Review by Jeff Maki
After The Gathering was released in 1999, Testament went on an extended hiatus, not returning until 2008 with The Formation of Damnation. That album and its successor, Dark Roots of Earth (2012), weren’t just comeback albums, they also saw Testament honing its strengths: Chuck Billy’s powerful, melodic vocals, Alex Skolnick’s guitar playing, songs with catchy hooks, and lyrics that were intelligent and aware. It’s Testament’s classic thrash metal style, only modernized. After years of chasing after other leading metal bands, whether it was Metallica in the late ’80s and early ’90s, or Fear Factory and Machine Head in the late ’90s, Testament finally came to the conclusion that it is a legendary band in its own right. So does Brotherhood of the Snake stand up to Testament’s recent output?
In an interview I did with Chuck Billy leading up to the album’s release (read here), he accurately compared his vocal style on Brotherhood of the Snake to that of Practice What You Preach. The current Testament lineup is Billy, Skolnick and founding guitarist Eric Peterson, along with two thrash legends who previously played with the band, bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Sadus) and drummer Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Death). The lineup is all-star caliber, and musically, this album is like a compilation of the best of Testament’s albums. There are songs that remind me of The Legacy/The New Order-era (1987-88), like “Centuries of Suffering,” its best-selling Practice What You Preach (1989) with “The Pale King” and “Neptune’s Spear,” and Souls of Black (1990) with “Seven Seals.” “Brotherhood of the Snake,” “Stronghold” and “The Number Game” are more similar to the previous two Testament albums. Despite a painstaking recording process (read here), Testament persevered and made an album that’s all killer, no filler.
There are a couple standouts on which the band branches out into new territory for itself. “Born in a Rut” begins familiar enough with a riff akin to “Souls of Black,” but then there’s some sly spoken word from Billy and a chorus Lemmy Kilmister very well could have written. (I’m sure he did several times over, albeit just with different words.) This song felt like a tribute to the fallen legend.
“I don’t really give a damn
I was born to loose
I will not live forever
I don’t need no excuse
The day I die, no tears be cried
Cuz’ this is what I choose”
“Canna Business” is another standout. Not only is the song a real burner, but to my recollection, this is the first time I know of Testament professing its love of the sweet leaf, stating, “Cannibas is not a crime … let canna business set you free.” I particularly like it when Billy barks, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em!”
In our interview, Billy picked “Seven Seals” as his favorite of the new tracks. The song is very Ride the Lightning-era Metallica—it’s hard not to compare it when the chorus is “So let it be written/So let it be done.” It is, however, an epic track and encompasses the subject matter and spirit of classic mid-’80s thrash metal. I get the nostalgia, but again, Testament is good enough that its doesn’t need to follow.
Billy said about the album title, “The Brotherhood of the Snake is actually about one of the first secret societies, formed over 6,000 years ago.” Even 30 years into its career, Testament still probablyis one of the best kept secrets in metal. This one is my favorite of the band’s “comeback” albums.
(Oct. 28, 2016, Nuclear Blast Entertainment)