EACH iteration of what we gloriously regard as metal has been greeted as taking it “too far”. From the proto metal of Cream and Iron Butterfly, through its birth with Sabbath (ably abetted by Zep and Purple), to the 70s heyday of the likes of Priest, through to the NWOBHM.
The musical elite probably regarded each evolution in the metal sound in the same way that one Tchaikovsky said about his own 1812 Overture: “Very loud, noisy and completely without artistic merit”.
In this age when black, death and other variations of extreme metal the reaction to thrash metal’s birth when sniffy so-called experts were still obsessed with the dying breaths of the first wave of punk. They would have mentally referenced the notes on the 1812 Overture (one reviewer in the long since departed Sounds actually used it) and slated anything with a vaguely ‘thrash’ tag.
But, that vaguely deceptive grouping called fans could not get enough. The early albums of the ‘Big Four’ and the likes of Exodus were devoured, analysed with the complexity of each arrangement, riff and solo noted.
The Big Four should really have been the ‘Big Six’ for along with Exodus there was one force of nature that emerged from the Bay Area. Testament.
More than three decades later they are still very loud, noisy and have bucket loads of artistic merit as they release their new album ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’.
The time they have taken since the 2012 release of ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ to pen this new album has paid off. This is one of the most complete and balanced thrash metal albums with all the power and arrangements, coupled with new twists, melody and guitar work that seers the aural palette.
Sure, we know Chuck Billy is an evocative lyricist and Alex Kolnick is superb, but this feels as if the band has discovered a new freshness, a new hunger. We’re positive that feeling never left Testament, but this takes the band’s work to the next level.
From the classic riffing of the intros to ‘Centuries of Suffering’ and ‘Neptune’s Spear’ through to the structurally wondrous ‘The Pale King’ and ‘The Number Game’ there are elements familiar and elements that cut through the morass of predictability amongst lesser thrashers.
“Having separate periods to write set it apart,” Eric (Peterson) said. “Everybody played hard. Chuck really surprised me and belted out stuff that’s more melodic over the heavy speed metal riffs. It blended really well together.”
“It does flow,” Chuck agrees. “There’s a lot of musicianship going on there, and I was finding hooks in the moment. I was able to feel it and just go.”
It is that hook up between Alex and Eric’s guitar interaction and Chuck’s vocal gymnastics that works so well as exemplified on ‘Black Jack’.
However, where it rips into new levels of pure excellence it really does something else that on the first, second, third, fourth and subsequent listens just has the listener foaming at the mouth in pleasurable ecstasy: akin to the best metaphorical metallic orgasm…
The title track is sheer excellence.
“It was actually one of the first songs we put together,” Chuck said. “Once we heard it mixed, we were all like, ‘Wow, we have the direction we’re going in. It’s really heavy.’”
Heaviness is one thing, but without the subtle aim of a hammer that hits your brain in just then right spot it is just flailing around – no, this is a precision attack.
Whether it be biblical epoch lyrics, or socially scathing songss (‘Canna Business’ with its super chorus) Chuck is once again laying down as a wordsmith, his craft sometimes overlooked because of the subject matter.
For example, on the surface, album closer ‘The Number Game’ is just another song about a serial killer. Written in conjunction with Steve Souza it is a complete thrash track, chilling in its story, but all tied together with musical ability, and yes, artistic merit.
Billy, Peterson, Skolnick, DiGiorgio and Hoglan are all on top form – a true brotherhood of thrash; producing music that harkens back to those 80s glory days, but also has their head firmly in 2016, thanks to some extent to Juan Urteaga’s production.
Aside from the frowns and headbanging thrash music induces, what ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ really does is make you smile. You may not want to admit it, but for those brought up on thrash, those who were too young for its birth, but still embrace thrash, this will make you smile…and bang your fucking head too!
Review by Jonny
Bortherhood Of The Snake is out on October 28th via Nuclear Blast
The band are on tour with Amon Amarth and Grand Magus including a Dublin date on November 2nd