Picture of Testament

The Legacy

Testament - The Legacy ©1987 Megaforce/Atlantic
1. Over The Wall
2. The Haunting
3. Burnt Offerings
4. Raging Waters
5. C.O.T.L.O.D.
6. First Strike Is Deadly
7. Do Or Die
8. Alone In The Dark
9. Apocalyptic City

Now kids, settle down and listen to the story of a band that had a future as bright as a million suns. And since every story has a beginning, we'll start there when the band was fresh and young and full of raging energy. With Steve "Zetro" Souza singing for Exodus (another band whose future seemed so bright they all wore shades), this young band (formerly known as Legacy) had brought in the powerful screams and howls of Chuck Billy. Together, the band created a monsterous record that was guaranteed to piss off parents everywhere and bring a smile to the faces of all in the pit.

Using the dexterious talents of lead guitarist Alex Skolnick to the fullest, plus a smart reliance of both screaming thrash vocals and melody (like on "Alone in the dark"), Testament was able to satisfy. Even today this record is still fun to listen to and reminisce about the thrash years of days gone by. Testament is definitely a trooper when it comes to longetivity, but their mistake was in playing the shadow of a better known Bay Area band (no, not Huey Lewis) and compromising the elements that made this record so fun.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 07/1997

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The New Order

Testament - The New Order ©1988 Megaforce/Atlantic
1. Eerie Inhabitants
2. The New Order
3. Trial By Fire
4. Into The Pit
5. Hypnosis
6. Disciples Of The Watch
7. The Preacher
8. Nobody's Fault
9. A Day Of Reckoning
10. Musical Death (a Dirge)

Although Testament has existed essentially since the day of time (well, since around 1983 when they were known as Legacy), it only their first three albums that are utterly and completely necessary for any afficianado of thrash metal to own. In the period of time between 1987 and 1990, the band actually retained the same lineup from album to album and their chemistry is unmatched in the band's history. Their aggressive brand of Bay Area thrash had a very refined and musical edge to it that placed them above some of the second stringers at the time. No doubt part of that had to do with lead guitarist Alex Skolnick's incredible skill with his instrument. With his fiery solos placed over the heavy-as-your-aunt riffs layed down by rhythm guitarist Eric Peterson, the band created nice depth and dynamics to their songs, proving that even the most primal of music could be done with finesse and style.

The New Order retains most of the frantic energy of The Legacy while adding in quite a bit of that polish. Vocalist Chuck Billy still growls his way through the songs, but his powerful roar has a very snappy cadence in delivering the lyrics. He does show hints of letting a little melody into the music here and there, but his main strength is in blasting forward with aggression. The songs, including a couple instrumentals and a cover of Aerosmith's "Nobody's Fault", are consistent and make for a good listen from start to finish. The energy level may cause you to create your own home mosh pit in the comfort of your bedroom. As with The Legacy and Practice What You Preach, The New Order is required Testament.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 01/2001

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Practice What You Preach

Testament - Practice What You Preach ©1989 Megaforce/Atlantic
1. Practice What You Preach
2. Perilous Nation
3. Envy Life
4. Time Is Coming
5. Blessed In Contempt
6. Greenhouse Effect
7. Sins Of Omission
8. The Ballad
9. Nightmare (coming Back To You)
10. Confusion Fusion

Testament is really like that faithful ol' mutt that has been in your family for years, though you're not precisely sure just why anyone keeps it. There's a vague recollection of it doing something worthwhile way back when that earned some sort of appreciation. But no one seems to have the heart to put the poor thing to sleep, so it continues shedding around the house and occasionally stinking things up. Testament, like that old mutt, has been a band that just hasn't gone away and keeps making strange career choices. Certainly every drummer who has ever toured San Francisco has accidentally spent a practice session as a member of Testament. But, way in the distant past, there is a reason Testament mattered and Practice What You Preach is part of that reason.

Granted, the success of local boys Metallica certainly must have acted as motivation for the album. 1988's The New Order was a bit of a letdown from the crushing and exciting The Legacy, as the 1988 record was dense and lacking a unified vision. However, by 1989, Testament had this idea to fully focus on melody and catchy, crunchy songs. As a result, Practice What You Preach is the first record that found singer Chuck Billy trying to sing rather bellow and shout. And as it turns out, the big guy can croon a bit, as well as hold a raspy, strong tune. The album was also recorded "live" in the studio with only a few overdubs, resulting in a airy - if not a bit trebly - sound. However, it makes for a good sound overall. Guitarist Alex Skolnick is on a tear throughout much of the album, throwing in a landslide of intricate solos and slightly unusual thrash riffings. At the same time the songs retain thrash accessibility.

Of the better songs, "Perilous Nation", "Time Is Coming" and the cleverly titled "The Ballad" are tops. Practice What You Preach is the album Metallica always should have released and remains one of the best Testament albums to date.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2000

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Souls Of Black

Testament - Souls Of Black ©1990 Megaforce/Atlantic
1. Beginning Of The End
2. Face In The Sky
3. Falling Fast
4. Souls Of Black
5. Absence Of Light
6. Love To Hate
7. Malpractice
8. One Man's Fate
9. The Legacy
10. Seven Days Of May

Testament did a fantastic job of building their reputation and stature over the course of their first three albums. Each of the three releases had plenty of great songs, display of musical growth and all sorts of thrashy goodness. With Metallica starting to ascend to the grandiose heights of metal stardom, it seemed as though Testament was right on their heels. And then 1990 came along.

Each of the first three Testament albums seemed well conceived and executed. Unfortunately, 1990's Souls of Black has the sound of a band rushing a product. It's almost as if the band saw Metallica taking off and started scrambling around to keep up. "Quick!" you can imagine one of the members shouting, "we gotta write an album! What's that riff you're fiddling with? Good enough! Let's use it! Quick, throw a beat to it!" Needless to say, Souls of Black does not sound as though it benefitted from the band taking their time to craft good songs. In fact, the album is a thrash record done by numbers. Every single cliche of the genre is in mad force here and the trademark crunch of Testament had been reduced to a pale shadow of their previous releases. The elements that made Testament intriguing were there, but jumbled into a mess of grade B songs that would have been tossed out of the sessions for Practice What You Preach or The New Order. It seemed as though Souls of Black was written solely to keep a product on the shelves and the band on tour. The fans didn't bite and the album was generally criticized. It also marked the beginning of the end for the band's prominence in the thrash scene. Moreover, it was albums such as these that began thrash's own demise.

By far one of the band's least interesting albums, Souls of Black is a very mediocre album that served nothing more than to tarnish the reputation of the band. It seemed that band would spend most of the next decade trying to play catch up on all the ground lost here. I'd love to recommend a song or two here that stands out, but let's just face the fact that this is one lame duck.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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The Ritual

Testament - The Ritual ©1992 Atlantic
1. Signs of Chaos (Intro)
2. Electric Crown
3. So Many Lies
4. Let Go of My World
5. The Ritual
6. Deadline
7. As the Seasons Grey
8. Agony
9. The Sermon
10. Return to Serenity
11. Troubled Dreams

After the rush job of Souls of Black, Testament continued their arc over the shark with The Ritual, a confused and tepid record that obviously had major label pressure influencing the overall direction of the band. No longer did the band rage, thrash and crush. Rather, The Ritual is a band giving a half-hearted, compromised attempt at commercially viable heavy metal. It worked for Metallica, right? However, that ship had already sailed and the sailors of Testament weren't on it. In the year since the album's release, it's been well documented in interviews that lead guitarist Alex Skolnick was losing interest in thrash metal (and in fact would leave the band to spend some years exploring fusion guitar, among other things), which no doubt further watered down the recipe. There are some occasional attempts at catchy rock hooks, which are stunningly awful. Moreover, you could tell that the band was going for more "heartfelt" ballad type of material (although "Return to Serenity" isn't too bad).

It is truly a shame that Testament followed up their first career blunder (Souls of Black) with a record that was many shades worse. The original lineup of the band splintered afterwards, with Testament ultimately become the official revolving door band of the Bay Area. It's safe to say The Ritual could be avoided by even the completists.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2008

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Return to the Apocalyptic City EP

Testament - Return to the Apocalyptic City EP ©1993 Atlantic
1. Over the Wall (live)
2. So Many Lies (live)
3. The Haunting (live)
4. Disciples of the Watch (live)
5. Reign of Terror
6. Return to Serenity (radio edit)

If you've ever wondered what a "contractual fulfillment release" sounds like, look no further than Testament's Return to the Apocalyptic City EP from 1993. With thrash metal completely on the wane, there's no doubt in my mind that Atlantic looked to the Bay Area group as a liability to the label's bottom line and Testament responded in kind by putting out a stop-gap release to fulfill their end of the contract. The EP features four live tracks, one early song from when the band was called Legacy, and a radio edit of The Ritual's "Return to Serenity".

Since two of the founding members (drummer Louie Clemente and guitarist wunderkind Alex Skolnick) bailed after The Ritual, Testament recruited Paul Bostaph and Glen Alvelais from Forbidden, making the lineup for this EP Testabidden or perhaps Forment. I prefer Testabidden myself. Neither stuck around for any great length of time, although they would reappear here and there in Testament's future lineups, at least for a practice or two. The live tracks aren't particularly special, played by rote. "Reign of Terror", being the one non-LP track, might be of interest to some hardcore Testament fans, but one has to question the need to purchase an entire EP for a single song.

Fans should probably treat this EP has nothing more than extra baggage in Testament's career. There is absolutely nothing about it that should compell anyone to rush to their local CD vendor and demand a copy.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 04/2008

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First Strike Still Deadly

Testament - First Strike Still Deadly ©2001 Burnt Offerings/Spitfire
1. First Strike Is Deadly
2. Into The Pit
3. Trial By Fire
4. Disciples Of The Watch
5. The Preacher
6. Burnt Offerings
7. Over The Wall
8. The New Order
9. The Haunting
10. Alone In The Dark
11. Reign Of Terror

No one can say Testament has had it easy during their lengthy career. That only rhythm guitarist Eric Peterson has survived the entire time (although vocalist Chuck Billy has been there nearly as long) says something about his belief in his band. The band put out three amazing albums in a row and then began rushing their music with 1990's dismal Souls in Black, which resulted in a decade of personnel problems to the point where there may not be a soul on earth who can keep track of all the lineup changes. In fact, I truly believe that during song practice, Chuck Billy would sing a verse and look behind him to discover yet another drummer sitting behind the kit.

But despite all that, Testament persevered and continued releasing albums to a somewhat receptive public. It should, however, be noted that by 1999's The Gathering, Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson had essentially resorted to hiring all-star session musicians such as Dave Lombardo and Steve DiGiorgio. Continuing in this suspicious trend is First Strike Still Deadly, a compilation of early tracks re-recorded by the modern day Testament to give original songs a "modern, updated" feel. The band invited previous members to guest so longtime fans might have their interest perked in learning that original lead guitarist Alex Skolnick as well as original vocalist Steve Souza (who sang in the band's demo days when they were still known as Legacy) contributed some parts to the album. More notable is the lack of original rhythm section Louie Clemente and Greg Christian, who apparently have only recently mended fences with the other members. Instead, Steve DiGiorgio and drummer John Tempesta take care of those duties. So despite the inclusion of some key early players in the band's history, one might suspect something is amiss here.

At the forefront, fans will immediately notice the thundering production. While I still honestly have no problems with the band's production on their first two records, First Strike Still Deadly is a veritable powerhouse of crystal clear sound that will sound great probably on any system. So to that end, the album is quite successful. On the other hand, the renditions given by Testament v.2001 are capable and expertly played, but they lack the youthful adrenaline and excitement that is present on the originals. Tempesta's drumming is adequate but never seems as though he's ready to entirely burst at the seams with energy or enthusiasm. In fact, I can picture him constantly glancing at his wristwatch, hoping this studio session is nearly over. The bass playing is highly inaudible, so that is actually a great throwback to 80s thrash, where one never could quite pick out what exactly the bassist did in the band. Billy, meanwhile, still possesses a great voice and despite cancer scares and years of a tough vocal style, pulls off a very good performance. Skolnick's leads, of course, are tastefully and competently done, but it just seems like he was photocopying his original performances instead of adding nearly fifteen years of jazz fusion experience to them. The two songs that actually are worth discussing are the two featuring Steve Souza on vocals, "Alone in the Dark" and ""Reign of Terror". It is a wonderful tip of the hat to their original singer and his performance is fun for any longtime fan of either Testament or Exodus to hear. I certainly would have loved to hear more songs featuring his singing.

While it's more than obvious the band had a great time reprising old songs and getting together as friends, First Strike Still Deadly is far from a required purchase for anyone but the most ardent fans. The original versions are still better, simply because of the initial chemistry and excitement of the band. If the band is so deadset on dwelling in their past, how about digging up old demo tapes, particularly from the Legacy era, and remastering those for public consumption?

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 08/2002

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