Four years removed from the eardrum-obliterating comeback that was "The Formation Of Damnation", TESTAMENT roars back with an album that shatters any notion that the band hit its final peak in 2008. Where "The Formation Of Damnation" was among the band's most crushingly heavy offerings, "Dark Roots Of Earth" carries a noticeably different vibe than its predecessor by leaning more towards their (now) classic American thrash roots.
Elements of "Practice What You Preach" and "Souls Of Black" can be heard all over "Dark Roots Of Earth", but this album is anything but a rehashing of former glories. The skilled interplay between Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson, which features a wall-to-wall showcasing of intricate and harmonized runs, back-and-forth soloing, hooky riffs and metallic perfection, is at the centerpiece of this album. The duo displays everything that made them among the most formidable guitar teams on the late '80s / early '90s while placing everything into a modern context. The end result is a 2012 take on TESTAMENT's classic and pioneering sound. The years of dedication to their craft and perhaps a few spins of "The Gathering" (the razor-sharp edge of which slices right through the middle of this record) have allowed the guitarists to marry TESTAMENT's old and new with great success. Of course, the always brilliant drumming of Gene Hoglan, whose mere presence on an album improves its quality, drives this thrash fest right through the wall. No wait, he drives it over the wall. A bigger Greg Christian presence would have been appreciated by yours truly, but thanks to Andy Sneap's excellent production, his classic, punchy bass tone doesn't get lost in the fray.
Dialing back on the death growls that dominated "The Formation Of Damnation", Chuck Billy's vintage vocal approach brings the biggest dose of "old-school" flavor to this album. We're still treated to the occasional and appropriately placed roar, but the majority of "Dark Roots Of Earth" sees Billy delivering the kind of raspy, yet clean and intelligently and melodically phrased vocals that made him a standout vocalist back in the day. His performances on "Rise Up" and "Cold Embrace", a ballad in the vein of "The Legacy", show exactly why he's still among metal's best.
On that fateful day when the world comes to a cataclysmic end, those of us who consider ourselves TESTAMENT die-hards will probably die holding tightly to this album. Perhaps copies of "The Gathering" or "The Formation Of Damnation" will be snatched up a little quicker once the fire starts to fall from the sky, but, personally speaking, I would damn sure like to have songs like "True American Hate" and "Man Kills Mankind" blasting in my ears as I enter the great unknown.
- Ryan Ogle