Even as this review is being penned, it is hard to ignore the ghoulish presence that hangs over this album, and everyone who may or may not actually hear it. At time of writing, singer Chuck Billy is sick with COVID-19, and no pretence to an "objective" look at this record stands up to that knowledge, or the global impact of the disease. This, mind you, is not intended to work on anyone's anxiety about Billy (a proven tough egg in medical matters, after all) or the crisis. It's merely and sadly the lens through which our music, our stories and our connection must now be forced.
The thing is, though, that in Testament's case, such a lens can only sharpen what they already have to say. That's the best aspect of Testament; coherence. They are very good storytellers, lyrically and musically, who always turn in several songs per record that get past the tendency metal bands have to get lost in abstraction and nonsense, and actually have some real world topicality ('True American Hate'), some bite and heft ('Native Blood'), an actual perspective ('The Evil Has Landed') and a sense of the future, of hope ('More Than Meets The Eye').
'Titans of Creation' is brilliant at this. Musically, this feels like the least "show-offish" Testament record since their reunion. Plenty of wild solos and impressive fills, but there's more moodiness to these riffs, more texture, more evidence that the large gaps between each new album are actually helping to let these songs grow and mature. 'Dream Deceiver' is a varied, technically adept album centrepiece and the most adventurous track on the album; 'False Prophet' and 'City of Angels' have all the groove you want with a bottom-end bass sound this good, and 'Curse of Osiris' is everything a thrash fan needs for a hearty, neckbreaking good time.
However, it's 'WW III' and 'Night of the Witch' that make this record. 'WW III' doesn't conjure a fantastic episode of Mutually Assured Destruction and retell it with the faint glee you sometimes see from metal bands angling towards 'edgy' material. It imagines the scenario with blunt directness. It works through the idea. It seems to know how close we've already almost come to this state in 2020, and it plays on your anxieties and hopes beautifully. 'Night...' meanwhile, is a demonstration of how just one single element can break or make the work in question. It sounds hyperbolic to say that simply the way Chuck Billy shrieks that excellent chorus is enough to make this song, but what else is there to say but the truth?
In any other year, 'Titans of Creation' would've been a victory lap on release. I like to think the title is not a little self-referential - Testament have been honing this craft and taking their sweet time between albums for over a decade now. They are so good at what they do; who can actually listen to this record, and the three before it, and not conclude that this has been not merely a hot streak, but their best years?
'Titans of Creation' is out now on Nuclear Blast