Whenever the time-honoured, if ultimately pointless “if it had been a Big Five…” question raises its ugly head, Bay Area bruisers Testament always find themselves at the forefront of the conversation. Even alongside names such as Exodus, Overkill, and Kreator, such is their… ahem, legacy (sorry), it’s not uncommon to find them as one of the top two preferred choices.
Since returning to active duty in 2008 after a seven-year absence, the band has gone from strength to strength, releasing three albums of undisputed quality. Following on from 2016’s acclaimed Brotherhood of the Snake, Titans of Creation (both Nuclear Blast) is another high tempo blast of Bay Area thrash.
With all the typical Testament hallmarks in evidence, ‘Children of the Next Level’ kicks things off with suitable force. Chunky riffs, groove, speed, and the first of many impressive solos from guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick, the rip-roaring opener has a distinctly Egyptian flavour, a theme prevalent throughout many parts of the record.
Born from a time of unrest, anxiety and paranoia, ‘WWIII’ is not only a song representative of today’s political climate but also a throwback to the Reagan era, when metal fans raised on more traditional bands decided they needed a more aggressive outlet for their fear and frustrations. One of only a handful of songs to include a distinctly melodic chorus, ‘Dream Deceiver’ is one of the album’s standout moments, a point rammed home by Gene Hoglan‘s precision drumming.
Played on their recent tour, ‘Night of the Witch’ has already proved a hit with audiences and sounds even better in the studio. Slowing things down a little, ‘City of Angels’ moves into creepy serial killer territory with a song about Richard Ramirez (aka The Night Stalker). A fantastic cut which features some nimble fretwork by bassist Steve Di Giorgio, and a Black Sabbath inspired middle section.
The thunderous ‘Ishtar’s Gate’ and crawling menace of ‘Symptoms’ (a rather appropriate title considering what’s happening in the world at the moment) give way to ‘False Prophet’ and ‘The Healers’ before the latter part of the album kicks seriously into gear with the sonic fury of ‘Code of Hammurabi’, a track inspired by a Babylonian punishment system and code of law devised by King Hammurabi around 1754 BC.
Remember when we were first confronted by frontman Chuck Billy‘s bellicose and guttural death metal roar on 1994’s Low (Atlantic)? Well, on the Egyptian flavoured thrasher ‘Curse of Osiris’, he introduces you to screeching, almost inhuman vocals of black metal proportions. ‘Catacombs’ brings proceedings to a close, an outro piece which sounds like a cross between a movie soundtrack and something off a Nile record.
Combative and antagonistic, slick and accomplished, the musicianship on display is everything you come to expect from these masters of the game – not to mention the razor-sharp production – yet somehow Titans of Creation doesn’t quite live up to the sum of its parts. The intent is there, the riffs are there, and the talent is most definitely there, but coming in at just under an hour in length, and with speed and aggression often preferred over melody, some songs do occasionally blur into one another. That said, this is by no means a disappointing album, and there’s clearly still plenty of mileage left in the Testament tank. It’s just that this time the journey isn’t quite as exciting as previous thrash-filled adventures. Purchase the album here.
7 / 10