TESTAMENT - The Brotherhood Of The Snake
November 2, 2016, a year ago
With each passing year - each of life's challenges - comes new perspective. For some, philosophies and concepts that might have been deemed trivial, inconsequential even, during formative years, begin to hold some weight. Ideas, such as nature's plan, the progress of evolution and universal truth, start to make sense, in an otherwise completely insensible world.
Each of these aforementioned abstractions share one commonality - one morbid inevitability - the end of everything. There is no escaping the certainty of death - it is the one universal truth, and the one giant, scathing, biting ape on the back of all living things. All of us flirt with death every day. Some of us narrowly avoid it, while others are mired in it - affecting every aspect of their lives. Those who are unfortunate enough to experience such devastating loss - the proverbial shit end of the stick at every turn - inherit a different plane of existence than the rest of us. It's only then that the overpowering hunger for life becomes insatiable. Things that were once taken for granted become negligible. If these same people happen to be innovators, artists - the pioneering faction of our society - well, things can become very interesting.
The year 1999 began strong for Bay Area thrash metal veterans, Testament. It was the year that would give birth to their groundbreaking album, The Gathering. It was also the same year that would see a dozen years of consistent, solid output come to a screeching halt. The following two years saw the band traverse the globe in support of The Gathering, which, to these ears, was easily the band's strongest output since their sophomore effort, The New Order.
The struggle to follow-up a highly successful release - both critically and personally - was suddenly over-shadowed by a personal struggle of immense magnitude that befell frontman Chuck Billy. It was during this time that Chuck was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which had Chuck questioning his future in music. At that moment, priority one became a fight for survival... a fight for his life.
Thankfully, Chuck prevailed - overcoming this struggle with an intensity and fervor only matched by that of Testament's following two albums - being 2008's The Formation Of Damnation and 2012's Dark Roots Of Earth. If anything, both of these albums proved that Testament still had a huge part to play in nature's plan, and that Chuck, and the band as a whole, were not quite ready to succumb to that one universal truth.
Here we are four years later, faced with a brand new album, entitled Brotherhood Of The Snake. The guys, never afraid to tackle new topics and ideas, reached deep into the galactic blackness and have hit us all with a bit of a concept album - one that explores the mythical Sumerian race that is referenced in the title (a connection between aliens and religion that spans the past 6,000 years of human history). If the Ancient Aliens theme is too much for ya, well, the guys bring shit crashing right back down to earth with the second half of the album, where songs such as "Black Jack" and "Canna Business" deal with every day human travails such as gambling/sin city and the ongoing struggles of cannabis and the fight for legalization. Suffice it to say, Brotherhood Of The Snake is a deeply poignant record that will likely hit home with both the conspiracy theorists and the more chilled, don't-give-a-fuck fans.
Digging right into the meat of this one, it's immediately telling that Testament are not only reaching into the vastest reaches of space for answers, they are also reaching back in time. Lead-off track "Brotherhood Of The Snake" recalls their classic 1990 album, Souls Of Black - an album that blends, to perfection, thrash and Pantera-like groove - catchy as fuck yet not at the expense of brutality.
As we reach the halfway mark of the album, it becomes clear that the band have found an incredibly rewarding balance between the aforementioned groove and their trademark bay area sound. Songs such as "The Pale King" and "Born In A Rut" could literally be the blueprint for modern, aggressive-yet-melodic thrash metal - which, more recently, tends to borrow heavily from the Swedish contingent who have perfected the twin axe, extreme-yet-melodic metal approach (e.g. Dark Tranquility and Arch Enemy).
By the latter half of the album, we are treated to a song that could have been ripped straight from album numero uno, The Legacy. With its ode to the formation of thrashing damnation, "Centuries Of Suffering" will certainly appeal to new and old/ancient fans alike. Following this, both "Neptune's Spear" and "Black Jack" takes us back to that polished, slightly-more-digestible era of Testament's thrash attack, which included the back to back albums Practice What You Preach and Souls Of Black.
Reaching the end of the album, we are once again reminded that Testament are incredibly dynamic in their extremity, blasting out the heaviest track of the bunch in "The Number Game". Now, this isn't to say that Chuck and the boys have revisited their death metal demons, such as can be found on '97's Demonic. In fact, I'm not sure there is a blast beat or guttural vocal to be found on the entirety of this latest release. Nope. What this song does offer in its brutality stems from the bottom-heavy, dynamic duo that are bassist Steve Digorgio and skinsman Gene Hoglan. Whenever these two get together, the earth is bound to crumble beneath your very feet - leaving only a blackened void of which there is no escape. Such is the vociferous magnitude of Brotherhood Of The Snake.