Hall of Fame Countdown: Testament’s “The Legacy”

1987 was, clearly, a good time for metal, and it was a good time for thrash metal. And it was a great time for Testament, who dropped their debut, the mighty The Legacy, that year, the band at their thrashiest and most unhinged, an album that would go on to be considered a thrash classic.

Actually, it’s so much of a classic that we inducted it into our Hall of Fame in our October 2008 issue. To celebrate that induction a decade back, and to celebrate the band playing at our upcoming Decibel Metal & Beer Fest: Los Angeles (performing The New Order and The Gathering albums in their entirety), today we look back at The Legacy and rank the songs from worst to best.

9. Alone In the Dark
Maybe unpopular-opinion time here, but I just can’t get behind the chorus in this one; I always found that vocal line just positively grating, and the vocal lines in the verses don’t do much to redeem it. I feel like a lot of people love this song but I’m not really one of them. Having said that, I thrash to it pretty hard when it’s on, because even the worst of The Legacy is still awesome. (Also, this one gets stuck in my head a LOT at random.)

8. Apocalyptic City
Love the intro, the band hinting at the melodic and guitar-hero work we’d see from them in the future then jumping straight into some excellent razor-sharp riff work and perfect Testament vocals and vocal lines. Love the chorus, love the sense that the song just keeps thrashing along, intensity building as things pick up, Testament definitely ending the album on a strong note here, this song being the longest on The Legacy as well as one of the most thrashing.

7. First Strike Is Deadly
More or less the perfect song to start the second half of this album, the band thrashing with reckless abandon, sort of like if Sodom set up shop in the Bay Area for a month to crank out a few neck-wreckers, vocalist Chuck Billy delivering a classic thrash shriek in the chorus, and the band dropping a great half-time stomp in here as well. Lots to love here, even if it doesn’t quite rank up with side one’s classics.

6. Do or Die
There aren’t many deep cuts in The Legacy’s nine songs, but “Do or Die” is one, and it’s one that evokes the exact same reaction from me every single damn time I listen to it: during the verse things are thrashing along nicely, then during that weird and melodic chorus, I shout out, “THIS song! Totally forgot about this one!” Then I forget about it again until next time I’m spinning this album, which is odd because I totally dig that weird and melodic chorus. (Update during final editing: I forget what this song sounds like again, and eagerly await being surprised, again, next time I spin this album, which will be soon enough.)

5. Burnt Offerings
The intro hinted at the melodic chops Testament had even back on their debut, a side of their sound they wouldn’t develop further this time around (except, as previously mentioned, in the intro to final cut “Apocalyptic City”), as this song turns into a manic panic soon enough, with Billy’s crazed vocal lines following the hyper guitar work, creating a berserk wall of noise; in other words, another Testament classic, right here. Side one of this album is barnstormer after barnstormer.

4. The Haunting
The opening riffs all rule, then there’s more, and they rule too, and then Mr. Billy comes in with a frantic vocal assault in the verses that continues to the choruses. But the choruses have a great Testament mid-tempo quality to them, while the verses border on Teutonic thrash, a mixture that the band never really did again as successfully as on this rager.

3. Over the Wall
Alright, definitely a classic thrasher here, the band going nuts during the verses and giving a memorable thrash classic anthem for the ages come chorus time. Love the “jailbreak” video, love everything about this one, really, the band crafting a clean and concise thrasher that shows their songwriting skills early here: song one on the debut, and it’s already clear that these guys are one of the kings of thrash. Not bad at all. I suspect many people would consider this to be number one, but it doesn’t quite have the personality of the two thrashers that topped it on my list.

2. Raging Waters
I love “Raging Waters.” Like, I really, really love this song. It’s not spoken of in terms that some other songs from this album are, but to me it’s a stone-cold classic. The frantic vocal lines, the perfect tempo, the insane lyrical conceit (“The water was as hot/as Satan’s forge from hell/The questions that arose/Like ‘Where the hell are we?’/I had a good idea/We’re in the Devil’s Sea/The Triangle!/The Devil’s Triangle!” You’re killing me, Chuck), the feeling that this is just a steamroller out of control and you can do nothing but hold on and go along for the ride, grinning ear to ear, as Testament bring you right into the Devil’s Triangle once and for all. Awesome.

1. C.O.T.L.O.D. (Curse of the Legions of Death)
Aside from the fact that we all love saying “Cotlod” as if it’s a real word, this song totally kills it, Testament ending off side A of the original release with a banger, and one that really got stuck in our heads, hard, that chorus just worming its way in and not leaving for damn decades now. For good reason: it’s well written, it’s fun, and it thrashes hard. Speaking of thrashing hard: those verses. Attack of the locusts, attack! Metal laugh at the end for bonus points, too. These are some of the best thrash songs ever written, full stop.