In this 1993 interview for MTV News, James Hetfield said: “It’s flattering to have someone copy your style or to, you know, try and sound like you. But it’s also annoying to think that there’s bands out there waiting for your album to come out before they can write any material. It’s sad, really, to…live an existence that depends on someone else.”
I get the feeling that he’s talking about Testament as proven by the timeline of their albums…
March 3, 1986 – Metallica’s Master of Puppets was released. It was almost 55 minutes long despite having only eight tracks. It was a progressive metal album where the thrash was few and far in between. I would say that half of it is mid-tempo metal. For hardcore metal enthusiasts, the album could be regarded as melodic thrash metal – the sort of thrash metal that you can sing along to. April 21, 1987 – Testament’s The Legacy was released. It was almost 39 minutes, so there wasn’t much room for epic progression. Vocally, it was less melodic but it was still catchy in the same way that fast-paced rap is. The only similarity is studio wizardry making Chuck Billy’s voice sound demonic in the intro to First Strike is Deadly like in the middle of the title track on Master of Puppets.
Lyrically, Over the Wall is similar to Welcome Home (Sanitarium). Instrumentally, Testament’s first album was more consistent in the thrashing but it didn’t do so by forsaking a strong sense of rhythm which is almost dance-like. It’s like the `80s metal version of `90s tech trance. Killer grooves, indeed. Like Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Alex Skolnick’s guitar solos were fast but melodic rather than being technical in a way that comes off as cacophony like with Slayer or even Exodus. It’s the difference between bliss and blitz. There is another instrumental similarity. The intro of Testament’s The Haunting is similar to the intro of Orion in that there is an ominous sound which sounds like it could either be a distorted bass or an organ making a prolonged note. Unlike Metallica, there are no instrumental tracks as was usually the case for `80s Metallica albums. There’s not even a ballad.
August 21, 1987 – Metallica’s Garage Days Re-Revisited was released. It’s an EP consisting of just covers: six covers in five tracks, to be precise. May 5, 1988 – Testament’s The New Order was released (three days after my second birthday). Unlike Metallica, it’s an LP that only has one cover, and it’s an Aerosmith song (Nobody’s Fault) unlike Metallica’s emphasis on covering punk and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Vocally, Chuck Billy slowed down a bit and took on a bit of Hetfield’s vocal delivery with how he elongates syllables at the end of a line with a macho timbre. Instrumentally, the main similarity is that the bass has more of a consistent presence than heard previously from either band. If anything, the riff to Testament’s Disciples of the Watch is an earlier but different version of the main riff to The Toxic Waltz by Exodus. In fairness to Metallica, Testament’s Aerosmith cover begins like Damage Inc. from Master of Puppets with the volume swells popping up in different speakers. Comparing The New Order to Metallica’s previous albums, there are surprisingly no ballads. However, we do get two instrumentals.
September 7, 1988 – Metallica’s …and Justice for All was released. It is notorious for having no bass guitar present. August 4, 1989 – Testament’s Practice What You Preach was released. The bass is actually present. Vocally, Chuck let his guard down for The Ballad much in the same way that Hetfield did for One. The only technical similarity between the two albums is that the production is clean (for a lack of a better word). Lyrically, Perilous Nation is similar to Eye of the Beholder, Time is Coming could be likened to …and Justice for All, and Greenhouse Effect is similar to Blackened. Testament’s album ends with an instrumental like how Metallica’s Ride the Lightning album did. The difference is that it’s bass-led. By the way, there is something funny about a band called Testament where the bassist’s surname is Christian.
October 9, 1990 – Testament’s Souls of Black was released. It was recorded in June, which was around the same time when Metallica were preparing the demos for their self-titled album i.e. the black album. The latter began recording in October. Like how Metallica hired a different producer after three albums with the same guy (Flemming Rasmussen), Testament did the same. Instead of recording album #4 with Alex Perialas, they hired Michael Rosen. Like with Metallica’s previous albums, Souls of Black begins with an acoustic melody that foreshadows the electric equivalent that is to follow. Ironically, the third track (Falling Fast) sounds like a demo. The title track has a riff which seems to have inspired the intro riff to Dark Angel’s Sensory and Deprivation (released in 1991 on their Time Does Not Heal album).
Metallica’s eponymous album (which could have been called Snake Pit) was released on August 12, 1991. May 15, 1992 – Testament’s The Ritual was released. It was recorded at the same studio as Metallica’s biggest selling album: “One on One Recording” – a facility based in Los Angeles. The guy who mastered Metallica’s album is the same guy in change of mastering Testament’s The Ritual i.e. George Marino. Interestingly, Metallica had recorded in One on One for …and Justice for All, but Testament didn’t when they recorded Practice What You Preach. For Testament’s first two albums, they recorded in a New York facility called Pyramid Sound Studios. For the next two albums, they recorded in a Californian facility called Fantasy Studios. Unlike One on One, it is not based in Los Angeles. Instead, it is situated in Berkeley. Back to Exodus, their 1990 album (Impact is Imminent) copied …and Justice for All by diminishing the bass to an inaudible degree.
Like with their final `80s albums, Hammett and Skolnick adopted a bluesy style to their guitar solos for their `90s albums. They sounded looser but no less proficient. Back to The Ritual, there is a lyrical connection between Troubled Dreams and Metallica’s Wherever I May Roam with the nomad theme. Musically, The Ritual is slower yet heavier and moodier. In all fairness, Metallica’s success with the black album forced many metal bands to follow suit by adopting a detuned and groove-driven sound. This was often done at the behest of the record labels. Even Pantera had adopted a stripped-down sound for Vulgar Display of Power (1992). Having said that, many guitarists would have killed to have the scooped midrange setting that Hetfield had on the black album. Even Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell had scooped mids. All in all, you have to give Testament credit for not copying Anthrax, who also consisted of five guys recording albums in New York. They, too, have a Native American singer.