Testament – “Brotherhood of the Snake” (Nuclear Blast Records)
One of the pillars of the legendary Bay Area Thrash scene along with Exodus, Death Angel and Possessed, Testament have certainly had their ups and downs over the last 33 years from line up changes to vocalist Chuck Billy’s much publicized battle over cancer. Even recently, the bitter departure of long time bassist Greg Christian indicated that things were less than happy in the band’s camp. However, with the core of founder Eric Petersen, Alex Skolnick and the aforementioned Billy still at its heart, Testament have returned with their strongest line up – ever. Drafting in veteran bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death, Iced Earth, Obituary, Charred Walls Of The Damned) to join legendary drum machine Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Fear Factory, Death, Strapping Young Lad), Testament have returned to what made their name and in my opinion, do best – straight up no nonsense thrash. In fact, over half the album is thrash and thanks to Hoglan’s fearsome speed, features some of the fastest songs the band has ever played in their 11 album career! Beyond that “Brotherhood of the Snake” has shifted the band’s own work ethic to release albums more frequently and keep the momentum going between touring and recording, certainly reflected here in the tight, precision performance as well as the massive, encompassing sound courtesy of Andy Sneap once again. Based on a 6,000 year old Sumerian legend, Chuck Billy puts in a sterling performance from beefy roars to beastly drawls and some singing that makes me think I’m listening to “The Legacy” once again. Backed by Petersen’s solid rhythm that adds real muscle to the band’s sound, Alex Skolnick reminds us why he was once a student of Joe Satriani, putting in yet another virtuosic performance from searing lead breaks to blinding solos that really add the finesse to Petersen and Billy’s compositions like the old school chunky riffing of ‘The Pale King’, the epic ‘Seven Seals’ and the outright brutality of ‘The Number Game’. Continuing a fine return to form and considering all the big names in thrash have also released fine albums recently too the “Brotherhood of the Snake” certainly ranks up there with the best of them.