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Testament - Dark Roots Of The Earth Award winner

Dark Roots Of The Earth
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein / Phillip Lawless at 07 August 2012, 1:09 AM


I have never had any experiences with Metal albums concerning the North American Indian cultures. There were lone songs here and there but nothing that substantial that I could actually recognize it as a whole concept. Back after four years, one of the Bay Area Thrash top leading bands, TESTAMENT, returns with a new offering bearing the sign of the old Indian heritage with its invariable struggle for proper recognition on all counts in opposition to the white American society that also has been twisting and turning constantly for better and worse. “Dark Roots Of The Earth”, via Nuclear Blast Records, is one of best and exciting ventures that TESTAMENT ever produced. Without a broad discussion about the production, maintained by the famous Andy Sneap, which was mountain shaking, TESTAMENT proved that they can Thrash hard as the youngsters but also show different musical concealments throughout their compositions. There isn’t a sealed fact that says that a veteran band should be a mature one; on the other hand, TESTAMENT for a long time, since the early 90s I believe, proved that when important matters should come to light, thy will be done. Now, armed with the untamed Gene Hoglan as their new drummer after the departure of Paul Bostaph, nothing will stop the TESTAMENT train from its fast forward advance.

TESTAMENT, similar to their other leading US counterparts of EXODUS, have been producing the same kind of assorted composures. On the other hand, I think that in TESTAMENT’s case they have an ace like Alex Skolnickas the lead guitarist. His various of influences of Rock, Metal and Fusion, along with his partner’s on the rhythm guitars, Eric Peterson, facilitated a line of masterful riffing and passages that added an additional zest nourishments to the usual Thrash Metal jaunts. Just a heads up for you; please beware that every track on this release is a time bomb that will explode on your face right after the first few riffs. “Dark Roots Of The Earth” is a passage through the vast memory lanes of how many roots Bay Area Thrash Metal took all these years right upon retracting some of its steps back to the hey days of the late 80s. Within the album there are twitches towards the classical sense of Thrash along with the brutal infusions that came later on.

The straightforward in your face style of “Rise Up” blasted my head with a big chunk of furious rage with an addictive kind of riffing and decisive lead guitar framework. Such a spectacular heaviness and brutal implementation that only TESTAMENT can provide in the highest of rates. With the entire Indian heritage theme infused in large portions in the release, it was as if there is an encouragement for the Native American Indians to rise up against the white man once again. The album’s self-titled song,“Dark Roots of Earth”,  is a major Thrash Metal hit magnet, such anger and fury is the fuel to this kind of genre with tremendous riffing, amazing drumming and as for the singing, I don’t think that I have to talk about it much. You are number one Chuck. “True American Hate” made me twitch at first as I thought that it would go explicit as a hate song, but over the course ofthe lyrics I knew what I was dealing with. “A Day in the Death” itched me to grimace, especially from the title. This is one of the best songs on this release. This is a great mixture of old school and modern Thrash Metal with a lot of attitude. The emotional brand of “Cold Embrace” is a runner up for the band’s “Souls Of Black”’s key scorcher, “The Legacy”. Its structure is almost identical to the old 90s hit but is it a little more heavier. On the other hand, the lead guitar performance of Skolnick on the old song was a little different but better than this one. However, it didn’t lower my enjoyment of this track. “Man Kills Mankind” and “Throne of Thorns” devastated with additional old school spirit with splintering riffing and constructive song outlines. There is so much more than the usual cup of Thrash alcohol, especially with the melodic passages that more or less made the difference.

The “Formation Of Damnation” back in its day seemed to me as one of the greatest TESTAMENT album ever released after “The Legacy” and “Souls Of Black” of course. Nonetheless, “Dark Roots Of The Earth” came above its previous with an interesting theme and bombastic music that showed a lot of character from this veteran band of Thrashers. This is certainly one of my top contenders to the best album of 2012.


TESTAMENT’s second release since their much-heralded reunion, and hell on wheels, they are still firing on all cylinders. While “Dark Roots of the Earth” may picks up where “Formation of Damnation” left off, it is definitely not a rehash or recycled material.

Opener “Rise Up” is a humdinger that cold cocks ear drums from the first second. Classic guitar leads, thick thrash riffing and Gene Holgan’s genius drumming – what’s not to love? And, listeners will be giddy with thoughts of the chorus’s call and response section in a live setting. “Native Blood” is another burner with a galloping beat and riffs for days. Caustic lyrics, blast beat drumming, yet somehow the song stays listenable and catchy.

Title track “Dark Roots of the Earth” is the first track to slow down and truly reveal the tone of the entire album. A slower tempo, a lighter guitar sound, subdued drumming and sung lyrics all mark the stylistic change. Though the tempo increases for a guitar solo, this track is more than just another Thrash blur. Instead, it is an expansive song showcasing a different aspect of the band’s talent and songwriting abilities. Don’t worry, “True American Hate” cranks the album back up in a most unrelenting way. Speed drumming and growled vocals are the highlights here.

“A Day in the Death” is another crusher in the vein of the band’s more commercial material. There’s a definite “Practice What You Preach” vibe here. Once again the song is a bit slower and it all feels very deliberate. This may be my favorite tune on the album. The next track, well, it’s a ballad. Yes, a ballad. “Cold Embrace” clocks in at almost eight minutes, and many of the verses feature actual acoustic guitars, layered vocals and Chuck Billy singing his butt off. There is a little heaviness thrown in during the choruses. The song does have a decent crescendo, and there are slight echoes of thrash ballads gone by, but it’s definitely not the album’s strongest moment.

“Man Kills Mankind” hits the reset button and brings the energy level back up. A busy riff and Holgan’s powerful feet keep this track rolling and rowdy. “Throne of Thrones” is another seven minute song, but it is not a ballad. Instead it’s a wide track with different feels, sections and tempos … and one heck of a guitar solo. After six minutes of rock-based ups and downs, the song ends with a minute of fading guitar wizardry. This is one of the most layered and intriguing songs that I have heard from the band. Closer “Last Stand for Independence” is another ripper. The compact riff and forceful tempo wraps up the album nicely.

Lyrically, the album is very angry. Frustration with corrupt government and baby-kissing politicians seems to be a common theme through many of the songs, and looking around today, it’s easy to see how that is timely and damn near globally universal. Also, I want to note that there are stunning guitar solos on every track. I left them out of the summaries because I would have ended up typing “nice guitar solo” nine times over.

My first impression: this album is way more experimental than I expected. While “Formation of Damnation” was a dense and violent little album, “Dark Roots of the Earth” is more varied and unconventional. Sure, looking at TESTAMENT’s past output, experimentation is a frequent thread. But, I never figured they would go this far this quickly. For fans interested in every phase of the band’s career, this album will be a definite pleaser. For fans that only want to hear “The Legacy” over and over, this will be a disappointment.

Personally, I am fine with the directions the album travels … yes, even the ballad, I guess. For me, this album seems to be the product of seasoned musicians that are comfortable enough to try new things and continue evolving – even after all these years. And honestly, with all of the talented performers in this band, releasing album after album of 1,000-mph tunes would be kind of a waste.

4 Star Rating

1. Rise Up
2. Native Blood
3. Dark Roots of Earth
4. True American Hate
5. A Day in the Death
6. Cold Embrace
7. Man Kills Mankind
8. Throne of Thorns
9. Last Stand for Independence
Chuck Billy- Vocals
Eric Peterson- Guitar
Alex Skolnick- Guitar
Greg Christian- Bass
Gene Hoglan- Drums
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records


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Edited 10 June 2023

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