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Writing a New Chapter
on March 9, 2014
Testament spit out thrash albums so rapidly in the late 1980s it's hard to imagine how they had time for two world tours in the same two-and-a-half year stretch that saw the release of The Legacy, The New Order, and Practice What You Preach. It's also wild to consider how drastically Testament's sound evolved from The Legacy to Practice.
It is clear right from the get-go that Practice What You Preach is a different beast than its predecessors. Most of the speed is gone. Yeah, Practice still thrashes, but in a totally different style. Chuck Billy's signature shrieking is also out; replacing it is his newborn growling, though in its Practice form it is still a precursor to his eventual death metal approach. Sadly, Skolnick's melodic enterprises also take a backseat. Gone are the haunting intros and the beauteous instrumentals that served so successfully as foils to Testament's broader thrash attack. Instead, the rhythm section dominates Practice What You Preach.
The guitars themselves sound much different. Part of this can be attributed to much better production than Testament's first two records saw, but part of it is also due to their new style. Catchy choruses and big riffs are the name of the game. Like I mentioned already, speed is no longer a main ingredient. "Sins of Omission" is the thrashiest track on the album and one of the few where Skolnick is allowed to really fly, but even it is a tortoise compared to material from The Legacy. Strangely, Practice also contains "The Ballad," which is exactly what the title indicates. Skolnick gets fancy with acoustic and clean guitars, and Chuck Billy sings cleanly for the majority of the song. It is not bad at all, but for fans expecting an album full of "Into the Pits" it's going to sound quite foreign.
On the plus side, Greg Christian's bass is prominent throughout Practice What You Preach, culminating in a featured role on the closing instrumental "Confusion Fusion." Compared to The Legacy, where he is barely audible at times, and The New Order, which is improved but still suffers from middle-of-the-road production, Practice finally does Christian the justice he deserves. His rumbling bass is a joy to listen to throughout the album.
Though it may sound like I am being highly critical of Practice What You Preach, the truth is I still really enjoy it despite it being a departure from the early Testament sound I love so dearly. Highlights include "Envy Life," "Time Is Coming," and "Sins of Omission." The title track is another definite classic, and "Perilous Nation" and "Blessed in Contempt" are also solid tracks. The only true downer is "Greenhouse Effect," an excruciatingly boring song with awful lyrics. Indeed, the lyrics are one of the major downsides for the album as a whole. Instead of growling about the occult and burning people to crosses, Chuck Billy gets political and offers social commentary along the way, two things I could do without.
In the end, 3 stars is probably a bit too critical of a rating for Practice What You Preach, and I do understand why it is some fans' favorite Testament album. It just took me forever to get into Practice, and the only song I really love is "Sins of Omission." I just don't get the urge to revisit this record all that often, whereas The Legacy and The New Order are permanent mainstays in my thrash repertoire. Nonetheless, it is worth checking out.