Live in London
here's doing an album for the fans, and then there's doing the fans. How many greatest hits compilations, remastered reissues, and live albums does it take before music consumers revolt at being sold the same thing repeatedly? Iron Maiden fans never seem to learn, or perhaps are perceived as stupid (or rich); the band has released a whopping six live albums, and has sold "Run to the Hills" to the public no less than 15 times. Anthrax' output, too, has been reheated and recycled as often as it's been created. Testament's Live in London raises similar alarm bells. For a band with eight studio albums (the last in 1999), three greatest hits compilations, and one "classics re-recorded" album, is a fourth live album really necessary?
Over-anthologization can indicate a number of things: (1) industry greed, (2) the end of a career, and (3) strong songs, weaker albums. Testament's case may be a combination of all three. You don't see Metallica or Slayer greatest hits compilations (yet); their early albums were nothing but greatest hits, and denied cherry-picking. Not so with Testament, who never cracked "The Big Four" of '80s thrash metal: Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer. The band never made a top-to-bottom monster like Master of Puppets or Reign in Blood, but unlike its thrash peers, it also never made a bad album. Throughout the late '80s and early '90s, the original lineup of Chuck Billy (vocals), Eric Peterson (rhythm guitar), Alex Skolnick (lead guitar), Greg Christian (bass), and Louie Clemente (drums) consistently cranked out hooky thrash that's still influential today—Lamb of God should be paying Testament some serious royalties.
Testament's history can be divided into the Alex Skolnick years, and everything afterwards. Arguably the best of the thrash guitarists, Skolnick livened up even the most mundane riffs with melodic, precise leads. In particular, the original lineup's final album, 1992's The Ritual, overflowed with his inventive playing and songwriting. However, Skolnick tired of the confines of thrash and left to study jazz. Testament was never the same afterwards. The band went through a Spinal Tap-esque array of drummers, guitarists, and bassists, with Billy and Peterson being the only consistent members. Testament's sound shifted towards death metal, but in 2001, the band re-recorded its early thrash classics for First Strike Still Deadly. Despite the fact it was a blatant cash grab, the album sounded great, with beefy modern production and Skolnick back playing leads just like he used to.
Live in London does pretty much the same thing, except with crowd noise. Earlier this year, Testament's original lineup reunited for a nostalgia tour that featured the old chestnuts. This album is billed as a document of this reunion, which isn't completely true. Hired gun John Tempesta drums for the first 10 tracks, while original sticksman Clemente appears on the last six. Frankly, it's lame that a reunion show would only roll out the full lineup more than halfway through ("Darryl Jones on bass! And now, please welcome Bill Wyman!"). However, drumming was never the focus of Testament, and Clemente does get the job done after a clunky start.
Griping aside, Live in London is the best of Testament's live albums. The production is heavy and clear, and Skolnick turns up the heat on his solos with copious pick squeals (perhaps something he missed while playing jazz). After almost 20 years, Billy's voice still sounds huge. He's hands down one of the best metal singers around, having added a fearsome death growl to his melodic baritone. The songs, too, hold up fine after all this time. "Into the Pit" and "Trial by Fire" never get old, and it's nice to hear songs from underrated albums Souls of Black and The Ritual. In fact, if one wanted a "best of" from the Skolnick era, Live in London would do nicely. If one doesn't want between-song banter and the ups and downs of a live show, then go with First Strike Still Deadly.
A question for Testament and Anthrax (who also did the "classics re-recorded" thing, as well as a reunion tour): now that you've gouged our wallets, how about some new music?