Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast)

Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast)

Scintillating return from the thrash veterans

Pointless theory #94: Now that label mates Anthrax have effectively given up all pretence of being a thrash band, isn’t it time Testament were elevated to Big Four status on a permanent basis?
It’s as worthless an argument as who should or shouldn’t be in the rock n’roll hall of fame, I know, but surely on the evidence of Testament’s last two albums, they deserve to be placed ahead of Scott Ian and company. There, I’ve said it.

Essentially, Brotherhood of the Snake picks up where 2012’s titanic Dark Roots of Earth left off, though there are one or two variations to keep things fresh and interesting. Opening brace Brotherhood of the Snake and The Pale King are classic Testament head kickers, two exercises in musical blunt force trauma, but it’s third track Stronghold that really kicks things into gear, Chuck Billy’s staccato vocals carrying a strange melody of their own where none deserves to be, the absolutely scintillating guitars of Alex Skolnick and Eric Petersen absolutely carpet bombing any and everything that gets in their way. It’s truly memorable, metal thrashing madness that, bad swear words aside, should rule the radio if there’s any justice.

Talking of Justice… there are moments of Seven Seals that do bring that particular Metallica album to mind, though it’s only fleeting and to be honest the production here, handled by Juan Urteaga (Exodus, Machine Head etc, etc) leaves Larz and Jaymz circa 1988 standing. The melodic Born in a Rut carries a bit of a debt to ‘tallica too, though again not in an obtrusive or annoying way. This is big, stadium-devouring thrash metal, so why the hell wouldn’t they borrow a few tricks from the masters?

That said, Centuries of Suffering is pure, vintage Testament, from Billy’s wounded bull roar through yet more razor sharp soloing to Gene Hoglan’s manic, machinelike drumming, it’s all been heard before sure, but rarely will it be heard being done so damn well. Centuries of Suffering isn’t the best track on the album, but you will find yourself returning to it time and again – perhaps more than any other of the tracks on the record –in search of a repeat dose of addictive thrash mania.

Neptune’s Spear has a ring of primetime Slayer about it’s opening riff, bassist Steve DiGiorgio locking in with Peterson and Skolnick, but again the whiffs of influence are fleeting, the lasting stench being solely that of Testament. And bloody good Testament at that. The Eastern-tinged solo that provides the songs centrepiece, backed by more hammerdown percussion, is a real spine-tingling listening experience.

Black Jack is more simple; It’s directness will appeal to thrashers, for sure, and Billy’s melodic vocal is a highlight, but it doesn’t quite have the measure of some of the other material here. Certainly not penultimate track Canna Business, a bona fide bruiser based on another top notch performance from Hoglan and especially DiGiorgio who roams all over the place in what is probably his best contribution to the album; It’s perfect modern thrash with everything as it should be – guitars set alternately to chug or slash, Billy using the voice like a lethal weapon, the engine room powering everything at Warp 6 – pure nirvana.

Which just leaves closing track The Number Game to round things out in staccato fashion. Hoglan’s drums beating out a thrash bolero before those riffs come in – so many riffs – and the fingers start twitching in unison with Skolnick and Peterson. It’s a fantastic set closer, pure thrash enjoyment and yet another piece of evidence to back up my opening statement.

Overall then Brotherhood… isn’t quite as intensely aggressive as it’s predecessor, but the flip side of that is that this album is actually more listenable – or at least accessible – and certainly so to the casual listener. But whether you’re a die hard member of Testament‘s legions or just a curious interloper, there’s sure as hell going to be plenty here to spread a smile across your face. This is a great album.

Brotherhood of the Snake will be released by Nuclear Blast on October 28th.

Michael Stronge
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