For once it’s refreshing to see a band’s promise about a forthcoming release actually live up to how they hype that it will sound like.
Testament’s 1st album of all new material in 9 years was billed by the band of having the songwriting style of their classic 80’s material while featuring the much more aggressive playing style/production of 1999’s The Gathering (which is still a most amazing album.) Well, that’s what we got with The Formation of Damnation.
To be honest, this isn’t as great of an album as The Gathering was, and this is coming from a long time fan who has been listening to the band since 1987. I still greatly appreciate their classic material but I felt that with The Gathering the band really reached their apex (depsite the fact that Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson were the only 2 original members left in the group by that point). But The Formation of Damnation is still a very good release that will please long time fans (of Bay Area thrash in particular) while not being quite as earth shattering as it needed to be to convert current audiences into new fans.
Song wise the album isn’t as thrashy or as brutal as the Gathering with maybe the exception of the crushing title track. Writing wise a lot of this sounds like The New Order and Practice What you Preach styles with a more brutal guitar/drum attack. Chuck Billy still occasionally dips into his 90’s death metal growl at times, but he doesn’t do it nearly as much as he did during that period. He sings here much more in his older style and while his range isn’t what it used to be he still turns in a tremendous performance. Returning original lead guitarist Alex Skolnick does his usual brilliant guitar work and drummer Paul Bostaph (who played on their Return to Apocalyptic City E.P.) does his always solid and fantastic drum work. Original bass player Greg Christian returns and I was a bit disappointed by how root oriented his playing was on this album, but it still does fit, just don’t expect some of his memorable bass lines from yesteryear (with the exception being the final track Leave Me Forever which features a fantastic bass line throughout and was co-written by Greg Christian ironically enough). Eric Peterson still remains one of the most criminally underrated rhythm guitarists (who also can rip great leads) in all of metal and his riff work here is great as always.
Seeing as this is basically a new fresh start for this band, it should be interesting to see how they are able to build on this release as while not being their best work is still much better than a lot of people are probably expecting out of it.