Like many a metal band from the ‘80s, Testament would show signs of churning out far more mature music by the end of the decade. Chuck Billy and co. may have been pretty late to the game, but their lucky stars got them into the scene just in time before thrash metal would begin to change. Offering two efforts back to back, they had plenty of songs that cracked down on speed metal riffing and chaotic vocal delivery. But the chops came to their fullest bloom in 1989 with Practice What You Preach. If you recall my Rank And File, this is not only my favorite Testament record, but one of my favorite thrash records of all time, and it is now turning thirty years old!
Despite the change, Practice What You Preach wasn’t exactly what I’d call a one-eighty turn in sound. Although the aforementioned maturity game had been stepped up, they did so without drastically altering their building blocks. Thus, it still contained shredding solos, it still had Chuck’s signature snarls, and amazingly, the production wasn’t made too clean. As a matter of fact, the production may have even gotten rougher, much like Metallica did with their most mature record. While this may bother some, I feel that it gives Practice more purity.
But it doesn’t take away from the obvious band growth. Tackling more realistic issues in the world of politics, environment, and human struggle are just the beginning. “Greenhouse Effect,” a take on atmospheric destruction that is caused by humans, is not only about something very real but is forged by booming riffs and suspense. The chorus in this is lead by ascending guitars backed by low bass-cuts that break into a gang chanted outburst (aka “OUR ONLY HOPE!”). “Time Is Coming” is similar due to its sense of impending doom that glazes over the track. And even “Envy Life” captures this feeling from the beginning with Alex Skolnick’s steadier riffs giving-way to one of Chuck’s most ferocious growls.
More technical aspects lie within Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson’s dual work. The title track is one of the most famous Testament songs out there; it could never have become what it was without the shifts in pace, layered intro, and beefy solo. The following ditty “Perilous Nation” works in layers by highlighting Greg Christian’s bass-work, particularly shining bright in the beginning. Or how about the instrumental closer “Confusion Fusion” relying solely on advanced rhythmic patterns and leads to replace vocal melodies? None of this may be enough to call them “technical thrash,” but it is enough to stand out from the pack.
What I love most about Practice What You Preach is the flow near the end. The admittedly dumb titled softee called “The Ballad” has such a calm and soothing presence, with acoustics to introduce it. Even though it picks up the aggression later on, it leaves the listener with a warmer feeling. The shift from such a soft one to the heaviest song on this, known as “Nightmare (Coming Back To You)” is tons of fun. Throwing back to the speed metal backbone used previously, it’s over very quickly. Louie Clemente drives this one with thunderous kicks and clashing kit-work to add adrenaline, which is topped with so many hooks that it’s almost painful.
Remarkable isn’t enough to describe this disc as a whole or the impact it had on the scene. It holds a special place in my heart since it was my first non-big four thrash album, but with that aside it has the greatest foundation Testament had ever built. And though the production may be dry as the Sahara Desert, it fits the warm attitude and even the album sleeve. Essential thrash listening if you ask me, even if that only means being a hair better than The New Order.
Practice What You Preach came out on August 4th, 1989 through Atlantic/Megaforce records. It was pressed to CD, LP and cassette formats, with various remasters as well. All of these can be found to purchase by clicking this blue word.