Twenty years ago this month, thrash metal titans Testament released their critically acclaimed album entitled The Gathering on Spitfire records. It was later reissued on Prosthetic Records in 2008, featuring a previously unreleased exclusive Japanese track “Hammer Of The Gods.”
When most metal fans think of the band Testament, they tend to think of albums like The Legacy, The New Order, and Practice What You Preach. These albums are considered essential for anyone who’s a thrash metal fan, and I would tend to agree with them. However, in the ’90s, Testament took a different path. As the industry changed and grunge became the flavor of the day, most bands packed their bags and headed the way of the great white musical buffalo. In other words, most groups threw in the towel. But Testament remained and decided to survive through the treacherous ’90s, putting out albums such as The Ritual (1992), Low (1994), and Demonic (1997). Although The Ritual was the final album made with the original lineup before the 90’s grunge scene took hold and caused a shakeup within the band’s lineup – losing drummer Louie Clemente and iconic shredder Alex Skolnick.
Another genre that was gaining traction in the ’90s was death metal, and Testament decided they wanted to flirt with that particular genre, which could be dated back to Low when Chuck started incorporating death growls into his vocal style. This can be displayed mostly in the song “Dog Faced Gods” off of that album which polarized fans of the band at the time but would later come to be appreciated. Later on, they pretty much went full-on death metal with 1997’s Demonic and proved to be even more polarizing. Though it wasn’t until the band recruited bass player Steve Digorgio (Formerly of Sadus and Death), and drummer Dave Lombardo (Formerly of Slayer) and began writing what would eventually become The Gathering that the band finally found a happy medium with their older more thrashy melodic roots and their fairly newly incorporated death metal influence. As a result, it’s considered to be one of Testament’s most potent and heaviest albums. Even vocalist Chuck Billy claims that he believes it’s the band at their absolute peak. Though many may say that to be a tremendously bold and polarizing statement, I find it to be closer to the truth, and I’m here to explain why I also think The Gathering is the greatest album Testament ever made.
Starting the album straight out of the gate with “D.N.R (Do Not Resuscitate),” the band unleashes with absolute fury after an epic symphonic intro. To this day, this song is a fan favorite and is always a mainstay in the band’s set. Dave Lombardo on drums is what immediately gives this song its adrenaline-infused momentum which doesn’t seem to let go for a good majority of the song. Testament shows no signs of letting up, and Eric Peterson displays some of his best riff writing.
Next, it goes into the straight-ahead banger “Down For Life” which clearly demands a circle pit, but Chuck displays some of his most impacting and meaningful lyrics on this song about being loyal to a friend or a brother of some sort no matter the circumstances – something that any man worth their salt can relate to. Then the album moves into probably my most favorite song on The Gathering, “Eyes Of Wrath” which best represents the vibe of this record more than any other song. It features an ambient intro, Chuck’s lion-like roaring vocals which also show his versatility, Dave Lombardo punishing the drums, the elaborate bass playing of Steve Digorgio, and Eric Peterson at his absolute peak in terms of songwriting and riff structure. We also can’t leave out James Murphy on leads!
The band finds this particular groove on “Eyes Of Wrath” and carries that over into other songs like “True Believer,” “Riding The Snake,” and “Sewn Shut Eyes.” In between those songs are punishing songs such as “Careful What You Wish For” which features a favorite lyric of mine, “Hey, we live in a fucked up world, walking on through the demise, we step into the unknown, you better save yourself.” Others such as “Legions Of The Dead” and “3 Days in Darkness” are also crowd pleasers and mainstay in the band’s set.
When you thought Testament was going to let up with a song like “Allegiance” where it’s a nice change of pace and a potential crowd participation song just before “Sewn Shut Eyes,” the album ends on such a bombastic note with “Fall Of Sipledome.” Musically, it’s an absolute onslaught, but lyrically it’s about the ice caps melting due to global warming which essentially will cause the end of the world for humankind. Even in 1999, the boys in Testament were aware of the effects of global warming and climate change – a very hot topic in today’s political climate. On top of still being topically relevant, this shows everyone involved with The Gathering firing on all cylinders and is probably one of the best songs Testament ever wrote.
I’m personally one of the biggest Testament fans anyone will ever meet, and I’ve gone on record many times stating that there truly isn’t a metal band more important to me than them. They had such a tremendous impact on me as a young adolescent trying to find my way with music and figuring out a lot of what I liked and didn’t like. When I heard Testament for the first time, their music immediately grabbed me and never let go, and to this day, it is a love that is as strong as it ever was. After diving into their discography more times than I can remember, listening to every album countless times, as well as going out of my way to own every Testament album to date, if someone asked me what the best Testament album is, I will flat out say The Gathering, no questions asked. The reason for that is quite simple; for fans of either thrash or death metal, there are VERY few albums where you get the best of both worlds. When I start to think of examples of such, the one album that pops up in my head immediately is The Gathering. Testament truly transcended genres and did what most bands at the time were afraid to do, or at least had a hard time achieving, because, by 1999, the metal world was confused and stuck in this perpetual state of indifference. However, luckily Testament had it figured out and came out with an absolute masterpiece that sounds as fresh today as it did when it dropped. If anyone considers themselves a metal fan in any capacity, this is an album that I feel is a must own. In other words, go buy or listen to this album if you’ve never given it a proper shout and you will absolutely thank me later.