The reemergence of thrash metal can initially be traced to the Big Four concerts of 2010 and 2011. But, 2016 may go down as a watershed year for a half-dozen of the historically recognized pioneers of the genre. In 2016, Anthrax and Megadeth released so-called “return to form” albums that were critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Bay Area thrashers Death Angel also released a great set of speed metal, The Evil Divide, and have been touring with Slayer (whose last album, Repentless, was released fourth quarter 2015). And November is set to bring us Metallica’s first new album since 2008s Death Magnetic. But, we don’t have to wait until November for the next great thrash metal album of 2016. Testament dropped Brotherhood of the Snake last Friday as a ferocious follow-up to their acclaimed 2012 LP Dark Roots of Earth.
Brotherhood is a loud, focused, no-holds-barred Testament. Where Dark Roots meandered and explored, Brotherhood is no bullshit, full-throttle thrash metal. No more, no less. Powering through 10 songs in 45 minutes, Testament still has the mojo to make each song sound epic regardless of length. The longest songs on the album are about 5:30 minutes, but Testament didn’t sacrifice time for dynamics. The band took the scenic route on Dark Roots of Earth, but on Brotherhood they go straight from point A to point B like a bull in a china shop. The album cover art perfectly reflects the difference in albums. Dark Roots is dark and mysterious, inviting you to look closer. Brotherhood of the Snake is bold and in-your-face, suggesting you lean back a bit.
As a band of musicians, Testament is as good as it gets. Guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick light up songs with their leads, solos, and “bellowing tremolos” (per the liner notes). On a few tracks, like the title track, “The Pale King,” “Seven Seals,” “Centuries of Suffering,” and “Neptune’s Spear,” they each get a solo. But, on “Canna-Business” and “The Numbers Game” their solos run back-to-back. Rather than coming off as gratuitous, each solo vigorously elevates the song. The presence of drummer Gene Hoglan is unmistakable throughout Brotherhood. Whether he’s driving the songs ahead or providing a backbone for the rest of the band to shine, Hoglan masterfully handles each song. Singer Chuck Billy also turns in a notable performance where he ranges from straight singing to screaming to death howl at any moment.
Other standout tracks include, “Stronghold,” with its anthemic vocals, the Metallica-ish “Seven Seals,” and the swaggering “Born in a Rut.” The only songs that I didn’t like are “Black Jack” and “Canna-Business.” “Black Jack” starts off okay, but gets pretty lazy with its chorus, sounding like some Black Label Society outtake. The music on “Canna-Business” is awesome, but the lyrics are ambiguous. I’m not sure if Billy thinks legalized marijuana is good, bad, kind of funny, or part of some grand government scheme. But, two blistering guitar solos make up for it.
Overall, this is an aggressive collection of songs that will surely please the Testament faithful, but also draw new listeners. Because these songs are tighter and more focused than those on Dark Roots of Earth, they should come across as more accessible to the casual ear. Brotherhood of the Snake is made up of fast, loud, and powerful songs that exemplify the vitality of thrash metal today. Perfect for driving, working out, or whatever legal means of letting-off-steam you require, Brotherhood is a fine addition to the Testament discography.
– J. Kevin Lynch