These are troubling times for classic metal. Greats are fading from the public consciousness, not helped by recent lacklustre releases, and even arguably the biggest metal bands on the planet are releasing massive double albums in bids to stay relevant.
Throughout this uncertain time, Testament have been one of the few acts to weather the storm. Long considered to be the honorary fifth member of thrash metal's Big Four, the band sparked a renewed following after reuniting their original '80s lineup in 2005 and releasing two excellent albums in the ensuing years, 2008's The Formation of Damnation and 2012's Dark Roots of Earth. Despite a few missteps, their newest release continues the streak.
There is little room for doubting the strength of Testament's performances. The current lineup, made up of mainstays Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, as well as drumming maestro Gene Hoglan and highly esteemed bassist Steve DiGiorgio, is a well-oiled machine, and it's when they are in their element that they truly shine. Tracks like "Stronghold" and "Centuries of Suffering" showcase the band's classic thrash chops, while slower cuts like "Neptune's Spear" allow the instrumentals to cut loose.
Although there are moments that show cracks, such as the uneasy, meandering riffs on "Born in a Rut" and the ridiculous chorus of "Canna Business," the majority of the straightforward thrash songs here demonstrate that Testament's magic has yet to fade.
Weak spots appear more frequently when the hard rock influences take over, somewhat obscuring the album's thrash metal core. Songs like "Black Jack" and "The Pale King" feature bright and upbeat riffs that don't quite mesh with the band's dark aesthetic, so while there's something to be said about Testament branching out into different styles, it doesn't work as well as here as it should.
On the whole though, Testament prove why thrash metal should be as relevant in the modern era as it was in the '80s. They don't need to make sprawling epics in order to impress their audience, nor do they stick to the script in a bland and inspired way. For the band — and for fans — that's just fine. (Nuclear Blast)