. // 7