Sound — 9
When Testament first formed, they quickly became known as the "little brothers" of the Big Four of Thrash (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax). Now it seems the tables have turned. While Metallica tried too many things at once, Megadeth followed suit, Slayer downtuned their guitars to create faux-heavy albums, and Anthrax basically vanished from popular culture altogether. Meanwhile, people have forgotten what an incredibly consistent band Testament is. Well, the "little brothers" have released an album that will remind their peers of who they are and where they came from, as well as boldly blazing the trail for the future. If that sounds like an overexaggeration, listen to the album yourself. The riffs are creative and engaging and the songwriting is untouchable. The solos blaze yet also leave room for melodic flair. Although Paul Bostaph has played much more complicated stuff on other releases, his drums are crisp, direct, and don't get in the way of the songs. And the songs, ladies and gentlemen, is where the album shines. They are catchy and melodic, yet not overwhelmingly so, and not in the cheesy emo-inflected ways of many new bands. The production is clean but not slick. Sure, the songs sound similar, but doesn't every song by Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, or AC/DC sound exactly alike? Then there's the energy, my god, the energy. Testament plays with more enthusiasm than bands half their age. If this album doesn't pump you up, you don't have a pulse.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics seem to go unnoticed at first, but upon closer inspection they reveal real depth. It's poetic but not poetry, and even as it name-checks 9/11, it remains in good taste. The vivid descriptions of "flames on the river" (an image which sticks in my mind even as I'm writing this review) will leave scars on your back of your retinas. Compared to the slew of recent releases which never seem to even try to have memorable lyrics ("The Crusade" is a classic example), this album shows off the hard work, dedication and experience of these veterans. As for Chuck Billy's voice, he is capable of pulling off melody while still maintaining the grit that makes his a compelling voice in the first place.
Overall Impression — 10
In a nutshell, this album is more than the sum of it's parts. This is the album Testament has been building towards, and will be the crown jewel in their respective careers until, well until they write another album. The Formation of Damnation probably won't appeal to people outside of a core heavy metal audience, but Testament has never written albums for mainstream acceptance. They only know no compromise, and as a result they have written an album that will reaffirm your faith in humanity and make you feel alive. That alone deserves your attention.