"Dark Roots of Earth"
Nuclear Blast Records
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Testament might never have been as hip or commercially successful as its "Big Four" thrash-metal contemporaries (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax). The band was at the epicenter of the genre's foundation, though, helping forge San Francisco's "Bay Area Thrash" sound. It's a style and attitude that permeates Testament's 10th studio album, "Dark Roots of Earth."
The initial question surrounding "Dark Roots" is whether it can possibly measure up to its 2008 predecessor, "The Formation of Damnation."
"Rise Up" leads things off, leaving no room for speculation. The track's furious guitar attack -- compliments of lead maestro Alex Skolnick and rhythm king Eric Peterson -- punctuates vocalist Chuck Billy's urgent call to arms in vintage style.
From here, Testament -- rounded out by bassist Greg Christian and drummer Gene Hoglan -- marches through its trademark post-apocalyptic landscape, which pits mankind against nature, prophesy and, ultimately, itself.
The metronome again reaches a break-neck pace on "Native Blood," "Man Kills Mankind" and "Last Stand for Independence," but Testament is too seasoned a band to rely on speed alone. Steady crunch accented with arpeggiated riffs ignite the moderate stride of "A Day in the Death" and "Throne of Thorns," while the title track looms overhead with a demonic thump and grind.
The one tune that has met mixed reception is "Cold Embrace," due in part to its cleaner, melodic approach. If anything, "Embrace" showcases the band's diversity, and anyone who digs a stylistic departure like, say, "Planet Caravan" by Black Sabbath will surely appreciate this one.
Testament succeeds in spades with "Dark Roots of Earth" because the band understands its strengths and executes them with precision. Skolnick, who in his teens was trained by guitar legend Joe Satriani, approaches his trade with unparalleled passion and intelligence. Peterson's guitar work defines thrash, and he has militaristically commanded Testament's rhythm section throughout its 25-year history. And Billy, make no mistake, is a hell of a singer, which is not always the case with caterwaulers in this rough-and-tumble genre.
All said and done, "Dark Roots of Earth" is heavy metal's five-star effort in 2012.