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Album Reviews Reissues Reviews

Album Review(s): Testament – The Nuclear Blast Reissues

Testament are veteran thrash metal warriors. If you’ve been into metal for any length of time, there’s a very good chance you have an album or two of theirs in your collection, maybe more. Although any band that have been around as long as they have have had their ups and downs, I’ve always appreciated the fact that they’ve never had an actual bad release (well, not really. See below).

With Nuclear Blast reissuing five of their mid-period albums, it seems like a great time to revisit these releases, all of which come complete with refreshed artwork. Taken in order of original release, get ready to thrash out and bang your head like a maniac.

Live at the Fillmore – 1995

Live at the Fillmore

In a way there’s not much to say about this album. Essentially it’s a kick-arse live show with three semi-acoustic tracks stuck on the end for good measure. Featuring 75 minutes of music, it’s a solid release for fans of the band to hear some of their favourite material aired life, as well as for new fans to check out some of their older tunes.

Recorded in San Francisco as the band toured for their their amazing 1994 album Low, Live at the Fillmore showcases songs from this seminal release and their first four full lengths. It’s a well recorded album and sounds good; each of the songs can be judged on their own merits and none of them get lost behind dodgy sounds (most of the time at least).

Although the older songs are given a faithful treatment for the most part, the heavier influences and growled vocals that made an appearance on Low make their presence felt here and there. In some ways this was a foreshadowing of things to come, as manifested on one of the other reissues we’ll talk about later – 2001’s First Strike Still Deadly.

A special note must go to the mostly acoustic versions of “Return to Serenity,” “The Legacy,” and “Trail of Tears” that are tagged on incongruously to the end of the album. Due to the strength of the live show they’re an unnecessary inclusion, but one that’s nice nonetheless. They make Live at the Fillmore an even better listening experience that it already would have been without them.

Favourite Track: Oh dear, how do you choose? With so many classics included on this release you could ask me for a favourite one every day and I’d give you a different answer. As I type this I’m listening to “Alone in the Dark,” so I’m going to go with that. Hmm…”Burnt Offerings” has just started…oh my…

Demonic – 1997

Demonic

Demonic is probably the album that most Testament fans regard as the band’s weakest, for good reason; when compared with the rest of the band’s discography Demonic stands out like a jagged, spiked thumb. On Demonic, Testament started to really explore and embrace their heavier side, essentially taking on some death metal influences. Chuck Billy’s vocal performance almost entirely consists of deathgrowls on this release, and the band’s considerable songwriting skills were focused on producing their most brutal album to date.

For myself, when the album first came out I initially really liked it. After Low, I loved that the band were owning their new, heavier, death metal-influenced direction on Demonic. An album of tracks like “Dog Faced Gods?” Yes please! However, it wasn’t quite all as wonderful as that, and eventually this initial appeal wore off.  I didn’t listen to it that much over the years, usually favouring their other material. I actually rediscovered this album a year or so ago, and I have to say that given time and perspective it has actually stood up remarkably well. I’m listening to it right now as I type this, and its darkly chugging heaviness is most enjoyable. The aforementioned Testament songwriting talent is obvious; sometimes hidden beneath songs that take a heavier route seemingly at all costs and to the detriment of all else, but this is still an album that gives more than it takes. It’ll never be my favourite Testament release, but it’s still not as bad as many of its detractors would have you believe.

Favourite Track: Probably “John Doe,” although “Hatreds Rise” comes a close second. These tracks are probably the ones on Demonic where Testament came closest to sounding the most like themselves, and is probably why I like it them the best on the album.

The Gathering – 1999

The Gathering

Coming after Demonic, The Gathering is an absolute monster of an album, and remains an extremely strong and enjoyable release from the band. Like a more muscular, albeit less adventurous, version of Low, The Gathering saw Testament find the better synthesis of heaviness and catchiness than Demonic achieved.

All of the flaws and shortcomings that Demonic ultimately fell prey to were swept aside in a glorious tide of crunchy thrash metal. Although deathgrowls make appearances they don’t dominate the singer’s delivery, and overall his performance is wide-ranging and effective. The venerable Dave Lombardo plays drums on this release too, which is never a bad thing.

I really like this album, and there are so many good songs on it.This reissued version also features an instrumental track called “Hammer of the Gods” which never appeared on the original, (outside of Japan), so bonus.

Out of all of the albums being reissued this is the only one that has been remastered, by the renowned Andy Sneap, who engineered and mixed the original. Now, The Gathering already had a pretty bitchin’ production, so I was quite surprised when I saw this on the adverts for the reissues. I also have to say that it doesn’t seem to have made that much of an impact, at least not to my extreme metal-ravaged ears. That’s not to say there’s no improvements at all; the album has a slightly clearer sound and the bass comes through stronger in places. True audiophiles will no doubt be able to tell the real differences, but to me it’s close enough to the original to not really be hugely noticeable. Regardless, it still sounds crushing.

Favourite Track: Tricky, but I’m going to have to go with the album’s opener “D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)” as it’s just such a storming song.

First Strike Still Deadly – 2001

First Strike Still Deadly

As alluded to earlier, First Strike Still Deadly is where Testament decided to rerecord many of their early songs with their newer, heavier sound. Boasting a bigger, fatter production and Chuck Billy’s expanded vocal performance, First Strike Still Deadly attempted to breathe new life into songs that didn’t necessarily need it, but were still largely invigorated by it nevertheless

When a lot of bands rerecord material the result is usually a newer version of the original, with largely the same delivery, but with a better production. Although you can essentially say the same of this album, it differs in respect to, and benefits from, the band’s newer stylistic tweaks; more aggression, greater heaviness, more varied vocals.

As such, this is an album that provides an alternative to the originals without attempting to replace them. Some of the songs on here are probably better than the original versions for me (“Into the Pit”), while for others the opposite is definitely true (“Disciples of the Watch,” “The Preacher,” “Alone in the Dark”). Most of them, however, are essentially alternative versions, and although I probably do prefer the originals, these are still enjoyable enough that I’m happy to listen to them.

Testament’s original singer, Steve Souza (Exodus), also makes an appearance on two of the songs here, most notably on the more obscure final song “Reign of Terror.”

Regardless of how you feel about it, this is still a better and more worthwhile album of this sort than many others have done. It updates some of Testament’s older, classic material with their more modern sound and delivery. To me, First Strike Still Deadly is a firm winner.

Favourite Track: “Into the Pit.” Great song, great version.

Live at Eindhoven ’87 – 2009

Live at Eindhoven

When this was released in 2009 it was a remastered and expanded version of a live EP that came out way back in 1987, just after the band’s debut album The Legacy was released. As you would expect, the tracks are mainly drawn from this, although in addition to these we also get “Disciples of the Watch,” (which would appear on the band’s 1988 album The New Order), a guitar solo from guitarist Alex Skolnick, and “Reign of Terror,” drawn form one of the band’s early demos.

As you might guess, the sound quality is not as clear or professional as Live at the Fillmore, but to be honest this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment to be had from this live document. This is Testament, warts and all, ripping it up on stage at the Dynamo Open Air Festival in 1987. It’s exactly what it says it is and sounds as you might think it would. Although rough and ready, it’s a good listen and it’s great to hear a young thrash band tear up the stage at a major European festival.

Favourite Track: With a selection of great songs to choose from, I’m opting for “First Strike Is Deadly.” Fast and furious.

So there you have it. Some quality reissues featuring a variety of different facets of a quality band.

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