Well into their fourth decade, the history of Bay Area Thrash legends Testament is already a well-documented one. We all know they were originally called Legacy, and that Steve “Zetro” Souza from Exodus used to be their vocalist, and we all know that they are one of a select bunch of bands many Thrash Metal fans would like to have seen included in the so-called “Big Four”. While it looks like we may have a long wait for classics like The Legacy, The New Order, Practice What You Preach and Souls of Black (all Atlantic/Megaforce) to be reissued and/or remastered, Nuclear Blast have done (close to) the next best thing and reissued two live records, a collection of re-recorded tracks, and two studio albums.
Kicking things off is the full-length version of Live at Eindhoven. Released originally as a five-track EP in 1987, this version contains the entire set from the June of that year. The band tear into soon-to-be classics like ‘Over the Wall’, ‘Burnt Offerings’, and ‘Apocalyptic City’ with youthful speed and aggression, while vocalist Chuck Billy constantly invites the crowd to drink more beer with them between songs. [7.0]
The other live offering is the Live at Fillmore album. Originally released in 1995, this recording from their hometown of San Francisco features a wider array of material, with the set consisting of songs taken from their début up until 1994’s Low (Atlantic/Megaforce). The band blast through the likes of ‘Alone in the Dark’, ‘Into The Pit’, ‘The Preacher’, and ‘Practice What You Preach’, climaxing with a particularly ferocious ‘Dog Faced Gods’, while acoustic studio versions of ‘Return to Serenity’, ‘The Legacy’, and ‘Trail of Tears’ close out the album in much more relaxed fashion. [8.0]
Taking the decision to re-record tracks from their first couple of albums, First Strike Still Deadly sounds exactly as you would expect. Although better produced than their original counterparts, given a much richer sound and performed as well as the material demands, there are times when the tracks sound as good as they ever did, if not better (‘The New Order’ for example, sounds fantastic). However, there are also moments (albeit brief ones) when things don’t quite work quite as well. Two of album’s highlights come in the form of ‘Reign of Terror’ (taken from the band’s original demo), and ‘Alone in the Dark’, both of which features vocals from none other than Steve “Zetro” Souza revisiting his past.
Originally released in 1997, Demonic is often considered one of Testament’s lesser recordings. Issued at a time when the band was reduced to only two original members (Billy, and founder member Eric Peterson) and changing drummers almost on a monthly basis, the line-up was completed by bassist Derrick Ramirez, and legendary sticksman Gene Hoglan. Although admittedly not one of their greatest endeavours (the unhelpfully dismal looking original artwork has thankfully been upgraded for this reissue), Demonic still features some perfectly respectable material. ‘Demonic Refusal’ is a brutal opener, ‘John Doe’ is full of menace, and ‘Murky Waters’ slashes its way into your ears in time-honoured Testament fashion. [7.0]
One of the jewels in Testament’s crown is their 1999 release, The Gathering. Anyone unconvinced by their previous outing were in for a serious shock, as although the band still didn’t feature a particularly stable line-up, it really did feel like the album they had been threatening to make since the late eighties. With James Murphy returning to guitar duty after Low, and bass virtuoso Steve DiGiorgio in tow, the 1999 studio line-up was completed by a certain Mr. Dave Lombardo.
Sorry, that’s incorrect. It’s actually pronounced DAVE. FUCKING. LOMBARDO.
As well as the musicians and songwriters all being on top form, the addition of former Sabbat guitarist Andy Sneap for studio knob-twiddling and button flicking also proved to be a very wise move. The Gathering is a monster. Just try arguing with songs like ‘D.N.R.(Do Not Resuscitate)’, ‘Down for Life’, ‘3 Days in Darkness’ or ‘Riding the Snake’. Go on. Try it. With this release remastered by Sneap himself, The Gathering is a must for any self-respecting Testament fan. [9.5]