Testament – Dark Roots Of Earth [9.5 out of 10]

By Andrew Bansal

After an eternally long wait, Testament’s new album “Dark Roots Of Earth” is finally ready for release, and hits North American stores on Tuesday July 31st. This is the tenth studio offering from the San Francisco Bay Area thrash legends, and comes as a follow-up to the highly acclaimed 2008 release “The Formation Of Damnation”. The new album has enjoyed a great buildup in the past few months, and very few metal albums in recent times have been as eagerly awaited as this one. Now the time is upon us to decide whether or not the album turned out to be worthy of the anticipation, and we can safely say, it has.

Upon listening to the album in its entirety a few times, the first thing I noticed in terms of the overall sound is, the band has retained the elements that made “The Formation Of Damnation” successful, because a very similar hard-hitting thrash vibe is created here by the combination of Chuck Billy’s ever-amazing vocals, the guitar riffs and Gene Hoglan’s drums, as Hoglan returns to the Testament fold for the first time since the 1997 release “Demonic”. With tunes like “Rise Up” and “True American Hate”, the album takes off from where its predecessor left, and that’s something the fans would instantly be able to relate to. While these initial tunes provide a great start, the album truly gets into its stride on “Native Blood” and the title song, and this is when we really find out where Testament stands as a creative force, and how different they sound from the previous albums.

To start with, this is probably the most melodic Testament has ever sounded. “Native Blood”, for example, is filled to the brim with catchy guitar harmonies and solos. In fact, the amount of soloing on this album is not something you would usually associate with a Testament record, but it perhaps stems from the fact that Eric Peterson has weighed in on the guitar solos a lot more than he’s ever done. This, and the manner in which he has worked together with Alex Skolnick has given the album this prominently strong melodic touch. The title song “Dark Roots Of Earth” is another song that showcases this aspect, and its slow pace and progressive patterns allow you to absorb the excellent guitar work done by this pair.

The raging thrasher “True American Hate” provides a much needed thrust after tracks #2 and #3, but then the album returns once again to the laid-back, melodic vibe with “A Day In The Death”. With that said, it’s certainly heavier than most others on here, and its richness on both sides of the spectrum makes it one of the strongest tunes of the album, and it’s certainly one of my favorites. “Cold Embrace” takes us into ballad territory. It’s not hard to appreciate the exemplary guitar work, while Chuck Billy also explores his vocal range and contributes greatly to the song. Again, this is not the kind of song people would expect from Testament, and will most likely get mixed reactions from fans, but when looked at purely as a musical composition, it’s right up there with anything else on the album. After these absorbing 8 minutes of “Cold Embrace”, “Man Kills Mankind” serves as a good follow-up and picks up the tempo again. “Throne Of Thornes” brings back the melody, and the album finishes on a high with “Last Stand For Independence”.

Contrary to what the album’s title might suggest, this is not a ‘back to the roots’ album for Testament, in the sense that it isn’t a rehash of their early albums. I commend Testament for not taking that easy route, and actually coming out and writing the kind of music they currently believe in, in 2012. But the album does represent the basic foundation on which thrash metal was built, namely the guitar harmonies and traditional metal-style guitar solos, and the way Testament have interlaced their own brand of thrash with these elements has resulted in an album that salutes the band’s idols while sounding modern and relevant at the same time. It’s definitely the most guitar-driven set of tunes I’ve ever heard from Testament. Skolnick and Peterson have expressed themselves freely, and that’s something even non-Testament fans would easily be able to appreciate.

Whether it turns out to be better than “The Formation Of Damnation”, or indeed better than any of the other Testament albums, only time will tell, and that’s not for me to decide. But the album combines the most positive aspects of the band’s previous work, and brings something new to the table in addition to that. “Dark Roots Of Earth” is the most diverse and well-rounded effort of the band’s career, in my opinion, and is a must-have for everyone who loves heavy music.

Rating: 9.5/10

Related: Eric Peterson interview

Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Dates:
July 27th 2012 (Europe)
July 31st 2012 (North America)

Track Listing:
1. Rise Up (4:18)
2. Native Blood (5:21)
3. Dark Roots Of Earth (5:45)
4. True American Hate (5:26)
5. A Day In The Death (5:38)
6. Cold Embrace (7:45)
7. Man Kills Mankind (5:05)
8. Throne Of Thornes (7:04)
9. Last Stand For Independence (4:43)