#866: What is Testament’s shortest studio album title?

Q #1,861: Testament recently titled their newest album ‘The Brotherhood Of The Snake.’ What’s their shortest studio album title?

A.

Testament’s sixth studio album ‘Low’ was anything but a low moment in the band’s extensive career. In fact, ‘Low’ would begin what would be an amazingly epic cycle of members, that most bands would fire themselves to have in their own project. ‘Low’ was the first Testament record to not feature founding guitar legend Alex Skolnick, and drummer Louie Clemente. Clemente (seemingly already on his way out) had split drum duties on the band’s previous release, ‘Return to Apocalyptic City,’ with Paul Bostaph (Exodus, Forbidden, Slayer) handling the rest.

Replacing Skolnick and Clemente on ‘Low’ were guitarist James Murphy (Death, Obituary) and drummer John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie). Murphy would appear also appear on ‘Live at the Fillmore,’ and ‘The Gathering,’ while Tempesta would appear years later on ‘First Strike Still Deadly,’ and ‘Live in London.’ For James Murphy, he would not appear on the album between ‘Fillmore’ and ‘Gathering,’ entitled “Demonic.” This album featured Gene Hoglan behind the drum kit, and basically only featured Testament founder Eric Peterson on all guitar duties. I had a conversation about this album with Mr. Hoglan (who is currently playing with Testament), and if my hazy memory serves me right, ‘Demonic’ was initially supposed to be a side project under the moniker ‘Dog Faced Gods’ which was a track off of – you guessed it – ‘Low.’

Former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo would sit behind the kit on ‘The Gathering,’ with bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Sadus) in the fold with James Murphy back on lead guitar duties. Lombardo would not continue on with the band after recording the album. After the brief stint of Dave Lombardo, we see the return of John Tempesta to take on the re-recordings and updated takes on classic Testament songs for ‘First Strike Still Deadly,’ with Alex Skolnick returning to the band. DiGiorgio would leave the band, but has since returned to complete the lineup with Skolnick and Hoglan. Why is it that I can keep all of this info straight in my head, but I can’t remember where I parked the car?

‘Low’ was produced by GGGarth Richardson (extra G’s on account of his stutter), who has engineered bands including The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nickelback, Motley Crue, Atreyu, and has produced bands such as Rage Against the Machine, Mudvayne, and The Melvins. Also appearing in the liner notes on ‘Low’ is a man by the name of Del James. James received composer and vocal credits on the record, and would go on to further collaborate with the band on ‘The Gathering,’ and 2012’s ‘Dark Roots of Earth.’ Del James is probably most (un)known for his behind the scenes work with Guns ‘N Roses. Not only was James involved with the creation of the iconic video for ‘November Rain,’ he also has credits on both of GnR’s Grammy nominated ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums.

Despite its mixed reception by critics at the time, and the subsequent revolving doors of membership, ‘Low’ is where Testament began their journey to the huge updated sound that currently keeps the band as one of the top groups of the modern thrash era.

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#858: MOMENT OF METAL No. 167

Q #1,853: MOMENT OF METAL #167: Listen here

A.

‘Raining Blood’ is the final track on the legendary Slayer album ‘Reign in Blood.’ The band’s third studio album was also their first major label release. After their previous efforts on Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade Records, Slagel felt that the band was hot and primed for greater things, so he began to shop the band (while still under contract) to other record labels. Around this time, photographer Glen Friedman (who had produced Suicidal Tendencies self-titled debut) was asked by Def Jam Records producer Rick Rubin if he knew Slayer, as Tom Araya had appeared in the Suicidal music video for ‘Institutionalized.’ It is unclear if Rubin had also asked for a Pepsi.

After speaking with several other record labels, Brian Slagel felt that Rubin and Def Jam had the strongest interest in the band, and the deal was done. Rubin’s first major dabbling into the metal world would turn out to be the perfect storm of excellence with Slayer. One of the key elements that set ‘Reign in Blood’ apart from previous albums was Rubin’s production. The band was blown away that not only could they hear everything, but that the fans would also be able to hear everything. Despite the lead guitar work of Slayer being mostly a blind fury (mostly by design), Kerry King has remarked that it still made the band appear tighter.

‘Angel of Death,’ and ‘Raining Blood’ are the only two songs over four minutes, while ‘Raining has a little bit of opening and closing ambiance. This was very much by design, as the band was said to have grown tired of the repetition of the verse / chorus structure, and that allowed the band to write so many short and to the point songs. As a result, the album has more often than not been played in full during their live sets, and not just on special occasions for anniversaries, live tapings, or birthday parties!

Another hot topic as of late, ‘Reign in Blood’ was Slayer’s first to start lyrically diving into other areas, such as the opening track ‘Angel of Death,’ which is about the human experimentation by Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death” of the Auschwitz concentration camp of World War II. Between the lyrical content, and the album’s artwork, Def Jam distributor Columbia records passed on releasing the album, which would end up being distributed by the kind folks over at Geffen Records. However, Geffen would not add the album to its actual release schedule.

Lyrical themes and the accompanying symbolism have followed the band throughout their career, but it is fair to say that they have at the very least kept up with the imagery from time to time. And in fact, why should they have to stop? Jeff Hannemann’s take on such lyrical themes was that you should know that this person was terrible, and that there needn’t be a line to specifically say it. Would that make the song less edgy, or would it completely be overlooked through a barrage of frenzied notes and Tom Araya’s shrill screams? Do we need in-house lyrical disclaimers in songs these days to clear up confusion ahead of time, or is the ambiguity what sort of keeps everything exciting?

‘Reign in Blood’ was certified Gold, and has probably influenced more bands than it has sold records. I suppose controversy is a small price to pay, unless it entails a visit from Tipper Gore and the PMRC. Then it’s a party.

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