Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: October 28, 2016
Three decades after Legacy changed its name to Testament, the band has unleashed it’s eleventh, and one of its most powerful albums to date with Brotherhood of the Snake. The triad of vocalist Chuck Billy and guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick remain the base of the band, with the brilliant rhythm section of drummer Gene Hoglan and bassist Steve DiGiorgio setting the band’s foundation of damnation. This is the first Testament album featuring this iteration of the band. Peterson wrote with a bent toward the group’s thrashier roots for this record, while Billy delved into the world of secret societies and their purported connection to Draconian aliens as a lyrical base; though Brotherhood of the Snake is not a concept record, per se. You can hear Chuck tell the back story in his own words in our recent interview.
Testament’s previous effort, 2012’s Dark Roots of the Earth felt like a more methodical album. It seemed to meander like a mammoth lumbering beast. In contrast, Brotherhood of the Snake hits more like a lean, raw, bull-in-a-china-shop type of affair. Testament did not have a lot of time to over think the new album, and there was a sense of urgency to get it completed. That has made Brotherhood of the Snake a more spontaneous and energetic record. There is almost a sense of freedom and unburdening.
The onslaught begins with the album’s title track, “Brotherhood of the Snake” which attacks like an MMA fighter on PCP. Ripsaw riffing combine with Hoglan’s stampeding his kit for a juggernaut opening salvo. Billy slides in with a caustic howl that transitions into his trademark he-man bellows, and we are off to the headbanging races. By the time the tempo slows down on the breakdown and roll out, the serpent has already struck.
The “Pale King” comes out driving but settles into a straight forward traditional stutter riff, while “Stronghold” is a muscular bully beating the listener into submission. The fiery fretwork on the solo is instantly memorable. It almost goes without stating that Peterson and Skolnick shine throughout Brotherhood of the Snake, delivering meaty riffs and shred-centric fills and tasty solos. It is also quite clear that Hoglan is a secret weapon on this record, perhaps more so than on any previous Testament effort; delivering endless blast beats, precision stick-work, and impeccably-placed fills to add depth.
The tempo moves into more of a brutal grind for “Seven Seals”, one of the album’s best tracks, while Hoglan adds a cinematic build to the opening of “Born in a Rut”. The latter drops Testament into a dark groove that has an almost playful swagger to it.
“Centuries of Suffering” returns to the thrashy, relentless pace of the album’s opening track while ramping up the level of brutality. Billy gets medieval on this track, particularly on the chorus and breakdown, serving up some of patented death growls and menacing rasps.
Some of the album’s most inspired progressions come on the beastly, “Neptune’s Spear,” which is the album’s (and among the band’s) most epic tracks. It is one of two tracks on the album that Skolnick co-wrote with Peterson.
Testament step away from the album’s thematic concept for the songs “Black Jack” and “Canna Business”: The former is Chuck’s ode to gambling. “Stakes are high, and so am I…” Billy blares on a track infused with divine crescendos and propulsive bursts of upbeat mayhem. The latter tackles the topic of the growing (no pun intended) marijuana industry, and is a full throttle, hammering monstrosity packed with spiraling fret pyrotechnics and crushing bombast.
Brotherhood of the Snake is Testament’s best record in recent memory and among their best ever. The intensity and aggression are well-balanced by incredible individual performances and a surprising amount of melody. The production and mix by Juan Urteaga and the legendary Andy Sneap are dialed in nicely. DiGiorgio’s bass thumps and rumbles clearly (too often the bass gets buried in metal), and the guitars, vocals, and drums are well-balanced. There is no filler on Brotherhood of the Snake, and are no standout weaknesses on this record. As a collective, the songs are extremely cohesive and perfectly sequenced. This record proves that one need not reinvent the wheel to create a powerful and relevant album. While four years seemed like an eternity between records, Testament tempered the wait by delivering one of 2016’s best albums, and a highlight among their canon of thrash classics.