Trying to navigate the music world during a pandemic is a weird thing. Most bands from arena performers putting out a long awaited new release or those small bands that are about to drop their debut banger, the industry seems to be on pause with the rest of the world. Acts that were expected to be touring during this time are doing everything they can to push that tour merch they are now sitting on to both recoup their losses and help out the crew that was supposed to be on the road with them. It’s troubling times and the music industry is being hit super hard at the moment. Especially when hearing reports that shows and fests might not be returning as late as fall 2021. While a lot of the music world is opting to put their careers on pause in order to maximize album sales and cash in on the rise in attention that comes with it when the world returns to normal, a few bands are opting to put the fans first, stay on schedule, and release new music to a world that suddenly has nothing to do but wait this out. This seems to be the stance that thrash metal heavyweights, Testament, have taken and have brought forth their 12th full length of new material titled TITANS OF CREATION.
Introducing Testament is a waste of time. If you aren’t familiar with who these bay area headbangers, then before you continue go check out THE NEW ORDER and THE LEGACY and then come back to this conversation. Hell, Testament should be included in the Big Four over Anthrax but that’s another debate for another time. However, since the reunion of the mostly original lineup in 2008, Testament has enjoyed a 2nd wind as a band and has been the most consistent thrash metal act of the old days still putting out good material. With Alex Skolnick, the architect, back in the band to accompany the riff machine known as Eric Peterson, they have since hit their groove. Now nothing they’ve released since 2008’s THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION, has necessarily matched the powerhouse albums of aforementioned THE NEW ORDER, THE LEGACY, or the severely underrated THE GATHERING, what they have done is really honed in on a new sound to go with the old sound. While there is still some blistering thrash licks and speedy Gene Hoglan double bass to follow suit, they have really blended the melody of Skolnick’s style into the meatier riffs. Chuck Billy, who is one of the most entertaining frontmen in metal, has always bounced back and forth between a nasally “clean” singing voice and a deep bark. Since FORMATION, he has found the perfect balance of both and tends to keep the songs more focused throughout. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still vicious when he needs to be but 30 years into the game, the anger isn’t going to be there all the time like it was when they were in their 20’s.
With all that said, TITANS is the first album in a very long time, probably dating back as far as the LOW record, that Testament had to work to get my full attention on a record. At no point did I ever think this was bad, but unlike the previous few records, there wasn’t anything that jumped out at me immediately to say this was a song I wouldn’t mind finding a spot into the setlist. Not even the opener, Children Of The Next Level, sucked me in on the first listen like previous opening tracks like Brotherhood Of The Snake title track, More Than Meets The Eye, or Rise Up off the last three records. From there I just kind of listened to it and bobbed my head but nothing stood out. Just when I was ready to give this a mediocre review, I gave it one final shot to see if it could wow me. Boy, am I glad I gave it that last shot because this album is really good. Instead of going from an album you could just play in the background, it has emerged as probably my favorite record of theirs since the reunion. Listening back now, Children is a beast of an opener despite having outdated lyrics about the Heaven’s Gate cult the record just continues to pummel you until track 5’s, City Of Angels, which to me is the only filler track of the record. It the first real slow jam of the record and it just has a feeling of going through the motions. Testament is always about giving back and recognizing the California scene and City Of Angels seems like it was shoehorned in to both take up time and to hit the quota of talking about Cali. Prior to that WWIII, Dream Deceiver, and Night Of The Witch are what you expect of Testament in these later stages of their career. Track 6’s Ishtar’s Gate continues the dialed back approached that City Of Angels started but there is definitely more energy and main riff and rhythm section just slugs you like a hammer on the noggin. It’s also in this track and the following track Symptoms that you really get to hear bassist Steve DiGigorio go off and at times even seemingly take the lead. It’s not often that Peterson or Skolnick aren’t the main focus on the strings but it was nice touch to let the low end shine. The end of the album kind of returns to the theme of the beginning bringing back the full on thrash assault reminiscent of the glory days of the band with the stand out track of the album being 2nd to last track on the album, Curse Of Osiris. It’s the perfect track to bring the album back full circle before sending it home on an instrumental.
Production wise, this is about as stellar as you can get. Once again they return to working with Juan Ortega, who had recorded both the BROTHERHOOD OF THE SNAKE and DARK ROOTS OF EARTH records. However, instead of just being the engineer the band opted to bring Ortega on to co-produce the record. The chemistry was clearly there as the overall sound of the records stays very close to how well produced the previous two records. Aside from the chemistry of the recording process, they once again hired world renowned Andy Sneap to handle the mixing and the mastering. Without even hearing it you know that this is a perfect sounding record because Sneap has a nearly flawless catalog of records he’s worked on.
In the end, is this an album of material that I'd want to replace classics like Into The Pit, Disciples Of The Watch, or The Preacher with in the setlist? Absolutely not, but I will be more than happy to listen to this album on repeat for some time to come. If you ride for Testament, this is another 12 songs that will get you going and should earn many spins. If you aren’t a Testament fan, well then there’s no hope for you because you have terrible taste.