Album Review: TESTAMENT Brotherhood of the Snake
In recent years Testament have enjoyed a significant boost in popularity, having largely stabilized a lineup that was the very definition of "revolving door" from the mid-90's to mid-aughts (though the bass and drum seats have continued to shift a bit here and there). That boost has been well-earned for two reasons: during much of the revolving door era fans never knew what to expect from the band in terms of either style or consistency – in hindsight it would seem that Alex Skolnick was the primary arbiter in ensuring Testament adhered to a traditional thrash orthodoxy – but also those shifting lineups, all-star as many of them were, simply couldn't replicate the lived-in chemistry that the classic-era lineup boasted.
The Formation of Damnation (2008) kickstarted the band's comeback with their warmest received album since, I don't know, probably The Ritual (1992). With Skolnick, Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson and Greg Christian back together in the fold with frequent fill-in drummer Paul Bostaph, Formation represented a revitalized take on the band's classic thrash sound after years of flirting with groove and death metal (at one point replacement drummer Chris Kontos actually suggested renaming the band Dog Faced Gods, so much had their sound changed). Long-departed fans suddenly found their interests rekindled, their faith restored, and eight years later Testament continue to be one of the most universally beloved ensembles in heavy metal.
Brotherhood of the Snake, the band's third album since the reunion, comes with an unspoken mandate: don't rock the boat. Dark Roots of Earth established that aside from a varying degree of heaviness (largely in the vocals), Testament are sticking with the formula that works and giving the fans what they want. Brotherhood is no different. The title track kicks things off with a familiar statement of purpose: energetic, tightly picked triplets over Chuck Billy's patented grunt-to-a-scream wail. "The Pale King" introduces some throwback melody a la The New Order and is one of the catchiest cuts on the album. Other highlights include the anthemic singalong invite "Born in a Rut"; old school riff monster "Black Jack", featuring a fetching mix of melodic singing and fast-as-a-shark riffing; and the pummeling juggernaut of "Stronghold", an instant headbanging classic that should keep bodies in pits on the band's ongoing world tour.
There is a lighter touch to the lyrics on this album, which eschews gravitas for the kind of worry-free approach to the world's ills that characterized much of 80's metal: ancient cults, eldritch fonts of arcane power, foreboding prophecies… the whole nine. In the hands of a band having less genuine fun with it the whole thing would come off as rote and obligatory, but Testament successfully recapture a more innocent age in thrash, one where social ills sat alongside dark fantasy as equally viable topics for discussion (or digression… either one). Even when routinely dealing with existential threats to humanity, though, there was always a sense that us metal fans would be the tough ones that survived whatever Armageddon might throw at us. There may have even been a bit of glee behind the idea that our weaker oppressors wouldn't be around to kick us in the teeth anymore. That was all bullshit, of course, but fantasy and disaffection go hand-in-hand, and Brotherhood of the Snake is fantastic escapism of the highest order.
Score: 8.5/10 (score reflective of a certain interchangeability in preference with the last couple albums)