Testament, Alex Skolnick, And The Return of Metal Heaven

Damnation of Formation Cover ArtIn May, one of my favorite Heavy Metal/Thrash groups, Testament, returned with their newest album, The Formation of Damnation. While many metalheads were reveling in the late eighties at musical acts like Metallica, Slayer, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crüe and other popular Metal acts, I was enthralled with Testament. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the acts I just mentioned, but Testament was my favorite. Primarily because I wanted to be like Alex Skolnick (more on that in a bit). I will be the first to admit, Testament isn’t for everyone. Their music is hard, heavy, aggressive and fast. If you are into that sort of thing, then you should definitely check them out.

I was first introduced to the band when a cousin from California, another metalhead junkie, gave me a copy of The Legacy in 1988/89. Since then, I have followed the band and been loyal through all the line-up changes. In 1992, the band was shaken up when longtime lead guitarist, Alex Skolnick, left the band to pursue other musical interests. Skolnick went on to finish music school, started his own trio, Alex Skolnick Trio, and worked with different musical acts such as Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Savatage. I was heart-broken and I couldn’t quite understand why Skolnick would leave a band that seemed so perfect. What can I say, I was young.

Over the years, what has continued to intrigue me about Alex Skolnick is his “sound”. What I mean by “sound” is the best musicians have a unique musical language that is easily reckognized regardless of what they perform or with who. Kind of like when you hear Mozart, or the Bee Gees, when you hear them you just know it’s them. I have mentioned before that originality is a key to success in the music industry, and Skolnick brought something special to the Metal scene and to Testament. If you listen to Testament’s Practice What You Preach and compare it to The Gathering you will hear a difference. There is a lack of Skolnick’s sound in The Gathering. On top of the sound I am describing, Skolnick has guitar chops that made me drool every time I heard him as a kid – and I still do today. Chuck Billy, the lead singer, is easily the heart and soul of Testament since he alone never gave up and kept the band breathing. However, without Skolnick, Testament wasn’t the same. It would be like Megadeth continuing without Dave Mustaine, or Anthrax without Scott Ian, or Iron Maiden without Bruce Dickinson.

When Skolnick returned to perform at a Testament reunion gig a few years ago, I was ecstatic and hoped that the reunion would lead to a new album. My prayers were answered!! The Formation of Damnation marks the return of the classic Testament lineup. The album continues to receive accolades and was recently awarded best album at the 2008 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards. It’s a great album and you want to read a good review, visit Metal Invader, Metal Minstrel or Teeth of Divine.

In the past several years, some of my favorite musical acts have reunited to come back and produce some great new albums. It’s no secret that Nirvana ruined the metal scene in the early nineties. When I entered college, I think I was one of the few loyalists to continue marching forward buying, listening and attending metal/rock shows in the crowd I hung out with. It isn’t entirely surprising since I was around a bunch of music snobs that thought classical music is the only REAL music – aka music school. The fact is heavy metal may have faded from the mainstream, but it never went away. Instead, the metal scene treaded the underground and took it’s vitamins to return better than ever at the turn of the millennium. We can thank some of the better “Nu Metal” acts like System of a Down and Linkin Park for bringing hard hitting music back into the spotlight. Yes, they deserve some credit. However, with the new album from Testament, the return of Metal heaven has come full circle and is now officially complete.

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