Now this is how you craft an album. You go someplace outside your normal zone of everyday life, as Eric Petersen did, and you listen to nothing but the riffs that fly through your head. Then you invite a beast like Alex Skolnick to come and write with you, taking those raw ideas and forging them into tempered steel. Add in the two other original members, Greg Christian and Chuck Billy, and throw in returning drummer Gene Hoglan, and you have a recipe for what absolutely cannot fail.
Dark Roots of Earth is Testament's second album since their reunion, which features all original members except for drummer Louie Clemente. The consistency of the lineup as well as their time spent on the road supporting their previous album The Formation of Damnation shines through in ways that cannot be described with mere words. Recorded in Devonshire, England and engineered by Andy Sneap, Dark Roots of Earth represents their best effort since Practice What You Preach.
I know, many said that about Formation, but what do you do when each album is an improvement over the last? Metal in the 90's took a hit in the US, even though Testament kept pushing on. They still released great albums then, too, going in a heavier direction while their contemporaries rushed towards a more radio-friendly style. And yet, those albums, while good, didn't have the chemistry of the classic Testament lineup. When Skolnick returned to the band, everything seemed to snap right back into place, and the result has been a continually evolving take on Testament's classic late-80's sound.
Dark Roots of Earth is a riff-fest from the beginning to the end. The musical link between Petersen and Skolnick is tangible here. There is more of an even trade-off here, with Petersen showing more of his skill at soloing, and he keeps pace with the more recognized Skolnick. I don't think I've ever heard a better bass tone than Greg Christian's- punchy and warm at the same time, it cuts through in just the right spots and nails down Gene Hoglan's rhythm quite well. Hoglan will seem at first a bit restrained, but this is a Testament album, not a Gene Hoglan album. His playing is just enough to keep that signature sound. His playing is a bit dialed back from Paul Bostaph's effort on Formation, and sounds, again, like it would be something Louie Clemente would play had he remained with the band all those years.
Chuck Billy's voice here has also evolved. Billy has his own style of singing which is unmistakeable. Where Formation didn't really expand on his classic template, he does take some nice steps forward here, adding more vocal harmonies, and even softening his voice in songs like Cold Embrace, which he hasn't really done since The Ballad. There are times when the rasp is completely gone and you hear something that sounds almost vulnerable, or about as vulnerable as a 6' 6" tall giant of a thrash metal singer can sound.
The songwriting, again, I can't sing the praises enough. There are some new elements introduced into the Testament sound, such as the occasional melodic death metal passage in Native Blood, while almost all of the low death metal growls are gone, only used here and there as a backup. The result is a thrash metal masterpiece that ranks up there with the absolute best in the genre going back to the 80's. This is so well written you will hear riffs, harmonies, choruses, and rhythms going through your head like crazy after one listen.
The bonus digipak CD has three cover songs as well as a bonus DVD. The DVD contains a making-of video which was pretty entertaining, and a live set that could have been recorded a little better, but overall, it's pretty good and gives you an accurate presentation of what the band is like live these days. P