Not only has the coronavirus pandemic shut down live music around the world for the foreseeable future, but some musicians have also tested positive for COVID-19. One of those is Testament frontman, Chuck Billy. The band was on tour in Europe as the outbreak was happening there. Once they returned to the U.S., Billy, his wife and several of the band’s crew members tested positive. Thankfully, he is feeling better.
Testament was on tour promoting their new album Titans of Creation. It’s the thrash veterans’ thirteenth studio album since they formed back in the mid-’80s. Billy and guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick were there in the early days, while bassist Steve DiGiorgio and drummer Gene Hoglan have had multiple stints with the band. While Titans of Creation unquestionably follows Testament's previous musical pathways, there are plenty of new ideas to keep moving them forward.
Opener “Children of the Next Level” sets the pace with catchy riffs, searing solos, and memorable melodies. It chronicles the story of the Heaven’s Gate cult, which ended with a mass suicide of 39 members in a San Diego suburb in 1997. Another dark subject is addressed on the downtempo “City of Angels,” with eerie melodic vocals accenting Billy’s more aggressive tones telling the tale of Richard Ramirez, the 1980s serial killer known as the Night Stalker.
One of the more unique tracks is “Night of the Witch.” In addition to the usual thrash riffage and Billy’s barks, Peterson lends some black metal style vocals (he also fronts the symphonic black/thrash band Dragonlord). “Dream Deceiver” is straight out the old school, while the Skolnick-penned “Symptoms” tackles the topic of mental illness and has some of the record’s most intricate and impressive guitar work.
When it comes to guitar duos, the combination of Peterson and Skolnick is one of thrash’s best. From sheer power to jaw-dropping virtuosity, their versatility and ability to shift styles and approaches helps keep Testament’s sound fresh yet instantly recognizable. The rhythm section of DiGiorgio and Hoglan is also impressive. There’s prominent bass in “Ishtars Gate,” and it’s also one of Hoglan’s strongest performances on the album.
The first half of the album has the lengthiest tracks, with more streamlined songs such as “The Healers” and “Curse of Osiris” on the second half of the record. The production on the album is top-notch, with mixing and mastering by the inimitable Andy Sneap. Billy and Peterson produced the record along with engineer Juan Urteaga (Exodus, Machine Head, Cattle Decapitation).
The band had plenty of time for pre-production, resulting in songs that are refined and fully fleshed out with a minimum of filler. The closing two-minute cinematic instrumental “Catacombs” could have been omitted, and actually may have worked better as an opening interlude.
Minor quibbles like that aside, Titans of Creation is another strong addition to TESTAMENT’s recent catalog that includes gems like 2012’s Dark Roots of Earth. Combine that with early classics like 1987’s The Legacy and 1988’s The New Order, and it’s evident why Testament has had staying power and are one of thrash’s all-time best bands.