Testament does it again! If their last album “The Formation of Damnation” was an exclamation they’ve returned to form, their latest release “Dark Roots of Earth” is their statement that they’ve broke the mold and are recasting the genre. This album proves they aren’t concerned with what others are doing but with who they are and what mark they want to leave on thrash metal. “The Formation of Damnation” saw the return of Seymour Duncan artist Alex Skolnick to the Testament line-up.
Founder and main songwriter Eric Peterson said, “The last record, I had written 99% of the record. And then I made some demos and Alex flew out and we learned them and did our parts. This record, me and Alex were like, ‘Man, I just want to write like how we used to write.’ We’d go up to his room and just riff out together, no drums, just to get parts down, just ideas.”
The change in writing philosophy really shows, as “Dark Roots of Earth” has a classic, old school Testament feel. It’s fast and aggressive, and yet at the same time, very melodic and harmony driven.
From the opening track, Testament grabs your attention and never lets go. The first riff of the album is the intro to “Rise Up”, a fast picking rhythm section that feeds into whole notes with the lead guitar providing a catchy and colorful riff over top. Lyrically, the chorus repeats the words “Rise Up” a bit too frequently, making it feel a bit repetitious, though it forecasts the live impact this song will have as audiences will be chanting along.
“True American Hate” is another fast paced, non-stop adrenaline rush. The song starts with a brief solo of pull-offs followed by a tight, crunchy rhythm section. The pre-chorus retains the speed while the lead guitar adds harmony and makes a beautiful arrangement which accentuates the rough and raw power of the impending chorus. Dynamically speaking, Testament created a perfect moment that takes the listener on a ride. Alex’s solo is a masterpiece that continues that journey. It starts with the brief solo the song opened with, feeding into a classic face-melting metal solo. For those nearly two minutes (2:35-4:20), the listener becomes entranced by the hypnotic tone of Alex’s fingers blazing across the fretboard along with Eric’s precision ending.
The album closes with “Last Stand for Independence”, which retains the same intensity that the album opened with. It has everything a classic ‘80s thrash song should have: fast tight rhythms, rough growly vocals, secondary riffs filled with ascending hammer-ons, and of course, tremolo-heavy guitar solos that are wisely crafted. All in all, Testament released an album that will rival any of the Big Four’s. This is a knock-out punch!
The Deluxe Edition of the album includes a bonus DVD where Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson talk gear. Alex reveals what he uses to get his epic tone. The guitar is his signature Heritage H-150 loaded with Seymour Duncan SH-1 ’59 neck and SH-4 JB bridge pickups. He notes that his signature guitar is heavy, which some might not appreciate, but he says he’s “noticed that heavy guitars really cut through.” He uses a Marshall Mode Four head, which is “a little bit taboo” with guitar players since it has a solid-state power amp, but he’s used it for years with great results. He does have a signature Budda amp in the works that he’s really looking forward to. It will be built to his specs with the capability of solid-state and tube sounds, or as Alex puts it, “The best of both worlds.” From a pedal standpoint, Alex uses a Boss tuner, JAM pedals TubeDreamer, MXR Phase 90, and Boss Giga Delay.