The Gathering


Burnt Offerings / Spitfire Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If there's any heavy metal band that really deserves special recognition for toughing it out without sacrificing their vision or style, it would be Bay-area rockers Testament. With their frontman Chuck Billy guiding the band through several line-up changes (and, recently, through a few different labels), the band has defied the pronouncement of metal's death earlier this decade and have kept releasing albums that haven't strayed far from their roots.

With the upcoming release of their latest album The Gathering (which is scneduled for release on June 8), Testament delivers another solid effort that shows their dedication to their craft - but still falls a little shy of the highwater mark of such albums as The Ritual.

(One note to my readers: I'm working off an advance copy of the disc. The track listing for this disc on CDNow shows the disc to have 12 tracks; my copy has 11. If, when it comes out, you wonder why I didn't talk about "Hatred Divine" in this review, it's because it's not on my copy.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The band - Billy, guitarists Eric Peterson and James Murphy (who seems to be on everything involving a heavier guitar sound these days), bassist Steve DiGiorgio and former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo - still have an intensity level that could bubble the paint on a new car. Lombardo's frantic double-bass work (which hasn't slowed down a beat, by the way) seems to be the perfect match for this band, and it gives the music - which has never had a problem with power - a new lease on life.

What is interesting, though, is Billy's approach to the vocals. Granted, on recent releases like Demonic he's gone towards more of a death-metal style of vocals. On The Gathering, he seems to want to give equal time to the death-metal growls and more plaintive singing (as heard on tracks like "Down For Life"). It's just my personal preference, but I wonder why Billy would want to hide behind the guttural growls when he has one of the better singing voices for a band of this style.

The guitar work of Peterson and Murphy is outstanding, though I often found myself hoping that they'd launch into some classic guitar pyrotechnics. Instead, they choose to let their solos be more substance than style - and, again, this is a matter of personal preference. Though I've often said it doesn't matter how fast a guitarist plays, sometimes the mood and the moment all but beg for the controls to be turned to full shred.

Tracks like "DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)", "True Believer," "Legions Of The Dead" and "Sewn Shut Eyes" all prove that Testament has continued to improve as a band since their debut on the scene - but they have yet to equal their finest moment, which I happened to think was The Ritual. This is, by no means, saying that The Gathering is bad; any album that gets my three-year-old prancing around with her toy guitar and annoys her mother at the same time is great in my book. But it's almost like Testament have found themselves trying to top their best work, and while they've come close (as on this album), they still have fallen a little short.

This isn't something that Testament should be seriously concerned about, at this point. After all, The Gathering is another collection of well written and executed songs, and they have kept something that not a lot of metal bands from the same period can claim: their dignity.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Burnt Offerings / Spitfire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.