Testament

Low

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If Testament's 1992 record The Ritual was met with lukewarm critical and commercial response, by the time the band released its excellent 1994 return to form, Low, the hard rock panorama had changed beyond recognition. Testament's sixth studio album literally saw the boys from the Bay Area fighting for their lives in the unfriendly surroundings of the alternative nation. Wisely, the band decided to try something completely different and join forces with Rage Against the Machine/Melvins producer GGGarth Richardson. With temporary drummer John Tempesta in place behind the skins, the band began tracking at A&M studios in Los Angeles. Wanting to return to the no-holds-barred yet musically challenging sounds of works past, the GGGarth teaming proved to be the perfect fodder necessary for Testament to regain their confidence. Surprisingly, the dark, raging sounds that would emerge from these sessions represent some of the band's most lucid work since the classic Practice What You Preach. Impeccably mixed by hard rock warrior Michael Wagner, Low gets off to a tumultuous start with the album's title track. A bludgeoning start-stop-start-stop exercise in monster guitar crunch, "Low" showcases everything that is great and yet sometimes limiting about Testament's attack: huge guitar riffs, Chuck Billy's bowel-liquefying growl, and a classic Bay Area thrash sound spearheaded by rhythm ace Eric Peterson. Unfortunately, the song (like many others on the band's post Preach records) never takes off the way older tracks like "Practice What You Preach" or "Over the Wall" did. And with their backs against the wall, good, in this case, just isn't good enough. Still, all is not lost. Track number two, "Legions in Hiding," is the perfect platform for Tempesta's massive drumming. As he leads the band into battle, the guitar duo of Peterson and ex-Death guitarist James Murphy effortlessly peel off one guitar harmony after the other. In Murphy, Testament had finally found a solid replacement for the departed guitar wiz Alex Skolnick. Also on offer is the token power ballad (a department in which Testament never really excelled) in the form of "Trail of Tears." With references to Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, circa "Victim of Changes," "Trail of Tears" only gradually takes flight towards a predictable guitar crescendo. Steeped deep in old-school Bay Area thrash and death metal vocals, "Dog Faced Gods" is an absolute scorcher, and undeniably the album's highlight. In the vein of old band classics like "Apocalyptic City" and "Eerie Inhabitants," "Dog Faced Dogs" will have fans of the classic chugga-chugga Bay Area guitar sound headbanging their necks off. At the end of the day, even though it rekindles memories of glories past, Low ultimately falls short of a full return to form. And like many later day thrash metal albums (see Anthrax's Volume 8: The Threat is Real), for all its merits Low would remain unheralded and unappreciated for arriving just plain too late. In the meantime, a little band by the name of Korn was about to reinvent the wheel that same year and do to Testament what Nirvana did to hair rock. Kill 'em dead.

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