Essential Listening: Download Festival Australia 2020 (Testament)
Written by Luke Winchester
Held in the highest regard within the metal world, Testament are one of the bands that spearheaded the american thrash metal movement in the late 80’s and early 90’s. White High tops, Jean Jackets and absolutely crushing riffs come to mind when their name is uttered. The Berkeley, California band are just on the outskirts of the Big 4, formed in 1986 under the moniker Legacy (So basically before most of our readers were born) the band quickly changed their name to Testament and set about putting out some of the absolute best neck breakers of all time.
Testament are coming up to their 13th Studio album entitled Titans of Creation (Due out April 3rd 2020 through Nuclear Blast Records) and ahead of the release they will be once again be gracing our shores for Download 2020 and this writer can not wait to catch the torrential hellfire of riffs, Blasts and Chuck Billy’s signature metal scowl.
So, now I have the absolute pleasure/nightmare of breaking down their career into 10 absolute stone cold classics. And to be honest it’s hard AF to represent their entire back catalogue. Lucky me, right? Remember, this is all subjective so have fun, don’t take it too seriously.
10. Dog Faced Gods (Low 1996)
Dog Face Gods from 1996’s album Low is a blistering, punishing thrash track with some of the most vicious vocals from Chuck Billy. The band had only just come out the other side of a fairly huge lineup change with OG members Alex Skolnick and Louie Clemente stepping aside and the incredible James Murphy (Obituary, Death, Disincarnate) and John Tempesta (White Zombie, Exodus, The Cult) stepping in. James Murphy is absolutely stellar on this album and the melodic lead runs on this track really shine through thanks to his unmistakable talent.
9. 3 Days in Darkness (The Gathering 1999)
1999 was an interesting time for metal, Korn, Limp Bizkit and Static X were at the heights of their careers, baggy pants and Fubu jerseys were in and High Tops and battle jackets were out. Fortunately for us Testament didn’t buckle to the trends likes some of their contemporaries did. (Ok, it can be argued that 1997’s Demonic was a little bit of a misstep) 3 Days in Darkness is a masterclass in absolute decimation with some of the most muscular riffs of their careers being showcased. Continuing with James Murphy on guitar and with the addition of Dave Lombardo (Yes, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo) and Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus, Death, Charred Walls of the Damned) on bass The Gathering era Testament was basically a supergroup without the wanky hype.
8. More Than Meets the Eye (The Formation of Damnation 2008)
A 9 year gap between albums would kill lesser bands but it only strengthened Testament’s legacy. The break between 1999’s The Gathering and 2008’s The Formation of Damnation saw the long awaited return of guitarist Alex Skolnick and original bass player Greg Christian. This track is an absolute essential for any Testament live set list incorporating huge, bombastic “Woah Oh’s” with galloping drums and crushing guitars. A flawless, skin flaying guitar solo from Alex just showcases his abilities to run rings around basically any other guitarists in the game.
7. Souls Of Black (Souls Of Black 1990)
From 1987-1990 Testament successfully put out an album a year, now that might seem so impressive but within those 4 years/albums the band wrote some of their best and most classic material. Souls Of Black is a stomping mid-paced thrash track with an incredibly infectious yet simple chorus which shows off Chuck Billy’s immense vocal capacity. Bands like Lamb Of God, Pantera and Machine Head would basically not exist in the way that we know them without albums/tracks like Souls of Black.
6. Electric Crown (The Ritual 1992)
Bringing their tempo down often allows Testament to flex their songwriting chops. A relatively more subdued track from the 5 piece, Electric Crown sees the band building a euphoric, infectious epic from a melodic lead guitar run and a much more laid back vocal performance from Chuck Billy, taking melodic cues from both Megadeth (Countdown to Extinction) and Metallica (Black Album/Metallica) Testament show that they can write a melodic metal song without selling out.
5. Native Blood (Dark Roots Of Earth 2012)
Alright, We’ve made it to the top 5, it’s all downhill from here right? Well, to be perfectly honest these last 5 are pretty much on the same level and any one of them could take the top place. The returning addition of Gene Hoglan aka The Atomic Clock on 2012’s Dark Roots of Earth adds an extra layer of brutality with Gene showcasing some of his complex thrash drumming, including incorporating blast beast right across the chorus of this stomper. Chuck Billy does not fuck around on this one, voicing his pride of heritage as a Pomo Native American. The huge chorus with the lyrics “I’m warning this world, To stay out of my way. My voice will be heard, I'm alone, I won’t be afraid, I got something to say, My voice will be heard. So loud, Native blood” will have you screaming yourself silly.
4. Brotherhood of the Snake (Brotherhood of the Snake 2016)
The opening sequence of this track could potentially create a circle pit that might actually open a portal to another dimension, the scorching riffs underpinned by Gene Hoglan's signature intense blast beats roll while Chuck’s first scream is some of the most vicious vocal performances we’ve heard from him in years. An absolute stone cold ripper, Brotherhood of the Snake has something for everyone within the metal community, old school ripping leads, modern crunchy production and vitriolic lyrics.
3. Practice What You Preach (Practice What You Preach 1989)
The title track to 1989’s Practice What You Preach is quintessential 80’s thrash, Massive, stomping riffs, militant drumming and burly vocals from Chuck Billy all made the better with an incredibly robust, sharp production/mastering. The lead attack of Guitarist Alex Skolnick is devastating but the way rhythm guitarist and co-founder Eric Peterson holds down the groove during the solo is really impressive.
2. Into The Pit (The New Order 1988)
If you mention Testament or Thrash Metal and you don’t name drop Into The Pit you might actually get shot on sight. This is absolute Satan tear thrash metal. Building on the reputation and speed of their first album Testament didn’t waste any time getting out their follow up The New Order a mere 12 months after the first record came out. It’s crown jewel being Into The Pit, an astoundingly fast maelstrom of thrashing riffs and pummeling drums, the gang vocals “Into The Pit” is enough to activate any stage diver into a flurry of feet and arms.
1. Over The Wall (The Legacy 1987)
What a surprise to see this at number one. Now this countdown has been full of hyperbolics but all have been necessary. This is where hyperbole ends because if you haven’t heard Over The Wall you CANNOT call yourself a Thrash Metal Fan. In fact, if you know anyone who hasn’t heard it play it for them at maximum volume immediately. This is the ultimate 80’s thrash song, the original lineup of Chuck Billy, Alex Skolnick, Eric Peterson, Greg Christian and Louie Clemente perfected their style within their first record and Over The Wall is the pinnacle of that record. Taking the speed of Metallica and Slayer and throwing it into a paint mixer with Death Angel and Overkill’s Swagger and you’ve got something close to the idea of what this track is all about. Here’s the thing, if this one doesn’t make you bang your head you might actually be legally dead (or at least dead inside)
Catch Testament at Download Festival in March! Tickets still available here: https://www.downloadfestival.com.au/tickets
Tickets to the Brisbane sideshow available here: https://www.livenation.com.au/artist/testament-tickets