Dark Roots Of Earth
27 July 2012
by Tom Dare
The problem with achieving brilliance is the weight of expectation that becomes attached to subsequent works. For Testament, having pulled off the ultimate achievement last time out – effectively having split up, an irreplaceable member battling serious illness, but still returning with the most ball-drainingly superb album of a 25 year career in the form of The Formation of Damnation – then that weight threatens to become unreasonable when it comes to the follow-up: Dark Roots Of Earth.
Initially, those expectations appears to have been met. The opening pair of the combative ‘Rise Up’ and ‘Native Blood’ are Testament at their absolute best. Eric Peterson’s snarling, swaggering riffs compelling movement while Chuck Billy’s distinctive voice thrusts out the chest. The fire, venom and thrash aggression that so few have managed to match since the last time the Bay Area quintet recorded are all present in spades, and with a few new twists as well – the blasting black metal segments of ‘True American Hate’ being prime examples.
This said, there are some major flaws that sap the enjoyment from parts of Dark Roots Of Earth. Most prominently is the lamentably dull eight-minute ballad (Eight. Minute. Ballad. Thrash album. No.) of ‘Cold Embrace’, which not even a great Alex Skolnick solo can rescue from turgid tedium, and spoils the momentum of the record badly. This song does slightly serve to highlight why your attention has wandered slightly prior to this however, and it’s those solos that make you realise why you aren’t enjoying Dark Roots Of Earth quite as much as you might.
Watch Alex Skolnick play some solos and stuff at NAMM 2012:
Too many of the album’s songs – the title track being a prime example – are rather less engaging than their (undoubtedly excellent) best moments. The guitar solos end up providing attention-yanks that drag you back to proceedings you weren’t aware you’d lost interest in. It’s not that what you’re listening to is bad, because it isn’t – Testament are simply a little too talented and experienced a bunch of musicians to turn in duff tunes (that sodding ballad was too conceptually flawed to be rescued even by them). Like the latest efforts from Machine Head and Lamb Of God, much of Dark Roots Of Earth merely lacking that spark of inspiration, that extra jolt of creative genius that pushes a song from being enjoyable to one that causes you to truly lose your shit.
There’s a great deal to like about Dark Roots Of Earth – the opening double-header is fantastic, as are two or three other songs that could easily slide into a set-list alongside ‘Trial By Fire’ or ‘More Than Meets The Eye’ and not be overshadowed. Chuck Billy’s dynamic snarl is as charismatic and effective as ever, Gene Hoglan has slipped seamlessly behind the kit, the twin axe attack is frequently in fine fettle and the best riffs are saved till the last song. It’s just a slight shame it’s let down by some average moments where they can’t quite reach their own high standards. And by that one song that should never have been dropped to the cutting room floor to rot with other bad ideas like DragonForce’s lost funeral doom song, AC/DC’s abandoned 54-minute experimental prog track and Gorgoroth’s attempt at a power metal anthem.
It’s a varied affair, but not necessarily in a good way.
Sounds like: Exodus, Metallica, Vio-lence
Stand-out tracks: Rise Up, Native Blood, Last Stand For Independence