“Everyone is gonna die. There’s no escape. Your lungs turning black. No one can save you… Welcome to World War Three.”
Prescient lyrics mark the early landscape of Titans of Creation on the second track, “WWIII.” Could Testament have known that, upon the release of their lucky 13th full-length, the world would be embroiled in a fight for its life against a virus we seem to barely understand? It seems unlikely. As Chuck Billy’s lyrics point out, it always seemed more likely that the end of the human race would be the result of massive nuclear war on a global scale. Certainly the numerous open, melted-down nuclear reactors and constant tensions between Western and Eastern powers over who has the biggest dick… er, missiles give us a good insight into our likely endscape. Yet here comes COVID-19 to be coughed all over the globe (including into Chuck Billy), spread panic, and generally bring us into something of a new order when its legacy is firmly cemented in our distant past. (See what I did there?)
The year 2012 saw Testament rip the doors off with Dark Roots of Earth. The album marked something of a comeback. Gene Hoglan was back after his superb performance (on the somewhat unfortunate) Demonic, and Testament was composing tracks that once again (finally) showed their warrior’s edge. Testament was back with their best work in more than 20 years. Unfortunately, what followed, Brotherhood of the Snake, wasn’t the level-up that fans were hoping for. Rather it was a bit of a stumble backwards. So what would 2020 bring?
The guitars similarly reveal effortless mastery, whether they be churning out boxing-style rhythmic riffs such as on “False Prophet,” or tearing absolutely shrieking solos as on “Ishtars Gate.” Both Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick sound at the peak of their game. Their rhythm tracks are tight, clean and precise enough to cause even the most deadened of feet to stomp and trample carpeted floors to the beat. The solos, like the flamethrower on “Code of Hammurabi,” are replete with chorus, harmonies, absolute shredding that turns the lines into musical confetti and overarching melody, showing a veteran sense of musical sensibility. The guitar interplay across the entirety of Titans of Creation is simply marvelous—not something you get without decades of learning each other’s every move and coming to anticipate one another without thinking. I bet these guys could easily win a blindfolded egg race using nothing but telepathy.
Tracks like “Night of the Witch,” stellar modern production aside, would absolutely be at home in the mean, thrashing streets of Oakland in the early 1990s. The gang-style vocals provide just enough crossover feel to energize the crowd, while Chuck Billy’s harsher delivery lends itself to the in-your-face vocal delivery that made live performances so exciting in our youth. Further, the track provides chunky riff after double-time breakdown riff using decades of finger skill and dexterity to manipulate the fretboard with masterful ease. If you can’t smash through your car window made of a garbage bag and duct tape to pump your fist at oncoming traffic in time with this tune, then you might have made some poor choices in life, and you might be dead inside. Probably time to stop cashing your neighbor’s social security checks and call it a day.
I would be remiss to not take a moment to talk about the smooth, almost luscious bass work the incomparable Steve DiGiorgio is able to weave. His playing makes his experience and breadth of styles apparent, whether he’s opening a track with slightly distorted bass chords or whether he’s popping up and down like a bobber revealing a slight nibble from a rainbow trout. Particularly when the album slows down or thins out, DiGiorgio’s bass lines slide in to fill the void with some baritone melodies that are as comforting as a double chocolate cake on a cold winter’s eve.
Titans of Creation is Testament’s best output in the last 20-plus years. Is it perfect? No. But it’s damn close. Like many thrash bands that have mounted strong comebacks in the last decade this album is about 12 minutes too long. Is that a fatal flaw? Absolutely not. In a world where there is a dearth of truly exceptional thrash, Titans of Creation flies the banner strong and true. It’s an album that will figure mightily come year’s end should the human race be fortunate enough to make it there. Testament is back… again. And they have crafted an album that borders on masterful, a comeback of sorts that will be welcome sounds to the ears of thrash addicts young and old alike. In uncertain times, it’s comforting to rely on old stalwarts to keep us safe. Long live Chuck Billy and long live Testament.