REVIEW: Testament – Signs of Chaos: The Best of Testament (1997)

 

 

TESTAMENT – Signs of Chaos: The Best of Testament (1997 Mayhem)

I bought this in the winter of 1997.  I hadn’t listened to Testament in a few years.  I’d bought The Ritual album in 1992, but they kind of lost me post-Skolnick, when they went hell-bent for death metal.  Therefore the idea of a good, remastered single disc compilation album covering the entire career was appealing to me.  All the key tracks that I wanted were here, including two incredible B-sides!

Shortly after The Ritual came out, singer Chuck Billy denounced it as too soft, too commercial, and not the direction he and Eric Peterson wanted to take the band in the future.  Regardless of this, the single “Electric Crown” was chosen to kick off Signs of Chaos (including the brief instrumental intro, “Signs of Chaos”.  I’ve always felt it was superior to a couple of its chief rival songs at the time:  “Enter Sandman” and “Symphony of Destruction”.  You be the judge.  I think I have a strong case.

As I delved into the disc I found that I was very hit-and-miss with Testament’s earlier material.  For example “The New Order”, the title track from their 1988 album.  I find it thin production-wise, and melodically a bit awkward.  It’s hard-hitting and thrashy as fuck, but strangely enough I prefer the earlier track “Alone in the Dark” from 1987’s The Legacy.  Not only does it boast a stomping riff, but also a chorus that sticks to the head.

“Dog Faced Gods” introduced me to the Testament world of blast-beats and death metal growls.  This was from the first post-Skolnick album, Low.  Now Peterson and Billy had the chance to indulge their heaviest urges, and they did a fantastic job.  Featuring the stellar drum talents of John Tempesta (currently in The Cult), this is Testament brought to a whole new level.  While death metal growls are not normally my bag, Billy sings in a “normal” voice during the cool chorus.  As for the rest of the song, it is a precise complex of drum fills, lightning-fast guitar licks, time changes and riffs.

If you thought “Dog Faced Gods” was heavy, then “Demonic Refusal” might very well blow you out of your seat.  The followup album to Low was called Demonic and it took things further out to the boundaries.  Gene Hoglan on drums this time, “Demonic Refusal” is even more evil and scary.  It still boasts a head-crushing riff and has a strangely catchy quality to the vocal.  Chuck Billy convinced me on these songs that he is a diverse, talented thrash metal singer among the best in the genre.

“The Ballad” from the landmark 1989 album Practice What You Preach was about as close as Testament got to a hit single.  The timing was right, seeing as Metallica had success with “One” the year before.  Even though it is clearly a ballad (albeit a heavy one), the song has balls and metal fans had no problem embracing it.  To me it seems to be based on a prototype of some of Iron Maiden’s softer material.  The album Souls of Black, which followed Practice, was considered little more than a rushed carbon copy followup.  That may be the case, but either way the song “Souls of Black” is still as catchy as ever.  Skolnick’s fluttery licks are a highlight, as is Chuck Billy’s groovy lead vocal.

I find it funny that “Trial By Fire” is listed as a CD-only bonus track.  I guess this album must have been released on cassette too in 1997.  “Trial By Fire” isn’t one of the best songs in my books, but it does contain more outstanding Skolnick guitar shreddery.  A brief word about Alex Skolnick for those who don’t know:  He was one of Joe Satriani’s students, and he’s also well known for playing jazz fusion on the side.  In fact he left Testament initially to enable him to explore that kind of style.  His tone is really warm, and you can feel the vacuum tubes humming in a vintage amp when he plays.

Another uber-heavy song, “Low” from the album of the same name, is just as good and memorable as “Dog Faced Gods”.  The Low album featured one of the most respected guitarists in the death metal genre, James Murphy (Death).  Murphy’s chops helped bring Testament closer to that line between thrash and death, while maintaining the virtuosity that the band had with Alex Skolnick.

“Practice What You Preach” and “Over the Wall” provide a double-punch of early Testament heavy metal.  To me, “Over the Wall” is not an outstanding song.  It’s good for a head-bang and has a killer solo, but it’s not particularly special.  “Practice What You Preach” on the other hand nails it.  Testament were crossing groove and thrash metal together successfully, before Metallica painted it Black.  “Practice” remains one of their highest achievements from the early years.

I mentioned earlier that Souls of Black was considered by many to be little more than a second generation copy of Practice.  This extended to putting out another ballad.  “The Legacy” was one of their earlier compositions, polished up for Souls of Black.  While it’s the lesser known song, I think I prefer it to “The Ballad”.  The production seems a little more full, although the two songs are very similar.  As far as ballads go, I don’t think either song holds a candle to the next track.  “Return to Serenity” from The Ritual is a beautiful song, with gorgeous guitar tones.  It’s a less dark than the other two songs, and lyrically discussing those special places that you may have had as a child, and returning to serenity.  I would put “Return to Serenity” up against virtually any similar Metallica song, and I believe it would blow them away.  While both bands have a lead guitar player that was taught by Joe Satriani, I believe Alex Skolnick to be on a completely different level from other guitar players in this genre.

“Perilous Nation” is a plenty-good thrash party, but again this is listed as a CD only bonus track.  I just find that amusing on an album released in 1997.  The CD ends with two smoking covers:  “The Sails of Charon” (Scorpions) and “Draw the Line” (Aerosmith)!  We all know Testament are huge Aerosmith fans, since they covered “Nobody’s Fault” earlier.  Both are absolutely incredible covers and alone worth the price of the CD.  “Draw the Line”, already a manic-fast song, is give a dose of Liquid Schwartz in the ol’ engine.  I defy you to refrain from banging your head.  What an awesome song to end the CD on, and this review on!

5/5 stars

Advertisements

25 comments

  1. Thanks for this one, not a band I’d explored properly before despite hearing tracks I really liked – hell, I’ve got to sleep sometime. So is ‘Practice’ the one to start with then?

    Like

    1. As opposed to a compilation like this you mean?

      I don’t know truthfully. Their new stuff like Dark Roots of Earth are great. I would actually recommend this as a first step and then decide after absorbing it if that’s enough or if you’d like to go deeper. I actually liked The Ritual a lot.

      Like

  2. Always a band I meant to get further into (I had a cassette or two years ago, now long gone). But this comp is exactly what I’d need to get my toes wet… and probably serve as a gateway to convincing me I need to start buying up the albums…

    Like

    1. I believe earlier today you had the opportunity to check out some covers that they did. I think I can strongly recommend this CD as a logical first step beyond that and I will be happy to keep my eyes open for one!

      Like

      1. I sure did, those covers were great! Yeah man, if you see one grab it. I loved what I heard. I could shake the foundations of this house with that stuff… I wonder whatever happened to my old tapes. I know I had one or two, but couldn’t tell you what albums they were now…

        Like

  3. I always thought that Testament were an unoriginal band that went in Metallica’s footsteps all the way and the only album I liked was The Ritual. Still love that one. But a friend of mine wouldn’t get off my case when their reunion album, The Formation Of Damnation was released, so I gave in and gave it a shot. It’s my favourite Testament record together with Dark Roots Of The Earth. It also made me want to go back and check out their earlier stuff. practice What You Preach and Souls Of Black are such brilliant albums. The Gathering was a killer as well and Low had its moments. But Demonic doesn’t cut it. The death metal influences are nothing but overkill here. I don’t think it sounds like Testament. Anyway, today, Testament is my favourite thrashband along with Slayer.

    Like

    1. I really liked Dark Roots of the Earth. I meant to review it and I never did! Back in the day I preferred Testament to Metallica, maybe just because Metallica were so popular. But also Skolnick is so good. I was really happy when he did the album with Savatage, Handful of Rain.

      Like

        1. There is no comparison. Any drummer is Testament is superior to Lars. Gotta say though Hetfield is an excellent singer and guitarist imho, I don’t think he could cut the chops in Testament. Better songs? Toss up, Testaments career has far fewer missteps though they are distinctly less popular.

          Like

        2. I think Testament are a more precise band than Metallica, but I assess Hetfield similarly. Dave Mustaine on the other hand tends to strive towards perfection in his recordings.

          Like

        3. Absolutely Mike, Mustaine is in a different category. A singular vision though Testament really is more a group vision. Skolnick back really does raise the bar though I haven’t been as into the last few as I was into the first 4 like I was back in the day. The Gathering was cool but that was really a like supergroup with a different band. I’m from the SF Bay Area so there really was a source of pride when they were gaining traction back in ’90 or whatever. MTV played Nobody’s Fault so it was like, there’s our band!!!

          Like

        4. I never heard of Testament here until Practice, and it was actually the Joe Satriani connection that caught my attention. Satriani was raving about the album, so I thought, “well this guy knows what he’s talking about, I better pat attention!”

          Like

  4. I’ve always wanted to like Testament more than I do. They just don’t really speak to me for whatever reason. I bought Formation of Damnation because it was getting raved about and it was the same. I’ve got a few of their albums but maybe a comp like this would be enough for me.

    Like

    1. Louie Clemente left the music business for family life and to become a furniture dealer, I don’t think his talent was ever an issue. Good review though, loved the bonus disc on the album. Dragon Attack? I mean right f’n on!!!

      Like

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s