Testament: Dark Roots of Earth

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Testament: Dark Roots of Earth
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Testament: Dark Roots of Earth
Thrash Metal
Nuclear Blast Records
July 31st, 2012
Release length: 51:08
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In 2008, Testament issued their tenth studio album, The Formation of Damnation. Unfortunately, the nearly seven year wait wound up finding many fans to declare that it was not worth the time that obviously went into it. While this wasn’t everyone’s opinion, some of them still looked to the future. Roughly four years later, the band returns with the highly anticipated follow-up recording, Dark Roots of the Earth. two singles have been issued at this point, both of which have been received with mixed results. But, does it work out overall to create the album fans have been waiting for?

It should come as no shock that this does have a strong modern sound to it, but in the production quality and the music performed. Thankfully the clarity doesn’t detract from the bite these songs can have. The drums sound phenomenal all around thanks to the click of the bass kick that comes through without drowning anything out, the cymbals that are crisp and seem to match that same level, and the snares are a little louder with a richer sound. The guitars have a deeper tone to them that work with the traditional Thrash distortion to create a rather heavy sound, while the bass is present enough to give them a little extra bite, though not much else. Vocally, it’s as familiar as the instruments and their sound. The harsher approach has a decent range at a volume a little higher than the rest, though some layering and distortions can be used, the latter of which isn’t always that great.

The variety to Dark Roots of Earth is its main redeeming, as well as damning trait. “Rise Up” sounds like your typical Thrash Metal anthem to get the pit fired up, but in more of a modern sense. Lyrically, it doesn’t seem as strong as it could be, finding some major repetition here and there, but the mid-tempo assault is executed well with catchy riffs and an energetic performance that benefits greatly from the heavy audio quality. This heads right into “Native Blood,” which is a far more melodic effort, at least in the chorus. Again, the enthusiasm is on display quite well, and the rhythm of the material will have you banging your head right along the way it did on the previous offering. For its over five minute lifespan, it does enough quality shifts in music to keep things fresh, never coming off as if the band is trying to push it along to eat up more time.

Both of those songs do an excellent job of getting you ready to tackle the rest of the material, which greatly ranges from mediocre and bland to rather impressive. “Man Kills Mankind” truly stands out as one of the few that carries the same kind of memorable impact that “Rise Up” and “Native Blood” have. The quicker pace is present throughout most of the song instead of just the chorus like in the others before and after it. This allows for a stronger edge thanks to the double bass kicks and harsher chords. There are some atmospheric cleaner notes hit that sets up a slower pace around the two minute and forty seconds mark of the song, which is transitioned in and out of well, especially with the simpler, but still enjoyable guitar solo that follows. “Throne of Thorns” isn’t quite as quick, but it still has all the things that make a Testament offering great. The vocals have a little extra range to them including some background efforts that sound more on the rhaspy side, and some really addictive, yet still heavy material at that mid-pace once more. The song carries a good deal of attitude with it, however, and the guitar solo has a nice build that, in a way, sounds a bit Progressive while retaining that signature eighties cleaner sound.

Unfortunately though, not all the songs are as strong as those oulined. “A Day in the Death” is a good offering, but there’s just nothing too astounding about it. The moment the song kicks it, it’s obvious this is meant to be filler, or at least something whipped up at the last minute. The music follows more of a mid-pace, but largely lacks energy in the performance, as well as a general heaviness. Sure you can pick up on some enthusiasm in the vocals and even the chords here and there, but it largely just sounds like a good, but less-than-memorable song. This, however is more enjoyable than “Dark Roots of Earth.” While it isn’t a bad song in general, the effort to go for a haunting atmosphere with the slower pace ultimately makes it sound somewhat generic and even boring. The saving points of the song are the edgier moments that incorporate a much heavier presence, such as the chorus, though that section isn’t too impressive either. You also get “Cold Embrace,” which is an acoustic, clean singing ballad-style piece that captures the tone of the eighties well with some of the more emotional chords that hit, especially at the start, but overall it just isn’t that impressive a song thanks to how generic much of the track ends up sounding. Much like “Dark Roots of Earth,” this one doe have some stronger moments, but when the enthusiasm just isn’t there, those moments end up being few and far apart, especially given the over seven minutes length it has compared to how little will actually leave a positive imprint on the listener.

While Dark Roots of Earth isn’t going to be the most celebrated of Testament‘s albums, it certainly has a great deal of positive and negative variety. There’s only a handful of songs that actually stick out for the better sadly, while the rest shift between good but clearly filler, to boring and bland. While this isn’t a recording you need to rush right out and pick up on the day of it’s release, it’s one worth grabbing eventually if you’re a fan of the band, or have liked what you heard so far from the “True American Hate” or “Native Blood” singles, though the first in no way depicts the majority of material on the recording despite how much better it sounds given it’s placing on the release.

01. Rise Up – 4:18
02. Native Blood – 5:21
03. Dark Roots of Earth – 5:45
04. True American Hate – 5:26
05. A Day in the Death – 5:38
06. Cold Embrace – 7:46
07. Man Kills Mankind – 5:06
08. Throne of Thorns – 7:05
09. Last Stand for Independence – 4:43
Overall Score: 6.5/10
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Digital review copy of this release provided by Nuclear Blast Records.