Review: Testament - Brotherhood of the Snake

Label: Nuclear Blast
Runtime: 45 Minutes
Released: October 28th, 2016

What a year it's been for the return of old-school thrashers! Following hot on the heels of sensational albums from their contemporaries in Megadeth, Anthrax, and Death Angel, Testament aren't about to shirk in their duties to the denim-clad gods of thrash. Since these Bay Area originals rose like a phoenix from the ashes with 2008's triumphant return The Formation of Damnation, Chuck Billy and company have been putting out regular hot slabs of gritty thrash metal every four years that never deviate too far from the template laid out in 1999's exceptional album The Gathering, but nonetheless show flourishes of originality and invigoration despite the long road this troupe of titans has tread over the years since the salad days of the 80's metal scene.

While the band feels that it's one of their strongest records to date, Brotherhood of the Snake was plagued with difficulties from the beginning of the recording process, with iconic vocalist Chuck Billy stating that the album was "probably the most difficult record we've ever done." Brotherhood's music was written entirely by guitarist Eric Peterson and the band entered the studio having never heard or practiced the songs before. Despite the stress and miscommunication plaguing the production, the finished album feels tight and well-played, a fitting testament to the sterling musicianship of the band as a unit. Legendary drummer Gene Hoglan returns once more, providing his own unique voice to the rhythm section, paired with long-absent bassist Steve DiGiorgio for a call-back to the nuanced brutality of The Gathering.

Brotherhood of the Snake rips the hinges off the gate with its self-titled opener and doesn't let up until the very end of its concise 45-minute running time. "Centuries of Suffering" in particular absolutely slays with its rumbling bass high enough in the mix to compete with the dual attack of the guitars. "Seven Seals" is another standout track with soaring lead guitars over its chorus line as the vocals usher in the apocalypse. There's no room for bloat here, nor does the band slow down into ballad territory as they did on their last album with "Cold Embrace". 

Alex Skolnick's soloing really shines on Brotherhood of the Snake, the lead guitar getting a much needed shot in the arm, feeling more vibrant and energetic than on the previous album Dark Roots of the Earth. Chuck Billy is indefatigable in his pursuit of the perfect mix between raw-throat singing and raspy growl, and he sounds young and mean here, his technique sharpened to a razor's edge rather than blunted by the passing of years. As a whole, the album feels consistent, sticking to Testament's tried-and-true formula to what may be an almost detrimental degree.

The lyrical concept revolving around the titular Brotherhood of the Snake winds its serpentine way throughout most of the songs, leaving the personal nature of Dark Roots' lyricism behind in favor of a return to a more light-hearted pulp storytelling concerning secret societies, religion, and aliens. It works for the most part, and unlike many other concept albums each song has a distinct identity all its own despite tying into the concept as a whole. The theme won't speak to you in subtleties of meaning, but it has a story to tell, and it doesn't fail to entertain.

While Brotherhood of the Snake does everything right, from quality production values to memorable break-neck compositions, it sometimes feels as though Testament are playing it a little bit too safe here. Brotherhood feels more immediate--angrier than Dark Roots of the Earth, but in the end the evolution is minimal and the album seems to lack an identifying sense of self, blending in almost indistinguishably with the last two records. That being said, if you're looking for balls-to-the-wall lead-heavy thrash metal with a solid rhythm section, Brotherhood of the Snake is just what the doctor ordered. So squeeze into your old patch jacket one more time and turn the dial up to 11 and keep on thrashing 'till death, which won't be long--the new Overkill album is lurking right around the corner. 2016 is the year of the old school thrash resurgence, and Testament has proven once again that they have the chops to compete with the best.


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