Album: The Gathering (1999)
The Players Chuck Billy: Vocals
Eric Peterson: Guitars
James Murphy: Guitars
Steve DiGiorgio: Bass
Dave Lombardo: Drums

Testament's 8th full length record is finally here, and after listening to it at least 2 dozen times, I am happy to report it's one of the band's strongest outings. Strongest, however in a completely different way than all prior releases.

I was a fan of the first 2 records, but didn't like the next 3 all too much. It's not that I don't like the melodicism that they added w/ each subsequent release, it's just that Testament needs to be fast, in your face and heavy, something the 1st 2 records had. (The band knows this, and that's why Live at the Fillmore is basically all old stuff.) Low was a return to just this, with Tempesta on drums (the last good thing he ever did) and one of the best modern guitarists, James Murphy. While many didn't think he would fit in, I disagree, and feel that he rounded out Testament, filling the shoes of Alex Skolnick with utter ease! Unfortunately, Demonic saw the loss of both Murphy and longtime bassist Greg Christian, both deeply missed on the record. While it's heavy and a good record overall, they lost much of the musicianship that was offered in the lead guitar and bass department.

Jump to 1999 where Testament is back, James Murphy on guitars, Steve DiGiorgio (of Sadus and Death) on bass and of course, easily the most exciting additions, Dave Lombardo playing drums.

Quick rant...Dave Lombardo was my god growing up. With each new Slayer record he blew me away w/ his super fast feet, and insane, but yet predictable drum fills. Then, he was gone...out of Slayer and we had to wait until 1995 for him to resurface on the first Grip Inc. record. This record was a great speed/thrash record, not on par w/ Slayer of course, but the drumming was excellent. It seems that Dave felt that he no longer needed to prove himself and he went on experimenting with all different styles of drumming. Thus, the next 2 Grip Inc. records (and his other recent side projects) he didn't go all out like he did in the past. I respect that he is broadening his horizons, but I'm certainly not the only person that wanted to hear him go back to his style of old. And now, for what may be his speed/thrash finale, he delivers on The Gathering proving that he is still amongst the best, and in some eyes, THE best. (but you can't help but compare him to Bostaph, whose performance on Diabolus In Musica is nothing short of amazing) Like Bostaph though, Lombardo has pushed thrash drumming's boundaries here in the 90's like he did a decade ago. Much has changed, and it's very nice knowing that he's still ready to break new ground amidst so many average drummers today. (not like it used to be...Does anyone play like Mikkey Dee did back then? Not even close!!!) Back on topic...

The Gathering isn't all about Dave Lombardo, but he adds immensely to it's power. The intro to DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), a drums/keyboards tune leads into the riff of the century! Very Exodus sounding, but played loud enough makes me go totally nuts. Of course, this leads right into some straight double bass, into Chuck's familiar non-growl vocals...More on that later. The song just continues right in your face, with Mr. Lombardo all over the place, including some new tricks on his part. Listening to the record you say to yourself (if you're a Lombardo nut like me), "That's so Dave!" while other times it's more like, "Holy shit...Dave never did anything like that before!" His drum kit sounds absolutely awesome, bass drums containing somewhat of the click that is so popular in the 90's but still the Bass sound that a Bass drum really should sound like. The only bad thing about DNR is that it's one of the album's best songs, and after hearing it you're prepped for the album of your life. It's not all that good, but it's good...Very Good!

Like I mentioned above, Chuck's growl, which he uses quite frequently on the record, isn't used full time like on Demonic. He uses both about equally throughout, with some sections having both at the same time. I find that when he mixes the deep vocals w/ his trademark style, it makes his voice even more powerful than before, and proves that after so many years, this band knows what they're doing.

James Murphy by the way just put out his 2nd solo record, and I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as his first (though there are some really good tracks on there). The Gathering was all written before he decided to rejoin the band, so there aren't as many solos as I'd like, and the solos aren't the showoff solos of the 80's, sweeps everywhere, 32nd notes for minutes on end. His solos are more akin to those found on his earlier record, Obituary's Cause of Death, as they focus more on feeling and atmosphere than shredding. I find this unfortunate, as the record could feel a boost with them. But of course, even as I've played guitar for 10 years, he still astonishes me w/ his talent. Just don't go looking for old school Skolnick solos here. There really aren't any. But he adds some cool harmonies here and there that may not have appeared without him.

Back to the record. Eric does some of his higher pitched background vocals here and there which are nice to hear. Especially on Eyes of Wrath. True Believer is a catchy song, though I still don't know if I really like it. But then skip to the next track, 3 Days in Darkness. Oh man, one of the best songs Testament has ever written! Chuck has some really cool vocal melodies, and there's a chant section which rocks! It's nice seeing a band do something like that even though USA in the 90's doesn't smile upon such 80's habits! Legions of the Dead, was written solely to destroy everything in sight. Then you have Careful What You Wish For, which is pure rock-n-roll, sounding like something off of Souls of Black, while the ending of the song is the anthem of the album (can't figure out all the lyrics though) begining with, "Hey! We live in a fucked up world!", of course with Chuck's vocals doubled. I love it. Riding the Snake, the name of the US tour as well, has Chuck's vocal lines sounding a LOT like they did in the early days. Steve DiGiorgio has a nice bass line in this song as well, just before it kicks into a very Low sounding riff. Sewn Shut Eyes has more Lombardo lunacy, Eric's screetching voices, and pure thrash riffage towards the middle. Fall of Siple Dome is the outro (at least on my promo copy, I don't know about this 12th track Hatred Divine) and screams PIT...I can't imagine being in the pit for this insanity, but know that I will crave it until I am appeased. Holy shit...this song is heavy, fast, and Murphy's almost minute long slow solo goes right into the mania again to kick total ass! As that song ends, it just makes you want to start it all over again!

The album as a whole is very diverse, with plenty of heavy parts, some Dave Lombardo double bass mayhem (check out Legions of the Dead and Fall of Siple Dome!), and other sections that sound like old school Testament (fewer of these parts of course!) Two of the later tracks on the album sound like they're ripping themselves off...very odd. Not as bad as certain songs from Low though, where they practically ripped off everyone. Slayer, Metallica and Overkill riffs are easily found on that one! It's ok though, as long as it's all good metal! And that is the one word to describe this record. Heavy Fucking Metal, the way it should be! I highly reccommend this to all Testament fans, all metal fans, and all Lombardo fans. It's not for everyone, and it deviates from many of the typical Testament patterns, but creates a new genre in their already massive collection. Now for the tour, which will be amazing if they recapture the intensity they had during the Low tour. (and which they lost BIG TIME with the horrendously disappointing Demonic tour (Low's show was 2 1/2 hours, Demonic, 1:15. Appalling!))

Utter Bottom Line: IMO of course, better than anything they've done in the 90's, with the exception of Live at the Fillmore which doesn't count. Testament is back at it, and let's hope it stays this way. Seeya on the road!