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Testament - Dark Roots Of Earth
on 30 July 2012
Dark Roots Of Earth is the tenth full-length studio album by the legendary San Franciscan Bay Area Thrash Metal band Testament. It was released on Nuclear Blast in the summer of 2012, following up 2008's critically acclaimed The Formation Of Damnation album. Like that album and indeed also its 1999 predecessor, The Gathering, the album was produced by the famous British producer Andy Sneap.
There was a bit of background intrigue regarding the album's drummer in as much as that although the excellent and underrated Paul Bostaph was still a member of the band just before the time of the album's writing, due to an injury, the drums on the album where actually played by another former Testament band member (and member or contributor with dozens of respected and influential bands) Gene Hoglan. Consequently the album has quite a different feel, as far as the drumming goes, to The Formation Of Damnation.
Interestingly, the band also worked with Lamb Of God's Chris Addler on this record, but his tracks didn't end up on the standard version of the album, although his version of the track `A Day In Death' can be bought separately online.
Stylistically speaking, Dark Roots Of Earth very much continues in the path set by the previous two Testament albums, mixing elements of their classic Thrash sound with some elements of their more Death Metal influenced mid period, toned down. The result is an album that has songs with the occasional use of Death-vocals like 1997's Demonic album, sharing song-time with melodic singing and guitar harmonies like 1989's Practice What You Preach album, as well as the somewhat controversial new usage of Blast Beats. This pretty much creates a best-of-both-worlds scenario for fans of the band's entire catalogue.
The main body of the album however is made up of speedy double-kicks, chugging low-pitched guitars and mostly shouted vocals, punctuated frequently by Alex Skolnick's and Eric Peterson's creative leads and solos. So, effectively it pretty much embodies the classic Bay Area Thrash sound, but in a way which still comes across as fresh and modern primarily through the excellent production job and the surprising amount of melody in the songwriting.
There are also a couple of tracks, including the Title Track and the semi-ballad `Cold Embrace' which try other ideas and styles as well, which adds a touch of variety to the album, breaking up the stream of faster pounding numbers and allowing it to flow well from beginning to end.
Highlights include the catchy opener `Rise Up,' the catchy single `True American Hate' and the aforementioned semi-ballad `Cold Embrace.'
At the end of the day, its going to be down to personal preference how much you enjoy the album and where it fits in the band's catalogue. Some people will find it a little too modern and some people won't find it light and melodic enough. Some people would prefer if Louie Clemente or Paul Bostaph had been on it and some people just don't like modern production at all. If any of these things sound like how your mind usually works then this might be one to skip but it's definitely a personal-preference issue if you dislike the record rather than any inherent lack of quality.
What can't really be argued is that the band have put in a tremendous amount of care and effort into crafting this album and care has been taken to mix old-school and modern styles to keep things fresh. It isn't just formulaic and it isn't just phoned-in and I personally enjoy it a great deal. Due to the album's very high anticipation level and all the excitement surrounding it, I'm not sure at this point if the album will retain all of its potency with the passage of time or how much respect the fans will give it two or three albums down the line, but it certainly leaves an incredibly strong first impression right now and is far, far from a disappointment or let down.
Overall; Dark Roots Of Earth is an excellent and enjoyable fifty-minute album. Fans of Testament should check out the album, especially if they already enjoyed the previous album; fans of Thrash should check out the album, especially if they like the excellent renaissance its been enjoying in recent years as classic bands either reform or release their best albums since the eighties and in fact, fans of Metal in general who for some reason haven't yet explored Testament should consider at least checking out this album if they have the time and money to take a shot on it.
***If you chose to get the special edition version, you can enjoy four bonus tracks, including an extended version of `Throne Of Thrones,' as well as the Queen cover `Dragon Attack,' the Scorpions cover `Animal Magnetism' and the Iron Maiden cover `Powerslave.'
Furthermore, you get a DVD featuring a 29-minute making-of documentary, although the band did give away most of the footage in free webisodes prior to the album's release.
There is also a 9-minute `Gear Tour' from the guitarists where they take you through the pick-ups and pedals and that sort of thing.
Finally there is a 20-minute live concert from the Avalon Ballroom, Santa Clara California, February 19th 2012. The track listing is: 1. Practice What You Preach 2. Over The Wall 3. Souls Of Black 4. Disciples Of The Watch.
It is a multi-camera shoot and a fairly energetic performance from the band in front of an enthusiastic crowd (they have fun and you even hear the 'Breaking The Law' riff at one point), although the sound quality isn't incredible and the vocals and guitar are fairly low in the mix. Despite these sound problems it is still fairly enjoyable, and watching Skolnick's guitar solos close up should be interesting for guitarists. Basically, it is a nice enough bonus feature but isn't of the same production value as their Live In London DVD.
The packaging of this special edition version is in an elaborate glossy book-style presentation, with the pages stuck into the case's spine and the discs held inside a `page' each. And overall the whole thing is worth the extra money if the price difference is small enough and you haven't already got a copy of the album***