Album: Testament – The Formation of Damnation

In my yesterday post, I compared Metallica’s latest and not-so-greatest to what “similarly old bands” have been putting out recently, and concluded that by those standards their album is rather mediocre.

Well, today I’ve had the pleasure to spend some time listening to Testament‘s 2008 opus The Formation of Damnation. Which begs two important questions:

  1. Is it any good?
  2. Does the comparison to Metallica’s Death Magnetic hold?

I’ll try to answer these in sequence.

I think it’s fair to compare the two bands, and not just because they sounded moderately similar at times. As far as I am concerned, they’re both bay area thrash bands of the early 80s, and they’ve both had a fairly recent and fairly long gap in their creative output. In Testament’s case, that was presumably largely due to Chuck Billy‘s cancer diagnosed in 2001. He’s since recovered, though, and the band has been touring. Their latest album is the first studio album since 1999′s The Gathering

Is it any good?

I criticized Metallica’s latest mainly on three points.

First, Hetfields singing has had some obvious help from expensive electronic equipment. That’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine — I’m of the opinion that singers shouldn’t try to sing outside of their capabilities. Then again, that’s a bit of a hypocritcial stance I’m having, because in Metal it’s quite common to distort vocals, and Chuck Billy has been doing that for years. The difference is that it’s usually done to make the vocals sound harsher, more agressive. In Hetfield’s case, though, it appears to just be pitch control.

It’s hard for me to condemn Hetfield for using technological crutches when everybody else is doing it as well. I just can’t shake the impression that the choice of crutch reflects a rather different motiviation.

Either way, I won’t compare the two albums on the singers’ abilities.

My second problem with Death Magnetic was the plastic production sound. I’m not even going into the extreme clipping discussed all over the web. Even the supposedly much better version published in Guitar Hero III sounds lifeless.

That cannot be said for Testament’s latest, though. While it might just be enough of a victim of the loudness war that I can’t help it’d sound better with a slightly higher dynamic range, it’s not a bad production.

My last and most important gripe with Death Magnetic was that it seemed to essentially consist of St. Anger-style simple (and boring) riffing, sprinkled with oddly contrasting guitar solos. Here Testament takes a different, if less risky approach, and sticks with the same basic formula they’ve been using for decades: good, solid thrash.

The overall effect is mostly pleasing — but I’ve read reviewers who call this “metal by the numbers”. And I can’t help but agree a little… there are no outstanding parts that I noticed — but nothing bad about it either.

So The Formation of Damnation is well produced, to a formula that has been proven for years, and generally what you’d call “solid” — you can’t really criticize it, but it’s not outstanding either.

Which brings us to the second question…