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Album Review: Testament 'Brotherhood of the Snake'

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TESTAMENT
Brotherhood of the Snake
Oct 28th, 2016 on Nuclear Blast

01. Brotherhood of the Snake
02. The Pale King
03. Stronghold
04. Seven Seals
05. Born in a Rut
06. Centuries of Suffering
07. Neptune's Spear
08. Black Jack
09. Canna Business
10. The Number Game

Brief History

Testament first formed in 1983 by Eric Peterson, the only member of Testament to never have left the band. Testament helped shape and form the thrash metal scene in California. When fellow founding member Alex Skolnick left the band in 1993, this was a really impacting change in the lineup. The Testament sound had begun to change and evolve into a deeper, darker sound that resembled death metal more than thrash. Over the next 10 years, they change member lineup more frequently than most people change shirts. This revolving door of members had a clear impact on the albums that were being produced.

In the late 90's through the early 2000's, the band had been stricken with medical issues. James Murphy was diagnosed with a brain tumor and Chuck Billy was diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer. Both James and Chuck recovered fully and Alex had rejoined Testament in 2005. Gene Hogland rejoined Testament in 2011 playing drums. And Steve DiGorgio brought back his bass talents in 2014. The result is the current and most solid Testament lineup that has ever been.

Brotherhood of the Snake

The album opens with a story about a 5 millennia-old secret society known as the Brotherhood of the Snake. This brotherhood is an ancient organization which is fabled to have created Christianity, the Vatican, the Illuminati, the Rosicrucian, and the Knights Templar. Each of those organizations subsequently gained control over a vast majority of the current world as we know it through sub-organizations. In a way of thinking, they are the true original gangster that all gangsters owe tribute to.

The song itself has a solid thrash undertone but overall sounds very reminiscent to Low (1994). I am not a technical musician by any means, but one of the things that Testament is known for that I have always loved is when the bass has its own identity. Too many times in modern metal, the bass just matches the rhythm guitar and serves as a barely noticeable structure for the band and the songs. But with Testament, the bass has a distinct sound and can be easily heard among the other two guitarists.

The Pale King

I am pretty sure that I can safely say that this track has nothing to do with the novel of the same name by David Foster Wallace. At first, I thought that maybe the song was about Death, aka the Grim Reaper. However looking more deeply at the lyrics and a good bit of research, I am certain that this is about Anu, the King of Gods in ancient Sumerian religion. Chuck Billy is pretty well known for doing almost all of the lyrics for Testament songs over the decades. As such, he is often very cryptic in what he is trying to say.

The Pale King brings a straight up thrash assault, really showcasing the guitar dexterity that Eric Peterson has. A very simple song structure, nothing really stands about it. The lyrics are honestly so cryptic and generic that it's difficult to get invested in it. Watch the official video below, which is really campy, generic and borders on laughable. Alex's solo about three-quarters through the song is really The Pale King's only saving grace.

Stronghold

Stronghold continues the more modern Testament sound with a deeper, more guttural metal sound. It's not quite death metal or anything, but it's still pretty heavy. Chuck's lyrics on this one feel really forced. It's as if they had developed the song and how they wanted it to feel and flow but then had to craft and design the lyrics to work with the song. After listening to it a dozen or so times, I keep on getting a little bit of throw-back to old school The Legacy or even The New Order.

So I'm starting to notice a theme for this album but I'm not certain just yet. The first track sets the basis that is an ancient secret society. The second track introduces an ancient Sumerian God. And now Stronghold goes overboard with an uprising of the people against those who have the control.

Check out the super awkward promo for Brotherhood of the Snake below. Be careful, though, it has some strong language in it. It's labeled as "outtakes", but I think it should have just been the promo in full.

Seven Seals

Seven Seals flat out takes me back to The Ritual (1992) both in content and music. Specifically, I had a wicked flashback to Agony from The Ritual. I'm not saying a side-by-side comparison or anything, but man, it's a throwback to the old day's something fierce.

The Seven Seals is a reference from the Book of Revelations in the Old Testament of the Bible. The Seven Seals was a book or scroll that contained all of Gods dirty little secrets. There was one however who was written to be able to open it known as both "Lamb" and "Lion of Judah". The first four seals represent the four horsemen of the apocalypse, with each seal being one of the horsemen. The fifth seal is the Soul of Martyrs and is pretty complicated, you'll want to do the research on your own if you're curious. The sixth seal is The Great Earthquake, basically, the judgment that is supposed to happen when the Second Coming occurs. The seventh seal is the coming of the seven angels who basically unleash the ultimate wrath of God upon the Earth.

Unnecessary but justified over-explanation of the songs meaning aside, Seven Seals is a pretty great reminder of what Testament was blended with what they've become.

Born in a Rut

Born In A Rut slows things down pretty drastically. It is still within the Testament style from years back, the sweeping riff and staggering pace of the track. The first solo is absolutely fantastic and has a super subtle reverb to it which is another Testament staple. If I had to guess, I would say that Alex did the first solo because it has an almost Joe Satriani blues rock flow to it.

As far as the theme of the song, I don't get it. The album itself has this track through history being set and Born In A Rut just doesn't fit the concept. Sure, I have no doubts that someone could form or fabricate how it fits into the album, but I think it would just be really forced rather than fitting in naturally.

Watch the clip below where Chuck and Eric talk about the recording process for Brotherhood of the Snake.

Centuries of Suffering

Centuries of Suffering is the shortest track on the album at 3 minutes and 34 seconds. It's a pretty fast track that allows Gene Hoglund to show off his blast beat drumming skills. Often times Alex is the solo man but this time Eric Peterson gets to step up and showcase his shredding talents as well. A little more than halfway through the track, the entire vibe of the song shifts over to the black metal scratchy guitar thing then slams face first into a pure metal assault before returning back to the thrash.

The meaning behind the song goes back over to an "end of the world" story but the difference is that the weapons of devastation have become modernized in the forms of missiles and bombs. They still result in the same kind of outcome, though, total devastation.

Black Jack

Black Jack is another track that doesn't really fit in because it's about the card game of the same name and gambling generally speaking. Seriously, that's it. The only tie in that I can figure out here is that the risk of gambling is comparable to losing everything? I'm not really sure, just making up a fabrication in an effort to justify its inclusion on the album.

The song itself is okay. It's no standout, the riffs are fairly basic and unoriginal. About three-quarters of the way in, they break it up with a super groovy riff that is pretty nice. Otherwise, Black Jack feels like a B-Side filler track that could have easily been left out in post-production.

Neptune's Spear

The alternating sweeping that Eric and Alex do to start out Neptune's Spear is just fantastic. That same sweeping continues in a variety of ways throughout the song. The first solo about one-third into the song is fairly stock, short, and not terribly original. Halfway through, the song slows down a little bit and then Alex showcases a simply gorgeous, harmonious solo that will take most listeners breath away. My mind immediately jumped to the kinds of solos you might here in just about any Avenged Sevenfold song. As far as I'm concerned, A7X owes Alex Skolnick a lot because he puts on a total clinic on how to make a harmonious guitar solo.

The name Neptune's Spear sounded familiar and sure enough, it was the codename for the United States military mission which ultimately eliminated Osama bin Laden. I want to understand where this fits in with the overall theme of the album, but again, it feels like an oddly placed selection that can work, but it's difficult to figure out how.

Canna-Business

And here is the song about medical Marijuana. Tracks like this just make me completely lose interest immediately. I get what they're saying and I support legalization, but when Testament blends this track into the album which starts out with ancient themes, talking about secret societies, then all of a sudden songs about gambling and Cannabis. It just doesn't add up at all. Skip this track and move on to the next.

The Number Game

The closing track is The Number Game. It's a fast, meaty, thrash metal track that doesn't give up nor apologize for its generic riffs. Thrash metal is a difficult genre to make something that hasn't been heard a thousand times. Testament does a fine job of doing the best they can to create new riffs, across their 30-plus year career.

With that being said, I don't understand The Number Game. From what I can tell, it's about a serial killer who is hunting his/her victims with an obsessive counting pattern. I am trying to rationalize the meaning behind the song and I'm just not following.

All in all, the album is a solid 11th studio album from the thrash legends Testament. These veterans are still going strong and aren't showing any signs of quitting anytime soon. Brotherhood of the Snake started out really exciting. It was beginning to sound like it had a progressive them that would take the listener on a journey throughout time telling a cohesive story. And then it just disintegrated and got confusing. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of a network television show, like Bones for example. The show always has a single story which is told in segments over the course of the season. Sprinkled throughout the season are episodes which provide absolutely nothing to the main story, a filler episode. Brotherhood of the Snake felt similar to that and for that reason alone I am fairly disappointed in this album.

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