Wednesday, January 20, 2010

As the Palaces Burned: Testament - The Gathering

On September 24, 1991 Nirvana released Nevermind. Nine years later, a reunited Iron Maiden played Madison Square Garden. The time in between was one of metal's bleaker periods, where the genre's mainstream face all but disappeared and it retreated not just underground, but underwater. To celebrate the rare gems of this dark time - and remember our fortune now that metal has ceased to be such a dirty word - we're launching As the Palaces Burned, a weekly series published every Wednesday that will cover metal albums of note released between 1991 and 2000.

Testament.......I labored over this band, and how to approach their AtPB entry. I mean where to begin? Skolnick's last album with the band, 1992's grungy The Ritual? Their experiments with Pantera-esque modernization on Low?

Well, Low is a great under-appreciated album, but I'm not going to go there. The Ritual has some very funny moments that need to be written about, but that will be in my upcoming series about Metal bands who released Grunge albums in the 90s.

No, we're going to cover Testament when they were in the same position Voivod was in my column last week. Having been dropped and relegated to the CMC International/Spitfire records purgatory, a brand new lineup of Testament decided the best approach would be to modernize and play more of that death metal the kids are always talking about. Now Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson were well set up for this, with the secret weapon Gene Hoglan on drums, and a great working knowledge of the underground. However despite some great moments 1997's Demonic is not a great album. The approach is a bit generic. Some songs are great are still played in concert, such as "The Burning Times". Here, have a quick listen. It's good!

But the whole record isn't great, and doesn't make the cut as a lost classic.

Plagued with yet more lineup changes, Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson "gathered" (get it?) all their friends together. Grabbing no less than two ex-members of Death (James Murphy and Steve DiGiorgio) plus Dave Lombardo from Slayer, Testament released one hell of a war cry with The Gathering in 1999. To me it is a unifying statement which best sums up everything the band had been trying to say since Low. The aggression level is even higher than Demonic without that album's generic riffing. The thrash is back in full force but with the added power of Billy's newfound growl. Topping the whole album off with a delicious satanic cherry was the production of Andy Sneap, now recognized as the gifted master of aggressive recording.

Anyone who returned to the band with The Formation of Damnation needs to go back and fall in love with The Gathering. Starting with "DNR", still a favorite in modern set lists, you are hearing a band at the height of their Metal powers. The way thrash and death metal are so seamlessly merged on this record may seem pretty textbook now, but this is the band and the album from which those textbooks were written. And not enough can be said about the subtle virtuosity, especially in DiGiorgio's smooth yet violent bass playing. If there was ever any recorded document that Testament never deserved their reputation as Metallica-lite this is the album.

But enough tell, here's some show:

Sewn Shut Eyes!

DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)

Eyes of Wrath

And the song which should have been the "hit," True Believer. I think this was on the soundtrack to one of the Saw movies.......

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