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Album review: Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake

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★★★★★

When it comes to ‘80s thrash bands, Testament is something of a genetic anomaly.

Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake

While a great deal of the Californian five-piece’s contemporaries have evolved into “legacy bands” – for example: Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Forbidden – Testament constantly feels like it is moving forward with intense wrath and a hungry thirst to tear down all within its path.

The group’s post-1999 career (while it may not have spawned many records) is one of the best latter-day repertoires that any rock band could ever hope for. The Gathering (1999), The Formation of Damnation (2008) and Dark Roots of Earth (2012) especially are albums that not only live up to those of Testament’s youth, but also in many ways out-do them.

Not only that, but the 21st century has also seen the vocals of lead singer Chuck Billy get far stronger than they have ever been, the return of beloved guitarist Alex Skolnick and a resurgence in popularity thanks to an array of recent, stunning tours with some of the biggest names in metal.

Testament has only been on the up and up in its later years, and their eleventh album – the upcoming Brotherhood of the Snake – will only make things better.

To say that the build-up to this new record has been insane would be an understatement. Unlike a lot of contemporary releases, Brotherhood of the Snake’s production has been a very public affair; Testament has been talking and teasing fans about this record for about half a year at this point, with the general consensus seeming to be that it is going to be the heaviest thing they have released in quite some time.

And while it is easy to disagree with that sentiment, what we have on our hands is still a release more than worth the four-year wait that fans have had to endure since Dark Roots of Earth.

In fact, in many ways, Brotherhood of the Snake feels like the natural successor to Dark Roots…. The beauty of the latter was its ability to blend thrash and melody, with songs like ‘Native Blood’, ‘Rise Up’ and the title track all having blindingly fast musicianship as well as soaring, powerful choruses.

The new album continues that trend, this time leaning itself only slightly more towards the “thrash” side of the spectrum. So while it will provide a heavier experience than its predecessor did, Brotherhood of the Snake is not just a balls-to-the-wall riff-fest. Entries like ‘Black Jack’, ‘Born in a Rut’, ‘Seven Seals’ and ‘The Pale King’ contain at least some hints of harmonies, even though no track on the record gets anywhere near as sing-along as Dark Roots… did.

But Brotherhood of the Snake does champion certain aspects that have been missing from Testament’s repertoire for a while. Predominantly, there are more solos to be found on this album than anything else the band has ever put out. The record’s title track is the champion of this, as it lets Brotherhood… roar to life with its most pulse-pounding song, which excels in its expert shred-trading from guitarists Skolnick and Eric Peterson. Expert axe turns from these duelling mavens return throughout the entirety of the album, and make Brotherhood of the Snake join Death Angel’s The Evil Divide in the pantheon of 2016’s best guitar-orientated thrash albums.

Structurally, this record is a million miles from progressive. It’s Testament being Testament, taking their usual songwriting style and upping its aggression and soloing. But with the band continuing to feel as revitalised as they have been for the past decade, the pure energy and passion they bring to the record is unrivalled by any of their ‘80s thrash contemporaries.

As a result, the big take-away from Brotherhood of the Snake is that Testament is the brightest hope for keeping classic Bay Area metal alive in the modern era. Over their thirty-year-long career, they have found that agonisingly rare sweet spot of both sticking true to their roots but also expanding upon them, demonstrated by Brotherhood…’s extended solos, intense shouts from vocalist Billy and a harsh aggression taking the place of what was – for some time – more classically inspired harmonies.

This is a must-have for any extreme metal fan. A masterpiece that is just as strong and inspired as outputs from acts that are half Testament’s age.

Brotherhood of the Snake will be available physically and digitally via Nuclear Blast Records on 28th October.

Read our interview with Testament front-man Chuck Billy here.

We also went bowling with Testament back in June. Read all about that here.

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