There have been some very impressive releases of late from thrash bands who’s glory days were ostensibly in the late ’80s, proving that persistence can really pay off, particularly in the metal sub-culture. Fans thereof are among the most dedicated and passionate of any musical genre, if not THE most dedicated and passionate.
Metalheads will take one look at the personnel on this record and assume that it will contain unparalleled amounts of awesomeness, with good reason. Produced by the legendary Andy Sneap, drums by the “atomic clock” Mr Gene Hoglan and Alex Skolnik and Chuck Billy on guitar and vocals respectively. A formidable lineup to be sure! But….names on a record sleeve count for zip if the music sucks, so how does the album stack up?
Dark Roots Of Earth is immediately Testament. Super tight riffing and blurry solos harken back to the halcyon days of thrash metal and Chuck Billy’s voice is immediately recognizable, albeit slightly lower in pitch than in the Practise What You Preach/Souls Of Black era. The drumming of Gene Hoglan is simply brilliant. The man is a phenomenon, driving the band with a metronomic pulse yet utilizing the full range of his kit with hair-trigger precision and incredible speed. He has added a whole other dimension to the band, employing brutal blast beats and insane double kick patterns offset by a powerful and tasteful rock’n’roll approach in slower phrases.
The double lead guitar attacks of Alex Skolnik and Eric Peterson are also extremely well executed. Shred fans will be more than impressed by the harmonized solos and incredibly fast legato patterns which utilize some unusual Phrygian scales and string busting pinch-harmonic bends. The riffs are, for the most part, a match for the solos; chunky, offbeat, thrashy….nice.
No real need to mention Sneap’s production is there? Of course it’s great. Clear, bright, bassy, and perfectly mixed. The drums in particular sound fantastically three dimensional. Kudos Andy!
OK, now the Yin is out of the way, it’s time for the Yang. The album is too long and there are too many filler tracks. Why oh why do bands feel compelled to wring every last drop out of the 78 minutes available on a CD?? IT’S NOT NECESSARY!!
Several instrumental passages drag on without direction or crescendo, particularly in the ‘obligatory ballad’ “Cold Embrace”, which is quite frankly, a bore. Many lead guitar breaks also outstay their welcome, especially the twin “guitarmonies” which dominate several phrases for minutes on end and just…go nowhere! Iron Maiden and Judas Priest would surely be rather jaded at this ridiculous over-use of their time honoured twin lead approach. “Throne Of Thorns” is the worst offender in this regard and would otherwise have been a really good stomping track. Mention of Iron Maiden brings me neatly to the fact that Testament perform an adequate but spartan version of ‘Maiden’s “Powerslave”.
Billy’s lyrics are also rather questionable at times, I mean how many times do you need to use the word “hate” on one album?! Many verses feature egregious non-rhyming phrases which surprise the listener and frankly, sound comical, as if he’s run out of ideas and just thrown any old word in! It’s metal not bloody beat poetry Chuck! It gives the whole album a stuttering gait which it doesn’t deserve as the instrumental performances are outstanding (as are most of Billy’s vocal performances to be fair).
By far the worst lyrics (sorry Freddy) are contained in the album’s worst song, a cover of Queen’s “Dragon Attack”. It starts off ok with an almost bluesy riff but degenerates into a shocking amalgam of party-metal and swords’n’sorcery fantasia! It sounds like fucking Hellyeah and Dragonforce are having a drunken jam session! Gaaaah! Awful!
With that negativity behind us, standout tracks are the magnificently heavy title track, the frantic, speed-fest “True American Hate” and the pounding mid-paced thrasher “Last Stand For Independence”.
This is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. The instrumental performances alone are worth the price of the cd, and the production is magnificent. It’s surely their best work since the mid ’90s, however, that ain’t saying a great deal. While comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Kreator’s Phantom Antichrist and Anthrax’s magnificent return to form in Worship Music, Dark Roots Of Earth, while fairly impressive overall, is no match.