"Dark Roots of Thrash"

(Nuclear Blast)

For more information, go to Amazon.com.

RATING: 9/10

You can always expect TESTAMENT to catch you up with their live doings as they continue to mash the thrash into their third decade. Amongst those offerings include the EPs "Live at Eindhoven" and "Return to Apocalyptic City" plus the videos "Seen Between the Lines" and "Live in London". Now comes "Dark Roots of Thrash", perhaps the best video document of the band yet, and it also contains a double audio disc capturing the full set.

Filmed on February 15, 2013 at the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, New York, Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick, Greg Christian and Gene Hoglan pound the tar out of an eighteen song set in support of their latest album "Dark Roots of Earth" while touching on their staples from "The Legacy" and "The New Order". Better yet, as if rewarding their true diehards, TESTAMENT pulls four cuts from their often-overlooked "The Gathering" album.

Six songs from the band's time under Nuclear Blast are corralled into the "Dark Roots of Thrash" set and most are banged out early. Included are "Rise Up", "Native Blood", "True American Hate" and "Dark Roots of Earth" from the new album, plus "More Than Meets the Eye" and the blistering title track from "The Formation of Damnation". The rest of the set is stocked with TESTAMENT classics such as "The Haunting", "Burnt Offerings" and "Over the Wall" from "The Legacy" plus "Into the Pit", "Trial by Fire", "Disciples of the Watch" and "New Order" from "The New Order". Also pocked from their breakout period is "Practice What You Preach".

Nothing from "Souls of Black", "Low" or "Demonic" appear in what comes off as a career-encapsulating set, but as mentioned, TESTAMENT does peel off a handful of songs from "The Gathering", which makes this package a must-own for those inclusions alone. Granted, three of those tracks are on the slower side (i.e. "Riding the Snake", "Eyes of Wrath" and "Three Days in Darkness") but the pounding blitz of "DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)" checks in as one of the fastest songs in the entire set. After Chuck Billy conducts the audience with his glowing microphone holder, TESTAMENT smokes "DNR" with the same zest and intricacy as "True American Hate", "Rise Up" and of course, "Over the Wall". The generous grabbing of selections from "The Gathering" validates the strength of that record and it's hoped more copies have since been dug up by those who saw them performed live and might not have known the album coming in.

Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson work their tails off as much as they ever have. Skolnick engages the crowd more so than ever these days, peeling off his smiling pearls and orgasm expressions during his guitar solos. Peterson likewise plays the crowd and seeks its approval, but with far less digging. Both men tear their frets to pieces and delight their audience, who mimic their every move, that is, when they're not headbanging or moshing. At one point during "DNR", Alex Skolnick is so concentrated upon ripping into his solo (this being a song he didn't record on originally) that he staggers to a knee and then plays it off to save face. You have to love that level of commitment to performance.

If you've never seen Chuck Billy in-person (particularly offstage), this video will give you better appreciation how much of a hulk the guy is. The cameras sometimes have problems tightening up on Billy because of his constant lurching, but he's in razor-sharp form and as a metal community, we're all grateful he came through his own trial by fire to continue delivering the goods. Greg Christian, as ever, hovers half of the set on the riser next to Gene Hoglan, then surreptitiously mingles in behind Skolnick and Peterson, occasionally dipping forward to howl some choruses and sprinkle some decorative bass lines. As for Gene Hoglan, there's no doubt he's going to keep TESTAMENT snapped tight. Having been blessed over the years to count Louie Clemente, Dave Lombardo, John Tempesta, Nick Barker, Jon Dette and Paul Bostaph amongst their ranks, TESTAMENT is on full cylinders with the hyper-extensive Hoglan on the drums. His interchangeability allows them to thrash and grind fluidly on "True American Hate" while keeping an agitated pace to longtime fan favorites "Into the Pit" and "New Order".

The metal throng in attendance gives the bouncers at the Paramount all they can handle with flurrying circle pits and tumbling crowd surfers, particularly during "Into the Pit", "New Order" and "Over the Wall", while everyone else goes nuts in their stations on the floor. At one point, a fan makes it onstage, dancing like a fool during "New Order" and is promptly whisked away by security. Just like the old days.

"Trial by Fire" is not the best rendition TESTAMENT's done here and the guitars tend to get muddy on the verses of "Native Blood". The mixed angles and the switches from black and white to color shots are fun for the viewer, despite the occasional zippiness of the zooms that catapult a bit too much and capture only chunks of frets and bits of faces at times. Those are minor quibbles because the music is played to the hilt so much you're not likely to care too much. Regardless, the majority of "Dark Roots of Thrash" is full-on metal frivolity and we've seldom been taken this close to the band onstage. One of the coolest frames comes via a crowd shot through the break between Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson's offset guitars.

Included in this package is some bonus footage taking fans behind-the-scenes of TESTAMENT's video shoot for "Native Blood", which won a Best Music Video Award at the 37th American Indian Festival, plus dressing room and stage set-up footage. The clip for "Native Blood" also comes as a bonus feature.

Still one of the best in the metal leagues, "Dark Roots of Thrash" is compulsory viewing.


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