The relative success with the previous album Low has probably influenced this band to write Demonic. However, after listening to the 10-song platter composed of Chuck Billy's growled vocals and a heavy yet unfortunately meandering musical backdrop, it's sad to say that Testament failed to out-demonize everybody. You gotta wonder, how low can one possibly go? (Sorry, I couldn't help it...)
Opener “Demonic Refusal,” a powerful number with great build-up intro leading to the headbang-worthy riffing and an explosive chorus, is the lone track from this album worthy of the Testament name. Everything else just pales in comparison.
“Burning Times” puts a clean guitar in the middle of the song, thinking that it would shake things up for that song, but it's essentially “Demonic Refusal” pt. 2. This song pretty much characterizes the whole album, a mid-paced tempo song with lethargic riffs and insipid portions in an attempt to break away from the uninspired music.
Lurching songs have never really been Testament's forte (they are, first and foremost, a speed/thrash metal band,) although this style of attack employed on Demonic was able to draw an impressive drumming performance by Gene Hoglan (he rarely fails to impress) and crisp, punchy sound work. Both helped the band in producing a tighter rhythm and robust sound the band may have been striving for.
However, regardless of individual performances and production, the biggest failing of the band is found in the compositions itself. Main songwriter Eric Peterson used to play better guitar than just fast-picked, chugging power chords. It could be mentioned that the band's intention of producing a 'death metal' style of an album bore fruit to a batch of song, or that the band simply ran out of interesting riffs after Low, but both are bad excuses for having the band put out trite riff figures. To put it bluntly, testosterone-fueled groovy music injected with predictable songwriting can pretty much bore the hell out of anybody.
Also, Chuck Billy is one of the finest vocalists in heavy metal. His clean voice is top-notch, melodic choices unparalleled, and he is fortunate enough to possess that “metal” tone that none of the high-pitched vocalists have (Dickinson and Halford, eat your hearts out.) However, when Billy utilizes growls instead of clean vocals 90 percent of the time, as he does here, he can’t reach greater heights. Not that his growls are weak, it's just that his clean vocals are way more interesting and add dynamics to the music.
But considering that the songs are devoid of melody, it’s hardly Billy’s fault. Actually, the songs aren’t terrible, worth a head bob or two while writing a thesis paper (for example). The ascending riff progression, interesting dynamics and breakdown portion of “John Doe” makes things a little livelier for the album. “Murky Waters” draws momentum from the previous song and delivers an interesting sludge-induced thrash song.
That’s about it, though. These are the kind of songs that gets the adrenaline pumping while being played but immediately leave the brain afterward. Can't remember the riffs from “Ten Thousand Thrones” and the entirety of “Distorted Lives?” Me neither.
With Demonic, Testament tried to expand its musical territory by summoning the angry demon from the deepest pits of hell. It's just too bad they their demon doesn't scare one bit. Stick to The Gathering or Practice What You Preach instead.
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