Forget Metallica, forget Megadeth, Anthrax, and even Slayer! The most formidable on-stage thrash metal powerhouse of 2011 was arguably the (mostly) reconstituted classic lineup of Testament: singer Chuck Billy, guitarists Alex Skolnick, and Eric Peterson, plus returning bass badass Greg Christian and occasional drummer Gene Hoglan, who probably tops most predecessors on the stool, most would agree. This fearsome ensemble spent several months tearing up concert halls worldwide, consistently putting the "mosh" back in the "pit," before invading Oakland, California's Driftwood Studios to record their tenth album Dark Roots of Earth, which, though not quite as timeless as Testament's late-'80s triumphs, sure comes as close as anything they've done over the past 20 years. Savagely lucid thrashers like "Rise Up," "True American Hatred," and "Last Stand for Independence" highlight everything that made Testament special from day one and their failure to achieve stardom so perplexing: the homegrown Bay Area violence rivaled only by Exodus and a versatile musicality on par with Metallica. A simplistic analysis could chalk up the former to rhythm guitarist Peterson's brute-fist force, the latter to lead shredder Skolnick's Satriani-caliber virtuosity, but they are both just pieces of the band's alchemical musical puzzle, complemented by Billy's unique penchant for growling in tune, Christian's inventive and athletic bass contributions, and Hoglan's devastating percussive propulsion (if anything, he holds some of his death metal tricks in check here). Returning to the music itself, the more melodically driven title track and pummeling anti-ballad "Cold Embrace" raise fond memories of the Souls of Black and Practice What You Preach eras, respectively; and in the particularly memorable "A Day in the Death," fans get a polished-off ancient outtake co-written by original vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza! Finally, though the songs named above largely see Testament reaping nostalgia's rewards, the multifaceted "Throne of Thorns" reveals new sounds, ideas, and a willingness to experiment more aggressively in years to come. For now, Dark Roots of Earth improves upon 2008's comeback The Formation of Damnation and, in tandem with those rejuvenated live performances, promises a well-deserved second act for a band that so narrowly missed grasping the golden ring its first time around. Who knows, the best may be yet to come for Testament. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi

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