Testament: The Formation of Damnation
Being the first Testament album in nearly a decade, The Formation of Damnation was definitely among the most anticipated releases of 2008, and despite some minor flaws, it does not disappoint.
Complete with the original lineup plus Paul Bostaph on drums, this album is certainly a solid piece of work, but saying it's one of their best would be an exaggeration. Sure, the mighty Alex Skolnick is back, and he lays down the mesmerizing guitar work fans have always expected from him. Skolnick is in great form -- from the shred-intensive fretwork of "Killing Season", which also stands out for his intricate arrangement, to the heavy-duty riffing of the title track, he maintains his melodic signature without diluting the overall flow of the record. The latter actually preserves the powerful death metal influences of the band's songs on The Gathering, as vocalist Chuck Billy delivers his killer low register vocals. And the lead guitar solo here is brilliant to say the least.
Though this is not one of those horrible groove-oriented discs with the occasional thrash riffing, the majority of the tracks move in a safe midtempo pattern, best noticed on the slightly modern-sounding "Dangers of the Faithless", interspersed with some processed vocals and a The Ritual-like guitar solo running through the piece secretly. To balance it out, however, the band bring forth tracks like "Henchmen Ride" and "F.E.A.R.", the former noteworthy for its jackhammer riffing and big chorus, and the latter, written entirely by Alex Skolnick, for its modern vibe injected into its fierce, relentless onslaught of twin guitar attacks.
Vocalist Chuck Billy employs more of his clean singing this time around, but he hasn't abandoned his snarling vocals completely. On the 9/11-inspired "The Evil Has Landed", for instance, he exudes his brutal singing and Paul Bostaph's drumming here is simply amazing. Without getting into the Bostaph-Lombardo comparisons, I feel Bostaph more than serves the purpose of the album, though some tunes could have benefited more from his imaginative fills and attacks.
Mainstay Eric Peterson still produces powerful rhyhthm work throughout the album, but honestly, he has written a lot more engaging riffs before. On some tunes, whether he opted for thrash metal or just midtempo melodic lines with some aggressive parts mixed in remains unanswered. While The Gathering detained a wholeness from start to finish, full of dark and brutal thrash metal onslaughts, The Formation of Damnation branches off into more diversified territory, merging a plethora of Testament trademarks from way back.
The album deals with a variety of topics lyrically. The last song "Leave Me Alone" is about divorce, and one of the few tracks that sees bassist Greg Christian straying from the norm and offering some of his powerful and varied playing. It's somewhat disappointing that he primarily sticks to root notes only on this disc, which is saying a lot considering how great a player he truly is. With the exception of a handful tunes, the bass is almost inaudible, though he does come to the fore on the album's first single "More Than Meets the Eye", with a galloping bass line, albeit with little variation. "Afterlife", as its title suggests, is about the loss of a loved one, but one might feel the sing-along chorus could have been less emphasized, given its searing rhythm guitar.
Bottom line, the album is definitely worth checking out and a great addition to Testament's catalog. It is not one of their best, but it's not a disappointment either. Many have compared it to albums like Practice What You Preach and The New Order, and while I can see where they're coming from, writing-wise it also touches a great deal on The Gathering mixed up with modern studio trickery in places.
Andy Sneap has done a great job on mixing the album, giving it its much deserved sonic punch. The sound is wide with a full magnitude and does not take away from thrash metal's visceral roots.
1. For the Glory of...
2. More Than Meets the Eye
3. The Evil Has Landed
4. The Formation of Damnation
5. Dangers of the Faithless
6. The Persecuted Won't Forget
7. Henchmen Ride
8. Killing Season
11. Leave Me Forever
Added: May 12th 2008
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Testament Website
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