Sound — 8
You would be hard pressed to find a veteran musician as dedicated to heavy metal as Eric Peterson. The Testament guitarist has been waving the thrash metal flag for the better part of three decades through commercial highs and lows. Throughout the mid-90's, when most of his peers either threw in the towel or altered their sound to try and fit whatever the current trends were, Peterson went the other way, taking his band's sound into even heavier territories. The Formation of Damnation is the Bay Area legends' first new studio album in years and it's a beast of a collection! From the epic march of instrumental opener, For The Glory Of... to the anthemic refrains of More Than Meets the Eye, it is clear that the band is intent on reclaiming their glory and proving their relevance. What truly made Testament a force to reckon was their seamless blend of grit and harmony and the band quickly plays on their strengths here. The thick power chords that frame More Than Meets the Eye give way to a hooky chorus and the kind of chant that was tailor-made for optimal crowd participation. After a decade plus break from the band, lead guitarist Alex Skolnick returns to the fold and his presence is immediately felt. On paper, his jazz-leaning solos finding their way onto the band's ferocious assault would seem like an oil and water kind of disaster. Funnily enough, it actually turns out to be the ingredient that was missing on the band's last two albums. His fluidity and colorful playing tempers Peterson's monolithic riffing lending the proceedings some interesting contrast. His sweeping solos on songs like Henchmen Ride and Afterlife are lessons in restraint, melodic interplay, and taste. His years away playing with his jazz trio seems to have actually invigorated the guitarist's passion for rock guitar.
Lyrics — 8
Testament has tackled everything from environmental issues to child abuse and even occult themes on their earliest output. The Formation of Damnation is a very lyrically current record. The Evil Has Landed deals with the threat of terrorism and climate in the Middle East. The song even goes onto name-check 9/11 in the opening lines. Killing Season is a rally call for the American troops stationed overseas. With the Catholic Church under terrible scrutiny in the last few years, vocalist Chuck Billy goes at it head on with the damning lyrics of Dangers of the Faithless. His unfussy and direct lyrical style suits the nature of these subjects. Check out the venomous wordplay of a song like The Persecuted Won't Forget for proof of Billy's power. An avid biker, he makes a case for the freedom of the open road on the thrilling, Henchmen Ride. This is the kind of mid-tempo crusher that the band does so well. Another strong suite of the group in the past has been the slow-burning, ballad-type of track. I kept on waiting for a moment like that to show it's face but it never did. I might be in the minority on this but I would have loved to hear a song like Return to Serenity on this new album. But with material this heavy, it's absence isn't a deal breaker.
Overall Impression — 8
It's not that Testament have ever made a weak album-The Ritual wasn't that bad-but TFOD sounds like the wrecking machine legions of thrash fans came to love. Peterson dishes out some of the most potent riffs of his career while Greg Christian (bass) and former Forbidden and Slayer drummer, Paul Bostaph lock in grooves with expert results. On Leave Me Forever, the ace rhythm section lay down an ominous yet infectious groove that recalls Souls of Black from earlier in their storied career. A few years back, Billy was diagnosed with cancer and ultimately beat it with the help of an unorthodox combo of modern and Native American medicine. From the stand-out performance the vocalist gives here, you would never know it. Not only does his signature roar remain intact, years of singing have revealed a new, almost soulful croon beneath the wailing. Throughout the years, Billy has been often compared to James Hetfield but he proves here that he is in a class all his own. The men in Testament might be in their early '40s and late '30s but they play with the virility of a band half their age. With TFOD they have crafted an album that could have easily have come out twenty years ago but somehow still sounds as fresh and urgent as anything out in the current metal scene. That in itself is a feat not to be ignored.