Whenever the subject of The Big Four of Thrash Metal pops up in conversation, the first thing that tends to happen after the absolutely compulsory ranking process (THIS MUST ALWAYS BE DONE) is the equally mandatory “Band X should have been included instead of Band Y” debate.
Regardless of overall popularity, record sales, influence, and well, anything which proves the case that The Big 4 are The Big 4 for a reason, a case must always be made for at least one other band to have been included instead of that one you never really cared for. This is The Law.
One of the most popular names repeatedly suggested for inclusion are Bay Area bludgeoners Testament. Like most long-standing acts, Testament have suffered a few missteps along the way, but have been pretty damn reliable with their output overall. Many look to Souls of Black (Atlantic/Megaforce), The Ritual (Atlantic/Megaforce), and Demonic (Burnt Offerings) as their lowest points, but even those albums have plenty going for them.Ga
After the admittedly lacklustre Demonic, 1999’s The Gathering (Spitfire) was a serious return to form, and when guitarist Alex Skolnick returned after a lengthy absence for 2008’s The Formation of Damnation (Nuclear Blast), the band stepped it up again. Dark Roots of Earth (Nuclear Blast) continued the steady upward trend, and now with Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast), Testament have done it again.
Returning to a faster, more aggressive sound than Dark Roots…, Brotherhood of the Snake blasts, pounds and thrashes its way into your face with a swaggering, belligerent confidence. The riffs from guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson are razor sharp, Gene Hoglan‘s drumming masterclass is as reliably precise as it is pummeling, bass legend Steve DiGiorgio throws subtlety and nuance out of the window and just goes for the fucking throat, and vocalist Chuck Billy is often nothing short of terrifying.
It’s not all unrelenting speed and fury though as the band slow things down every now and again, sometimes getting all jazzy, maybe even playful, but only occasionally as the promise of yet another sledgehammer riff always lurks around the next corner. The lyrics can get a bit silly (“the stakes are high and so am I” for example on the possibly Lemmy inspired gambling song, ‘Black Jack’) but that’s a little niggle really as songs like ‘Seven Seals’, ‘Stronghold’, ‘Neptune’s Spear’, and ‘The Number Game’ are guaranteed to have you nodding your head back and forth like a particularly efficient woodpecker.
Brutish, obstinate and punchy, with a bulldozing groove a mile wide, Brotherhood of the Snake is not the album to listen to on your headphones as you walk down the high street. Unless of course you want people staring at you in confusion as you bend down to roar “CENTURIES, CENTURIES OF SUFFERING!!!” into the face of a bewildered little old lady as she comes out of the post office.