Thursday, June 25, 2009

Testament - Practice What You Preach (1989)

Within a couple months after getting The New Order, I tracked down Testament's third full-length, Practice What You Preach. While it took years for the flaws to become evident in the former, the latter was a little difficult to digest, right from the start. The first thing that I noticed was the odd production, which seemed a little bass-heavy. The overall sound was a bit softer than on previous records, lacking the sharp edge that was present in the past. Through Eric Peterson's desire to gain more exposure and Alex Skolnick's wish to experiment, to a degree, Testament fans were greeted with the black sheep of the early albums. Released in the summer of 1989, just a year after The New Order, it proves that interesting things can happen when bands are in such a hurry to capitalize on their own momentum.

The title-track bursts forth with high energy and great thrash riffs. It's catchy, powerful and makes a pretty decent impression. More importantly, it's good enough that the listener agrees to make an effort toward ignoring the odd production to give the record a chance.

"Perilous Nation" opens with a bass solo, with the rest of the instruments slowly building to join in. Immediately, one notices that the song is based more on the soft vocal melody of Chuck Billy, rather than the guitars. It's not terrible; it's just a little too mellow for the taste of some.

The next song slowly builds up, as Chuck lets loose a fairly deep Death Metal growl. Once the track really gets going, it becomes apparent that this was quite out of place, as the feeling is far too relaxed for such things. Again, "Envy Life" isn't all that bad. If you're a die-hard Testament fan, it's adequate enough if you can manage to not compare this to their brilliant debut album. The problem is that it is dripping with the fact that this is starving for attention from the masses.

"Time is Coming" maintains this docile pace, while still possessing some decent riffs. Of course, the dark atmosphere found on The Legacy is long-forgotten by this point. Even as "Blessed In Contempt" promises a little more intensity, in its opening moments, it fails to rise above the mediocrity that plagues this record. "Greenhouse Effect" is more of the same.

The beginning of "Sins of Omission" is mostly memorable due to it reminding of some 80s TV theme, like Knight Rider or something. The song is no different than the rest that have been offered up, here. The vocal lines are memorable, but the music remains soft and mediocre.

The pussification of this band reaches its climax with "The Ballad". There are a couple bleak melodies that could have been used elsewhere, but the overall feel of this song is total boredom. As it progresses, there's an incredibly lame section where it all builds up as the lyrics become far too optimistic and weak. The song then speeds up, yet manages to possess absolutely no aggression. Their later attempts at such a song were far more successful than this pile of steaming feces.

"Nightmare (Coming Back To You)" was one of those songs that sounded very familiar from the first listen. Obviously, I'd never heard it before, but it was so generic that I might as well have listened to it a million times already. It's the fastest song on the record, but it still suffers from weak production and songwriting, completely neutralizing any attempt at aggression or fury.

By the time the album reaches its conclusion, with "Confusion Fusion", I can only feel a great sense of relief. This instrumental has a few interesting ideas, but the overwhelming feeling is that of joy at the thought that this abomination is nearly complete.

Despite pandering to the mainstream, Testament could have made a much better album and still accomplished this. Neutering the sound and making it so soft and non-threatening was the first mistake. Including weak ballads and devoting too much of the album to raping the legacy of the band was absolutely unnecessary. They could have used the more melodic approach on a handful of songs and retained enough thrash to please their core fan base. However, dumping 90% of the riffs into the first song (as someone once described it) is never a good idea. Everything is downhill from there. Practice What You Preach is only recommended for rabid Testament fans that want to own everything they put out. It is hardly essential for anyone else. It's not totally worthless, but it's too close for comfort.