February 21, 2007

CD Review: Testament - The Spitfire Collection

Testament is a band that has stayed true to metal ever since they first burst on the scene back in 1987 with the release of The Legacy. They were a part of the second wave of thrash metal in the 1980's, along with Exodus, following on the heels of the likes of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. They have put out strong releases for as long as they have been around, even with all of the member shuffling they did over the past ten years or so. Of late, they seem to have fallen into the trap of releasing live stuff and best of collections rather than release anything new. However, this collection is a bit different than the other three in their catalog, and it promises to be the last one before a new release of new material reaches our collective ears.

The prior three collections focused primarily on the early years. The first release being The Best of Testament, released in 1996, focused on everything up to Low, including a single track from that release. The following year saw the arrival of Signs of Chaos, which was made to include the Demonic release. A four year gap ensued, which saw the release of their last all new material album, The Gathering, within its frame, capped with the release of The Very Best of Testament in 2001, this was similar to The Best of Testament in that it included albums up to Low, with one track off of that release, this time it was "Dog Faced Gods."

OK, by know I am sure that you want to know what the difference is with this release. Well, it focuses exclusively on their years with the Spitfire record label. This period encompasses five releases, Live at the Fillmore, Demonic, The Gathering, First Strike Still Deadly (a re-recording of some of the classics), and Live in London (featuring the reunited original line-up, which I got to see live). Sure, there are only two albums worth of new material to cover, but factor in some excellent live cuts, and quality re-recordings and you have the makings of a decent collection.

If there is one thing I have learned about these collections, its that they are rarely made for the long time fan, as you probably have all of the songs already. However, they do fill a market need, and that is making it easy to introduce potential fans to a new world of music. I know that I would be more apt to pick up a collection like this over a regular release, as it would probably deliver a better cross section of their music. So, I have no problems with collections, although four seems to be a little excessive.

Now this collection covers what just may be the heaviest period of their career, it would have been the definitive heaviest had Low been included. They always delivered quality thrash metal, but it wasn't until these albums of the mid and late 1990's that the true extent of the heavy side of their sound would make its presence felt the most. The heaviness is only increased with the session drummers that played on the three studio releases, Demonic has the presense of the insane Gene Hoglan, who sounds great (also check him out in Strapping Young Lad for an even more impressive display), he is followed by Dave Lombardo on The Gathering (he has since reunited with his first band, Slayer), and then on First Strike Still Deadly John Tempesta returned to the kit (he was also on Low, andhas played with White Zombie, Rob Zombie, and Scum of the Earth). Now combine them with the fantastic voice of Chuck Billy who has increased his growl range over the years, and the ever present Eric Petersen on guitar, and you have the makings of some seriously heavy music.

The album is bookended with live cuts, a trio on each end. First up are a few live classics from their Live at the Fillmore set, a nice dose of heavy thrash proving that they had what it takes to pull it off live, highlighted by "Souls of Black." On the other end of the 14 song set features live music from the 2005 reunion tour, recorded in London. This is a great inclusion, as it is like they never left, it takes me back to the night I saw them during the tour. The best cut here has got to be "Disciples of the Watch."

As for the studio tracks, this is a nice representation of the band at their heaviest, and most ignored. Generally, when talk turns to Testament, it invariably centers on the Practice What You Preach/Souls of Black era, which was probably the height of their popularity, although in my mind it is equaled in the Low/Demonic era of heaviness. The tracks here that are worth the most attention would have to be "The Burning Time" and "Careful What You Wish For," and the rerecording of "Over the Wall" is also excellent.

Bottomline. If you are into heavy thrash, and want to see what these guys have been up to since you jumped ship in the early 90's, then this is a good disk to pick up. It is a good sampling of the heavier side of the band at their best, showing that they are not onbly good in the studio, but also live on stage. Now, if only they would get that next studio album out .....



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