I don't think it was necessarily a surprise when Testament knocked it out of the park with 2008's The Formation of Damnation. Fans may have decried the flirtations with death metal on the band's late-90's material, as well as finding fault with the revolving door lineups (Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson being the only mainstays throughout), but I don't think many fans really thought that the group ever completely went to shit.
With all due respect to the internecine chemistry throughout the band, Alex Skolnick has always been their ace in the hole. The vast majority of Formation of Damnation was penned by Chuck Billy and Eric Peterson – Skolnick is only credited on two songs, one of them ("F.E.A.R.") a solo effort that may have been written before he rejoined the band – but this time around the returning guitarist gets his fleet-fingered mitts on no fewer than five of the nine tracks.
With Skolnick's full immersion back into the band, Dark Roots finds Testament retreating even further into their classic 80's sound. There are carefully moderated blast beats extant in "True American Hate" and "Native Blood" but nothing here comes anywhere close to the death metal flirtations of Demonic or The Gathering. Furthermore the blast beats are pretty restrained, only popping up at all in bits and pieces of those two songs.
It's not a perfect record: "Cold Embrace" as the lone ballad is no "Return to Serenity" or <ahem> "The Ballad", and the choruses on "Rise Up" and "Native Blood" betray somewhat remedial melodic progressions upon repeat listens, but taken as a whole it's hard to find anything serious to gripe about here.
The three "bonus" cover songs – they appear on the deluxe CD version, 2LP set and iTunes downloads, so the only way you don't get them is if you chintz out on the standard CD – may seem like filler, but it's a fifty minute record even without them, and if you have even the slightest interest in hearing Testament knock out well executed versions of Queen, Maiden and/or Scorpions trust me: motherfuckers hit the bullseye on all three renditions (their inclusion also pleasingly mirrors the upcoming Anthrax deluxe reissue, where the recent cover tunes that the band laid down will apparently call home).
Easily the best Testament album since The Ritual, critics of the band's more experimental, revolving door line ups of the late 90's will finally be silenced by Dark Roots of Earth, if they weren't already four years ago when Formation of Damnation came out.