Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake – Album Review

testament-brotherhood-of-the-snake-artwork

Artist: Testament

Album Title: Brotherhood Of The Snake

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 28 October 2016

Despite my love of all things heavy, fast and aggressive, I’ve never been the biggest fan of thrash metal. Of course I like certain albums by the ‘Big Four’ and selected material from other notable protagonists. But that’s about as far as it has ever gone. It therefore takes a very special slab of thrash metal to make an impression sufficiently strong to really grab my attention and fire my enthusiasm. And that’s exactly what Testament have achieved with their super new album.

‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ is the eleventh full-length release from the highly revered and respected Bay Area quintet and it is a huge beast. Much like the serpents on the striking front cover art (Eliron Kantor), this album has a deadly bite; once it sinks its vicious teeth into you, it doesn’t let go.

Despite my uneasy relationship with thrash over the years, I’ve followed Testament’s career as closely, if not more, than most other acts within the genre. And what I’ll state at the outset is that I’ve been left hugely impressed by ‘Brotherhood Of the Snake’. No doubt fans of the band and of thrash in general will not be left disappointed at all. What’s more, I will suggest, rather bravely, that this record might represent Testament’s finest hour to date.

Firstly in the impressive Testament armoury is the production. Juan Urteaga, who has previously twiddled the knobs for Machine Head and Exodus has pulled out all the stops here, as has mixer extraordinaire Andy Sneap. ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ sounds absolutely enormous; moreover, it sounds rich and vibrant whilst at the same time offering real clarity to each of the instruments involved. The riffs and leads dished out on each and every track from Erik Peterson and Alex Skolnick are crunchy, muscular and full of tone, some might say ‘phat’, affording the output genuine power and a beefiness that I absolutely love.

Steve DiGiorgio lays down some great bass work that rumbles and gurgles audibly within the mix whilst his rhythm parter-in-crime Gene Hoglan delivers some thunderous beats, both full of groove and all-out double-pedal attack. And atop all this is the voice of the irrepressible Chuck Billy, who sounds more fired-up and furious than at any time over the past 30 years. In fact, every member of the band has genuinely brought their ‘A’ game to this record.

Speaking of sounding ‘fired-up’, this would be a worthy description for the vast majority of the material on ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ and explains to some extent why this is such a great album. There is an audible hunger and desire throughout the record that translates into the music to excellent effect. When you’re confronted with a bulldozing riff, blazing lead, full-on rhythmic assault or a snarl or growl from Billy, you believe it. The energy that oozes from the music isn’t forced or some attempt to recapture their early youth; this is the real deal. Five quality musicians delivering some of their most accomplished work and apparently loving every second of it.

What is also so positive about ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’ is the variety on offer. This isn’t two-dimensional thrash where speed, attitude or heavy groove dominates to the detriment of everything else. All of these elements are well represented, along with a satisfying layer of melody and even a slightly progressive bent, insofar as the riffs change tack relatively frequently, as does the tempo and the level of aggression and attack.

Normally where thrash is concerned, I will be able to point to a track or two on an album that could be considered to be filler material, where the intensity dips and maybe the quality. Well that’s not the case here, because the album flies by with rarely a dull moment, let alone a dull or substandard track. It is therefore insanely difficult to pick out particular highlights and unfair on the remainder to seemingly ‘overlook’ them. But in the interests of succinctness, I feel I must try.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Cabral

Photo Credit: Stephanie Cabral

The opening title track leaves the listener in no doubt right from the very beginning that Testament means business. The whole thing is an absolute beast; the riffs are huge, menacing and a great mix of speed and groove. The leads are striking and add a note of melody whilst the rhythm section expertly flits between fast and frenetic, to mid-tempo and measured. Billy is all over the piece snarling and growling like he’s just been let loose from the asylum, imbuing the track with another layer of energy and raw power.

‘The Pale King’ blends old-school Bay-Area thrash with plenty of groove that means the track skips along at a delicious lick, satisfying even the most insatiable of lusts for riffs, aggression and attitude. ‘Stronghold’ then delivers what I suspect will be a live classic and fan favourite with its chanted vocals, rousing melodic section and utterly brutal combination of machine-gun drumming and scintillating lead guitar breaks that are dextrous, full of feeling and melodic. If you like heavy metal in any shape or form, you’ll love this song.

The drumming that opens up ‘Born In A Rut’ is fabulous, as is the speedy riff that flows from the menacing opening. If ever there was a track to emphasise the slightly progressive element that exists on this record, it is this thanks to the pronounced changes in pace throughout. And then, almost out of nowhere, the chorus hits and in the process, delivers one of the strongest earworms on the entire album, with Billy sounding as melodious as he has ever been.

I also love the melodic lead guitar within ‘Neptune’s Spear’, not to mention the classic 80s style fast-pace riffing and blast beat within the abrasive chorus. ‘Centuries Of Suffering’ is a harsh and caustic no-nonsense thrash rampage that is only rivalled by closer ‘The Number Game’ for intensity and brute power and strength.

With ‘Brotherhood Of The Snake’, Testament have produced a record that has truly captured my imagination, delivered enjoyment in spades and breathed life into a genre that had lost its spark for me. As a result, Testament have almost certainly managed the unthinkable – put a thrash metal album slap bang in my end of year ‘best of’ list. Yup, it’s that good.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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