Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Testament - The New Order (1988)

In early 1988, less than a year after the release of The Legacy, Testament returned with their sophomore effort, The New Order. Despite being recorded in the same studio by the same line-up and produced by the same guy, it failed to reach the level of brilliance found on their debut. Perhaps it was the haste with which the band wrote and recorded another album. Whereas the tracks on The Legacy had been cultivated for years, the material found on The New Order didn't have the time to be perfected before being put on record. The result was sort of mixed.

I initially purchased this album just a few months after their first one. I was highly impressed with it, in the beginning. Again, I wasn't as analytical about everything back then; at least, not until I'd owned something for six months or so. It took quite some time for this album to leave my stereo. However, in the months and years that followed, it would become clear that it simply lacked the staying power that The Legacy possessed.

From the opening moments of "Eerie Inhabitants", you will notice a bit more effort being put forth to create an atmosphere that removes you from the mundane existence that you were cursed to be born into. There are similar pieces, throughout the album, such as the instrumental "Hypnosis" and the first minute or so of "Trial By Fire" and "Disciples of the Watch". For some, these atmospheric melodies hold no value and are deemed little more than 'guitar wankery'. Personally, I disagree with this narrow-minded view.

Regardless of which side of the fence you're on, concerning that issue, there is plenty of intense thrash to satiate your hunger. The first song displays a good balance between straight thrash and the more melodic side. There are flashes of brilliance, reminiscent of their debut album. Side A has very little to complain about, with the exception of the feeling that some parts (a chorus here or there) seem too accessible and generic. The title-track and "Trial By Fire" are guilty of this. The production is still strong, putting the guitars at the forefront where they belong. Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick are the stars of this album, naturally. Clemente's drumming is fairly basic, but he is consistent enough. Chuck Billy doesn't sound as dark in his vocal delivery, but this is a symptom of that which infects the whole album. Greg Christian, on bass, doesn't appear to stand out too much, though he'd get his opportunity on the following album. He's audible, more or less, but not anything to really devote great amounts of attention to.

On Side B, "Disciples of the Watch" proves to be a very strong track, though the chorus gets a bit tedious, all these years later. Though there are several points during the album where things feel a little too generic or light-hearted, it's the Aerosmith cover song, "Nobody's Fault", that really destroys the momentum of the record. To make matters worse, this was one of two songs chosen for music videos. The only reason this song seems to blend in as it does is due to the relaxed atmosphere that is prevalent on The New Order. As many times as they repeat the word 'sorry', during the chorus, nothing can really salvage the album from the damage done by this song's presence.

The record gets back on track with "A Day of Reckoning". This one turns out to be one of the better songs on here, with a a nice vocal melody in the chorus. This one feels more genuine that some of the others; it's neither designed for radio nor created with hopes of becoming some 'thrash anthem'. It is what it is.

"Musical Death (A Dirge)" is an introspective, somewhat depressing, instrumental piece that closes out the album in a somber manner. The opening guitar melodies really dig into your heart, like rusty knives. As it progresses, there's a nice epic feeling as the energy builds toward the climax.

All in all, The New Order isn't a terrible album. But it reeks of that 'could have been better' feeling. As a matter of fact, they left off what would have been one of the best tracks on the record, "Reign of Terror". They recorded this old song, yet only released it as a B-Side for the Trial By Fire E.P. It was a stronger song than most found on the album and could have, easily, replaced the awful Aerosmith cover. The New Order isn't essential, like The Legacy, but it's a fairly safe purchase for die-hard Testament fans. Just keep your expectations low.