Forming in 1983 under the name Legacy, Testament were part of the Bay Area Thrash scene that also brought us bands like Exodus and Metallica. That they released their first album in 1987 is probably the only reason they were not part of the “Big Four” of Thrash Metal, although many argue they are the band who most deserved to be in that group and didn’t make it. They hit their stride just as grunge hit and destroyed their style of music in the mainstream. The next decade saw a decline in fortunes as the band experimented with heavier sounds and saw a rotating roster of members. In 2003, Chuck Billy returned on vocals and in 2004, Alec Skolnick returned on guitar. This marked a Renaissance for the band, as they returned to their classic sound and started to again release strong albums to widespread acclaim.
Having been there at the start of Thrash, the early influences of the band are bands like Judas Priest and UFO as well as the heavier element coming from bands like Motorhead. Lead guitarist, Alec Skolnick, also heads a jazz trio and his interest in jazz music definitely adds to the depths of his lead work in Testament. In time, more Death Metal influences became apparent as the band sought ways to connect with an audience that dwindled in the 90s, but since the reformation, the clear influences are classic Heavy Metal and Thrash.
Classics (the albums even a casual fan owns)
The Ritual (1992)
This was the apex of Testament 1.0. They had been touring, writing and building a following and this was their shot at the big leagues. Why it failed is a mystery, but it almost certainly had more to do with the year than the music. From the title track to the amazing single ‘Electric Crown’ to the power ballad ‘Return to Serenity,’ this was the band stepping up and producing a heavy classic. Sadly, huge success did not follow and the band started to splinter from here.
Practice What You Preach (1989)
On their third album, Testament ditched the occult references and got more melodic, paving the path for all the growth to come. Songs like the title track and ‘The Ballad’ showed growth and helped them to grow their audience. Tracks like ‘Greenhouse Effect’ and the album cover itself highlighted a willingness to sing about more real world concerns, which also helped push them into the mainstream
The Formation of Damnation (2008)
Every one of the albums Testament has released this century is a stone cold classic, but this one gets top marks just for being first, and the sigh of relief from Testament fans around the world as the band regained its mojo and started becoming a viable force in Metal again. Singles ‘More than Meets the Eye’ and ‘Henchmen Ride’ received a lot of praise but the truth is, every song on this album was stronger than anyone expected from Testament in 2008.
Fan Favourite (the album that didn’t make it big, but every fan loves)
The Legacy (1987)
The first album for Testament was delayed for numerous reasons, including the change of singers to Chuck Billy. Testament were originally an underground band, so this album was not widely known, but its straight ahead Thrash sound on songs like ‘Over the Wall’ and ‘Alone in the Dark’ were just what Thrash fans wanted in 1987, while ‘Apocalyptic City’ had just the right amount of depth to sit next to Master of Puppets in the listening habits of fans of Thrash. While the band grew a lot in the coming years, for long term fans, this album is still something special.
Next Steps (One step below, but these albums still shine in the catalogue)
The New Order (1988)
While it was not a huge success, this was the album that brought a lot of people into the Testament camp. A perfect blend of Thrash and Power Metal, songs like ‘Disciples of the Watch,’ ‘Trial by Fire’ and ‘Into the Pit’ marked this band as something a step above many of their contemporaries. Aerosmith cover ‘Nobody’s Fault’ was a curve ball and a shout out to an unexpected influence (Aerosmith were back in the mainstream by 1988 and the Thrash and Glam camps were not always friendly). It was definitely a huge step up from The Legacy and state of the art Thrash for its time.
Dark Roots of Earth (2012)
The second reunion album only built on the strengths of the first and announced that Testament were back to stay. Native Blood namechecks Chuck Billy’s native American roots. True American Hate and Man Kills Mankind get political. The cover of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave just slays. This is a band on the top of their game.
Brotherhood of the Snake (2016)
While the concept behind the album was frankly stupid (something about Sumerian scriptures), this album was again an instant classic. One of the best albums of the year and a reminder that Testament were a criminally undervalued band who are finally getting their due.
Controversial (The one fans disagree on)
Souls of Black (1990)
At the time, fans felt that Testament rushed into the studio and rushed this album (it was recorded after touring with Judas Priest on their Painkiller album). This album was also the first without longtime producer, Alex Perialas. For all that, the music on this album is strong, with songs like ‘Face in the Sky’ adding an Iron Maiden influence (in the form of strong harmony guitars) to their basic Thrash sound, and ‘The Legacy’ (name checking both their first name and first album) being arguably their strongest ballad. One that is not well remembered but, on revisiting, is actually a strong addition to their canon.
Buy this last (Not all bands have a ‘bad’ album, but this is their least good one)
First Strike, Still Deadly (2001)
With a cover that looks like Venom rejected it, and an album of, well, covers from their first two albums, there’s simply no reason for this CD to exist. There was one new track, and it was decent, but that just made people wish the band had written some more, instead of giving people versions of songs that would never stand up to the originals.
Playlist (A killer playlist for your phone)
‘The Haunting’ (The Legacy)
‘Alone in the Dark’ (The Legacy)
‘Apocalyptic City’ (The Legacy)
‘Into the Pit’ (The New Order)
‘Trial by Fire’ (The New Order)
‘Practice what you Preach’ (Practice what you Preach)
‘The Ballad’ (Practice what you Preach)
‘The Legacy’ (Souls of Black)
‘Face in the Sky’ (Souls of Black)
‘Electric Crown’ (The Ritual)
‘So Many Lies’ (The Ritual)
‘Return to Serenity’ (The Ritual)
‘More than Meets the Eye’ (Formation of Damnation)
‘Native Blood’ (Dark Roots of Earth)
‘Man Kills Mankind’ (Dark Roots of Earth)
‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ (Brotherhood of the Snake)
‘Seven Seals’ (Brotherhood of the Snake)
‘Black Jack’ (Brotherhood of the Snake)