The Big Four, right? Slayer. Megadeth. Anthrax. Metallica. They are widely regarded as IT in that regard. Then comes the inevitable debate/argument over who should be, for lack of a better term, Four-A and Four-B, that degenerates into eventual name-calling, scratching, biting, etc. Well for this week’s Classic Albums, I thought we’d take a look at a band who I DEFINITELY think is worthy of one of those two spots, the Bay Area thrashers themselves, Testament, and their masterpiece The New Order.
I was on that fateful Belfast, Northern Ireland vacation in summer of 1988 when I popped into Golden Discs (their record store chain) and managed to find a cassette copy of this album I had been reading so much about in Kerrang! And Metal Hammer (my cousin used to send me the magazines!). The first thing that I fell in love with was the cover art. The logo was badass and that spectral face looming over Planet Earth was very evil-looking. I plunked down my £10 and headed up the Castlereigh Road back to Aunt Nora’s at top speed!
“Hello? Anybody here?” I had the place to myself. Good! No silly questions to interrupt my initiation to all things Testament. By now you know the drill: Tape>Walkman>PLAY. The beginning of “Eerie Inhabitants” starts, the guitar duo extraordinaire of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson working through a clean intro then unleashing a rain of thrash-tastic riffs upon you, with Skolnick seemingly melting the fretboard from his solos and Peterson working the rhythms like a pro. Hard to believe Skolnick was only 20 at the time. Title track “The New Order” is next, one of my all-time favorites, and STILL a live mainstay, for good reason. Chuck Billy’s voice is razor-sharp on these, and the remaining songs.
After two songs it’s hard not to notice the crystal clear production on this record thanks to producer Alex Perialas, who allows all five parts of the band to be heard equally, a major feat since Testament was known to record their albums “live” at the time (look it up!). Big MTV hit “Trial By Fire” follows, another one that stirs up pits for fans of all ages, as does “Into the Pit”, one of the best one-two punch combos on any thrash album, before or since. The crowd is nuts at any Testament show, but when one or both of these are played all bets are off! Drummer Louie Clemente was one of my favorites from this era, and Greg Christian’s bass is rubber cemented to him every step of the way, particularly on “Pit” where he really stands out. Side one closes with “Hypnosis”, a clean, two-minute interlude.
My ALL-TIME FUCKING FAVORITE TESTAMENT SONG IS NEXT!!! Which one? Glad you asked. “Disciples of the Watch” opens side two with a similar intro to the first one, but that’s where the similarities end. The band is in total overdrive for this one, and I’ve seen them do it as an opener and a closer live, my voice pretty much being shot no matter where they play it. Skolnick’s lead break is just jaw-dropping, and Chucks growls of “OBEEEEEY!!! Or I’ll burn you to that cross!!” WILL go straight for your innards. Then, on “The Preacher” he screams in a voice you’d think impossible for him to attain, but having seen them live six times, I can attest to it.
Some folks refer to “A Day of Reckoning” as the weak song on The New Order. I strongly disagree. There isn’t one. I enjoy the breakdowns and changes in it. Closing things out is the instrumental “Musical Death (A Dirge)” a song that not only stands right alongside anything those “other” guys put out, it actually surpasses them musically, and is definitely a song that helped cement Skolnick’s status as a true shredder. I will always associate this brilliant record with that particular trip to Belfast, and as someone who hates to fly, The New Order certainly took my mind off of things till we touched ground. This would serve as someone’s best introduction to the unbridled power of Testament, and it’s still one of my favorite thrash albums to this day. ~dc