Friday, May 15, 2009

Testament - The Legacy (1987)

Testament formed in 1983, under the name Legacy. While some make the common mistake of assuming that this band arrived on the scene a little late, they were there when the whole Thrash Metal scene began to explode. One listen to their 1985 demo will be enough to prove that the band had already composed brilliant songs, yet it seemed to take them a bit longer to get signed and to record a full-length. In 1986, Chuck Billy replaced Steve Souza, on vocals, and the band changed their name to Testament. After spending a couple years, perfecting all of these songs, they finally recorded their debut album. The Legacy was released in July 1987.

I discovered this album back in high school. There was a shop that bought and sold used records, tapes, books, etc. and I found myself selling a lot of old tapes and movies to fund my music addiction. It was during the middle of summer vacation and I had a lot of time on my hands. I sold everything that I could possibly part with, only to spend every last dime (and then some) before I left the shop. While I was scanning through the cassettes, I ran across The Legacy and Live at Eindhoven. I was already, somewhat, familiar with Testament, but I had never heard this album. I tossed it in to one of the broken-down radios that they had out to preview things and it took me all of two seconds to realize that these tapes were coming home with me. Being quite fond of the old albums from Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, this was exactly the kind of thing that I was looking for. This album is a timeless classic; one that I haven't grown tired of in all these years.

"Over the Wall" begins with an intense explosion of thrash riffs. This is very fast-paced and energetic. The vocal patterns that Souza created were perfected by Chuck Billy, who has a much more powerful delivery. A few wild screams lead into the middle section, which slows things down a bit. This is accompanied by an incredibly memorable lead solo by Alex Skolnik. This is something he really excels at and it is one of the most notable characteristics of Testament's old records. The drumming has a good, old school feel, though it's nothing technical or complicated. There is an epic aura about these melodies. All in all, this is a killer song to begin an album.

Dark and foreboding riffs introduce "The Haunting". This title is quite appropriate, as this possesses a feeling that is more in line with Slayer than Metallica (who Testament were often compared to). Once it gets going, the pace is fairly fast, though there are plenty of changes. The introductory riff returns and leads into a mid-paced thrash section. Another amazing solo appears, near the middle of the song. Skolnik's solos are much lengthier than those of Jeff Hanneman or Kerry King and they certainly bear more feeling, which adds depth to the songs. The vocals are impressive as well. I don't think Chuck Billy ever matched this performance.

A somber acoustic guitar is accompanied by a haunting solo to begin "Burnt Offerings". This one builds up, slowly, before raging forth from the darkness. The vocals go well with the main guitar harmony to create something of a dark atmosphere. The lyrics are far better here than they would be on later albums.

"The spirits of anger come up from the gallows
Conjured my demons appear
Summoned to my cast, prey this deadly mass
Taken by the fire you fail"

The more serious approach to the songwriting and execution, found on this album, suits the band's abilities far more than anything they'd attempt, later on.

"Raging Waters" starts out, almost like an extension of the previous song. It is drenched in the same atmosphere. It's a shame that Souza didn't remain associated with Testament to write all of the vocal lines, as his ideas, coupled with Billy's delivery and improvisation, work very well with this music. As with most of the songs on here, this one is aggressive and yet captures an epic feeling in the guitar melodies, accentuated by the solos.

Side A ends with "C.O.T.L.O.D." Naturally, this stands for 'Curse of the Legions of Death'. As the shortest song, it is no surprise that this is the most straight-forward track to be found. Of course, with a song this intense, the lyrics must be equally as aggressive.

"Attacking with force as we show no remorse
Obstructing our victims fate
The blood in the chalice saluting the fight
All virgins must die this night"

One might expect a song that only lasts for two and a half minutes to be filler, but this holds its own against the rest of the material on The Legacy.

Side B opens with "First Strike Is Deadly". It starts out with a strange intro that leads into more killer thrash riffs. Clemente's double-bass work is done pretty well, especially considering that he was never given much credit as a drummer. Some of Chuck Billy's screams are insane, as he really displays a lot of power and versatility on this record. This song features the kind of sweeping arpeggios that Testament is well known for, as well as one of the best lead solos on the album.

"Do or Die" arrives at a point where one would surely expect filler. Quite the contrary, this song bring yet more elements to the table. The riffs are quite unique, among those that populate this album. The vocal lines are brilliant as well, being very memorable and matching the music, perfectly. This particular song seems to utilize more Speed Metal riffs, as opposed to pure Thrash.

The epic feeling that flows throughout this classic album is present from the opening solo of "Alone in the Dark". After this brief intro, a haunting guitar harmony plays over a vicious thrash riff. This repeats during the chorus. The story told in the lyrics is far more interesting than most anything they came up with in later years.

"Faustus prepares the legions of the night
Diviners from the far north arrive
Aimlessly people there huddled in a pack
Wreaking deadly havoc on mankind"

Late in the song, the pace slows down for another solo, before returning to the main riff. As with all of the songs, the placement of this one is just right.

This masterpiece concludes with "Apocalyptic City". A somber acoustic melody is joined by a depressive lead solo and bass line to introduce this epic song. As things get going, there is a sense of tension in the riffs; somehow, it is easy to detect that the end is near. The riffs are bloody impressive and the solo is as epic as it gets. There are some nice lead harmonies as well, before the main riff returns. Of course, the tale of mass murder, by incineration, is quite interesting as well. As the final notes fade out, you can't help but feel that you have experienced something very significant.

Simply put, The Legacy is an essential classic of Thrash Metal. The songwriting is vastly superior to Reign In Blood, though it doesn't quite compare to the early Slayer records. Still, this destroys anything ever released by Anthrax and nearly rivals albums such as Ride the Lightning and Peace Sells... While it is nowhere near as violent as Darkness Descends, it features a sense of melody and an epic atmosphere that Dark Angel would never be able to achieve while standing tall over Pleasures of the Flesh or Beyond the Gates. Unfortunately, Testament would never match this masterpiece of Bay Area Thrash Metal. At any rate, any fan of this style is absolutely required to pick this up.