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Often placed by their fans as the fifth member of the thrash metal ‘Big Four’ – said bands being Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth – Testament created something of an albatross for their admittedly very sturdy necks with 2008’s outstanding The Formation of Damnation album.
The Californians’ ninth studio set was, and remains, their career high. Following it up was always going to be difficult – but Dark Roots of Earth begins promisingly, with the opening brace of quintessential Testament thrashers Rise Up and Native Blood giving a good feeling from the off.
These tracks immediately prove that The Formation of Damnation – a comeback affair, released nine years after their previous studio album – wasn’t a one-off in terms of impact. The title track here broods before speeding up and launching itself at the listener; while True American Hate is a furious black metal-orientated effort.
But after the brilliant A Day in the Death comes the unexpected: an eight-minute soft-rock ballad. It could be argued that Cold Embrace adds balance and variety to this album; but it could just as easily be claimed that the track unnecessarily breaks up what is otherwise a perfectly good thrash record. Thrash is meant to do just that: thrash. Cold Embrace lollops. And Testament is not a lollop-metal band.
Ultimately, the band has not succeeded in creating an album on a par with The Formation of Damnation; but that doesn’t mean Dark Roots of Earth is a failure, not by a long shot. All the vital components that make Testament excellent are there: Chuck Billy’s roar, Alex Skolnick’s virtuoso guitar licks, awesome thrash metal motifs. Just not in the same overwhelmingly good quantity as in the past.
Sometimes more of the same is all that we need. And despite Testament’s commendable attempt to spice their sound with something a little different, one can’t help feeling that Dark Roots of Earth is one track short of achieving overall excellence.
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