Testament - The Formation of Damnation
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: April 29, 2008
After laying low for quite some time, Bay-area thrash favorites Testament have returned with The Formation of Damnation, their ninth studio album. Following a slew of line-up changes over the years, the album marks the return of guitarist Alex Skolnick and bassist Greg Christian. With mainstays guitarist Eric Peterson and vocalist Chuck Billy on board as always, four-fifths of the band's most known and loved line-up (from 1986 to 1993) are back. Drummer Louie Clemente is missing from the fold, but his spot is adequately filled by Paul Bostaph, formerly of Slasher and Exodus. With clean production from Peterson and Billy, as well as Andy Sneap mixing and engineering (as he did on their two prior releases), Damnation had Testament fans foaming at the mouth with anticipation.
Does it deliver? For the most part, yes. The album starts off with "For the Love of...," an instrumental introduction, before breaking into "More Than Meets the Eye." It's a powerful song musically, and Billy's lyrical positivity -- perhaps a revelation following his successful battle with cancer -- makes it shine even more. The diversity with later tracks, though, is quite evident. Album closer "Leave Me Forever" is a particularly angry cut about divorce. Its borderline-embarrassing lyrics on unrequited love could be mistaken for those of an emo band, with lines like "I gave you all that I had to give but it wasn't good enough / I thought I loved you but it's too late / You said you love me but now I hate." "Afterlife," however, is a nicely-worded ode to his father. Many of the songs are politically charged, touching on war and religion, with an obvious dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. "Evil Has Landed" is about September 11th, but its lyrics read more like the event's Wikipedia page rather than a reaction or tribute.
Lyrics are only a small part of the bigger picture, of course. Sonically, the group is tight, and Skolnick's leads and interplay with Peterson are as impressive as always. Billy sings his way through the bulk of the material but also busts out the occasional growl that adds some depth. When it comes to this subgenre, I prefer the fast tempo variety, which the band delivers on the impressive title track, the catchy "Henchmen Read," and the memorable "F.E.A.R." Much of the remaining songs are mid tempo and get a bit bland at times, but there are enough things to keep the listener interested, such as Bostaph's skin work on "The Persecuted Won't Forget," the flair of "Killing Season," and Christian's bass lines on the moody "Leave Me Forever."
For a band to release an album this good as they celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary is an impressive feat. It may not be their best work, but The Formation of Damnation is solid, and you'd never know that the talented musicians hadn't played together in so long. There's a reason these metal titans have influenced so many of today's bands, and they aren't about to let you forget it. As long as you're not expecting the second coming of The Legacy, no headbanger shall be disappointed.