Sound: Testament is a band that a lot of metalheads hold in etxremely high regard. Their debut album 'The Legacy' is argueably the best debut album to come from any thrash band, with followup records like 'The New Order' and 'Practice What You Preach' being worthy of the band's name. However, they started to nosedive slightly upon the release of 1990's 'Souls of Black' and 1992's 'The Ritual', the latter of which was far more commercial and mainstream than their previous efforts. Unhappy with his situation, guitar player Alex Skolnick left Testament to pursue a career in jazz (though he has now rejoined the band, as many people know). Such an important member leaving would usually kill off a band - but not Testament. Instead, they released one of their best, most underrated and most pissed off works to date. And 'Low' is one pissed off record!
The album starts off with the title track, with a much more groove-orientated feel to it. Chugging rhythms and pounding drums assaulting you relentlessly, Chuck Billy growling for the first time, and Skolnick's replacement James Murphy (who had previously played with Death and Obituary) showing off his chops. I think James deserves an honourary mention here, because (in my opinion) he really makes 'Low' shine through. If it didn't have such amazing solos manifesting themselves from his magical fingers ('Low' and 'Trail of Tears' to name just two) then this album wouldn't be worth mcu hat all. Following up from the title track are 'Legions (In Hiding)', 'Hail Mary' and 'Trail of Tears'. The former two tracks continue from the first song, with well-crafted rhythms and leads and some vicious vocalwork from Chuck, but 'Trail of Tears' is another ballad. Don't reach for the kleenex just yet, this one is actually good! However, there is always the slight feeling that it's just an opportunity for James Murphy to show off, as the solo section lasts for nearly two minutes, and whilst this may please guitarists it can also get slightly boring. I myself have no complaints, as 'Trail of Tears' contains one of the best solos in Testament's entire catalogue. Next up are 'Shades of War' and 'P.C', which unfortunately seem a little half-baked. They're not terrible, however you can't help but see these tracks as filler material.
The next song however, is one that us loyal Testament fans will know all too well. If you're thinking 'Dog Faced Gods', ten points for you! This track is one of the album's crowning achievements, consisting of a sound similar to death metal and it never gets boring. Drummer John Tempesta has his moment of glory on this song, he annihilates his drums by hitting them so hard that I actually wondered how he didn't break his kit! Another standout track here is an instrumental, the unpronouncable 'Urotsukidoji'. Here is Greg Christians finest hour, with bass shredding that'd make other bass players look like toddlers. Eric Peterson gets to show off his lead skills on here too, with some fantastic harmonies with James that make 'Urotsukidoji' one of the finest instrumentals to the band's name. This is followed by 'Chasing Fear' which is just a good song - nothing in partcular that makes it stand out, it's just Good! Unfortunately for Testament, all the songs following 'Chasing Fear' are rather forgettable and don't round the album out very well, which is slightly disappointing when 'Low' got off to such a tremendous start.
A brief note on the production now. For 1994, this has everything you could really want if you're a metalhead - the guitar tone is one of the best I've heard, especially Murphy's lead tone, not to mention the clarity of the drums and bass. Very few metal albums have the bass audible, but Testament have managed this rather well indeed. To sum it all up - production is perfect, execution is perfect, songs are not quite so perfect. But they're more than good enough. // 8
Lyrics: Testament are a band that never stayed with the generic metal cliches in their lyrics, and 'Low' is no exception. 'Legions (In Hiding)' is about children who get abused, then upon audulthood they because abusers themselves, whereas 'Trail of Tears' is about Chuck's native american heritage. Themes like this occur throughout the album, with Chuck billy experimenting with various vocal styles for the first time. Tracks like 'Low', 'Dog Faced Gods' and 'All I Could Bleed' see him using death metal growls for the first time, yet mixing them with his signature style exhibited on previous records, albeit with a fiercer bite. His clean singing (on 'Trail of Tears') has improved dramatically too, sounding much better than he did on 'Return to Serentiy' or 'The Ballad' from previous albums. I really can't fault Chuck Billy for either his performance or his lyrics, as I believe him to be one of the best in the business. Full marks! // 10
Overall Impression: Back in the day this was almost universally hailed as a return to form for Testament, though nowadays some people tend to dislike it or even forget the fact that 'Low' exists. I find the reception this record has gotten in recent years is unjust, as 'Low' is one of the strongest albums the band has ever put out (second only to their first three in my opinion). James Murphy and Eric Peterson gel together veyr well, eveyone is playing better than before and the album just has a brilliant feel to it. Granted, the ever-so-slight hints of groove metal are offputting sometimes, but it works with the added death metal elements that're are present on here, and whilst some songs are far better than others there's never a real feeling of inconsistancy. Standout tracks are most certainly 'Low', 'Hail Mary', 'Trail of Tears', 'Dog Faced Gods' and 'Urotsukidoji' but the entire album is worth checking out. Criminally underrated thrash record from one of the greats, be sure to pick it up whenever you get the opportunity! // 9