If you’ve read much of this blog at all, you’re no doubt well aware that I am cuckoo for Testament. The Bay Area Thrash titans have been damn near flawless since the beginning, and they are one of the very few bands I can think of that have not released a bad song. For example, Iron Maiden is my favorite band ever by a substantial margin, and I like songs from all eras of the band, but they’ve easily got enough clunkers in their catalog to make a Greatest Turds album, which I just might do one of these days.
Anyway, we’re talking about Testament (again). They’ve made some immensely heavy songs – some with riffs so thick you couldn’t drive a tank through them and vocals so intense they could make a cage fighter wet his cage-fighting shorts – but some of their best songs are of the metal ballad persuasion (one of them was included in my Ten Best Thrash Metal Ballads post from a little over a year ago), and while listening to their vastly underrated 1992 album The Ritual, which boasts two ballads, I decided to put together a thing about Testament’s top-notch metal balladry, and this is it. Everybody wins! (Note: these are in chronological order.)
“Musical Death (A Dirge)” (from The New Order – 1988) – This is an instrumental, but it’s so mellow and soothing that I couldn’t bring myself to not include it here. It’s the closing song from the band’s second album (and my personal favorite), and it provides a hell of a showcase for the guitar wizardry of Alex Skolnick. Wizardry really is the only word that begins to properly describe Skolnick’s playing – the man is brilliant, and while the band was still great without him (from 1994-ish through 2000-ish), they are noticeably better with him. He was a touring member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, for cryin out loud! They are not known for employing musicians who are “okay” at their instruments.
“The Ballad” (from Practice What You Preach – 1989) – This one is not winning any awards for “Most Cleverly-Titled Song” or anything, but it’s a damn fine piece of music. It was also released a single, so you may have seen it on MTV (back when MTV wasn’t a garbage receptacle for entertainment refuse), particularly if you’re old.
“The Legacy” (from Souls of Black – 1990) – This song is not to be confused with the album called The Legacy, which was the band’s 1987 debut, and neither of the two should be confused with the band Legacy, which is what Testament was called when Zetro from Exodus sang for them, way back when I was still listening to Toto and Ronnie Milsap – i.e., whichever radio station my older sisters or my parents had tuned in. It was also a single.
“The Ritual” (from The Ritual – 1992) – This was the last Testament album with the “classic lineup”. Alex Skolnick did not appear on another Testament album until First Strike Still Deadly, 2001’s unnecessary-but-still-great re-recording of The Legacy/The New Order-era material. Original drummer Louie Clemente also left the band after this album, and aside from a guest appearance here and there, has yet to rejoin the band, but the way they operate, I would not be surprised if he did, in fact, rejoin someday.
“Return to Serenity” (from The Ritual – 1992) – This is the Testament song I included in my Ten Best Thrash Ballads of All Time piece. I like it very, very much. The Ritual is noticeably slower than previous Testament albums, and the production is a bit thin, both of which contribute to the album getting unfairly overlooked, which makes me sad – not like “discussing politics with my relatives” sad or anything, but sad nonetheless. This song was also released as a single, and therefore also has a video, and here it is.
“Trail of Tears” (from Low – 1994) – Low was the last album to feature original bassist Greg Christian until 2008’s super-dope The Formation of Damnation (which is just an excellent fucking title), and he left again last year under less than amiable circumstances. Like The Ritual, Low is also often overlooked, and like The Ritual, Low is also much better than a lot of people would have you believe, but unlike The Ritual, Low is a super-heavy, grooving, growling motherfucker of an album. It even flirts with death metal for a few minutes on Side 2 opener “Dog Faced Gods”, but “Trail of Tears” is the quiet, contemplative break from the sludgy, downtuned riff-factory that is the rest of Low. The lyrics are inspired by the actual Trail of Tears, in which thousands of Native Americans were forced to move from their ancestral homelands thanks to Andrew “Indian Killer” Jackson‘s Indian Removal Act of 1830. Man, Andrew Jackson was a despicable piece of shit.
“Cold Embrace” (from Dark Roots of Earth – 2012) – This is a triumphant return to classic Testa-Ballad® (patent pending) form: mellow, lush, verses swell into soaring, booming choruses, all tied up beautifully by Alex Skolnick’s lead work, and for a little under eight minutes, all is right and righteous in the world.
That’s all for today, friends. Until next time, keep on staying heavy, won’t you?