David Lydiard - Guest Reviewer for The Gig Gals
Brotherhood of the Snake is the latest album from Thrash Godfathers, Testament. How crazy is it to think that 2016 has seen some stellar releases from the likes of Anthrax, Death Angel and Megadeth, all of which were part of that first wave of Thrash Metal way back in the 80s.
Testament have been in good form of late with The Formation of Damnation (2008) and Dark Roots of Earth (2012) being two stunning albums (for me at least). Maybe they had been rejuvenated with the return of original lead guitarist, Alex Skolnick, but whatever the reasons, Testament have been on fire for the past 8 years and Brotherhood of the Snake is no different.
Kicking off the album is the title track and it gives the listener a good indication of what is to follow for the next 45 minutes 27 seconds. Chuck Billy is in superb form, roaring and bellowing each line with gusto. There are blast-beats, a blistering thrash riff and a mid-point melodic segment a la Iron Maiden before dual guitar leads close us out. Next up is “The Pale King” and it starts off in similar thrash territory before settling into a mid-paced groove with Chuck once again delivering 100% – commanding, powerful and memorable.
Track three is the second single released from the album – “Stronghold”. This has been designed to be a mosh pit anthem. How awesome would it be to hear “Up Rise, Stronghold!” bellowed out in unison in a live setting? With it’s battering-ram-esque thrash/groove riffing, it sets about recreating the primal atmosphere of 1999s The Gathering. “Seven Seals” is pretty much a straight up retelling of The Battle of Armageddon from the books of Revelation, Yep, that’s right. Christ riding on his white horse defeating Satan! It’s a dark, mid-tempo song and it grooves so well. Found myself really enjoying this one immensely. “Born in a Rut” closes out the first half of the record and much like “Seven Seals” it’s mid-paced and more melodic with an anthemic chorus. In some ways these couple of tracks are the catchiest on the album.
“Centuries of Suffering” gets the second half of the record off to a wicked thrash start with drummer, “The Atomic Clock” Gene Hoglan taking the song into grind territory on occasion. “Black Jack” is a fast, tremolo-picking, double-bass assault with a Motorhead/Metallica influence all over the vocals. Someone likened this song to Emperor attempting to record a thrash record and I can definitely hear what they meant by that statement. Despite the album being a concept album, “Black Jack” veers away from that with its Las Vegas themed lyrics.
“Neptune’s Spear” and “Canna-Business” continue with the blistering pace and the album closes out with “The Number Game”, where the band unleash their technical fury into the realms of death metal. It is one of the heaviest songs on the entire record (that’s saying something). There is a sense of manic about this song and it leads to a spectacular, thrashing finale where guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson march their guitar solos alongside Hoglan’s procession drumming.
Each member of Testament are on fire here. Gene Hoglan maintains his reputation as the “Human Drum Machine” as his, very, high speed blasts, fills and seemingly effortless tempo changes kick the already high adrenalin levels into overdrive. Returning bassist, Steve DiGiorgio is right there with him and the pair elevate Testament, and force the already elite thrash act to raise its game even higher. Chuck Billy, as I’ve already mentioned, is superb throughout the entire record. The guitar duo of Skolnick and Peterson, though, has to be one of the best in the business. There are memorable riffs, the odd moment of showboating (naturally), dual harmonies and blazing leads ranging from neoclassical shredding to bluesy passages.
I’ve had this album on repeat quite a bit since its release. It’s an absolute beast of an album from start to finish. If you are into Thrash then there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy this album. Testament have managed to keep a foot in the past, acknowledging a few of their previous albums, whilst simultaneously pushing themselves forward. This is in part to some tremendous songwriting and the dexterity of Hoglan and DiGiorgio.
Brotherhood of the Snake crushes like a Boa Constrictor, and once you’ve been bitten, the only antidote is to play it loud and play it often