Ara is a journalism graduate from California State University, Northridge, who is always looking to explore his writing opportunities.
Testament is one of those bands in the history of the thrash metal scene that have established themselves as what I would like to call “the Big 5” of the California thrash metal scene the other four being Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Exodus. Testament released in 2001 an album called First Strike Still Deadly which is not an official studio album but it is actually re-recorded versions of songs from their first two albums. I decided to review this album by Testament as well because of my enormous respect and admiration for the band's vocalist Chuck Billy. We revisit an album that has been the subject of mostly negative reviews. But this review will be written to dispel those negative viewpoints and to show that this album is a much better work than it is given credit for.
First Strike Still Deadly Is a Compilation Album
This album which is like basically a compilation was released on October 24, 2001, just a little less than 2 months before the death of Chuck Schuldiner. This is significant because the world would lose one of the best US born death metal guitarists who was a major icon in the scene. The riffing especially in the re-done version of the song "Burnt Offerings" sounds like a much heavier pattern of 1980s style thrash metal riffing. Contrary to what it may be believed, First Strike Still Deadly is not an official Testament studio album. It is a collection of songs from the band's earlier days that have been re-recorded. It baffles me why on the website Wikipedia, First Strike Still Deadly is described as Testament’s 9th studio album. In a different way of analysis, if we wanted to be literal and technical, we have to call this album for what it is which is a re-recording of the band’s earlier material.
There Are a Few Guest Vocal Performances by Steve Souza
Stylistically, the vocals are obviously way different than the original songs when they were written and recorded for the first time. Chuck's vocals are at a lower octave and consist of those rough vocals, the kind that may scare some people because they are so deep. The guitars are also tuned down for this release and the bass guitar may be better because of the contributions of Steve Digiorgio, the same person that did the bass guitar for the album Human released by Florida death metal band Death. Steve Souza provides guest vocals for the songs "Alone In the Dark" and "Reign of Terror."
There is An Excellent Selection of Songs on This Album
But as for Testament, they continued to release quality album after quality album and the selection of the songs here is superb! Albums like these which feature a compilation of songs or a re-recording of songs do not always end up in the elite category but this album certainly does in spite of the lower tuned guitars and rougher vocals. “The Preacher” in this selection of songs still has that little exotic part that is noticeable. Instead of saying the words “the preacher” Chuck just lets out a laugh. For those that have that nostalgia for wanting to experience the early days of Testament, First Strike Still Deadly is an album that allows listeners and fans of the band to experience the 1980s albums with a more
"Trial by Fire" 2001 Version
Steve Souza Makes His Brief Return to Testament
We would be doing a disservice if we did not discuss the contributions of Steve Souza. On the song "Alone In the Dark" as it builds up slowly, Steve's vocals range from regular, standard style to the raspy screams that he is known for.
Final Thoughts and Perhaps Counter Criticisms
First Strike Still Deadly has received mostly negative reviews and for me that is hard to understand why. Of course, these songs do not sound exactly the same that they did back in 1987 and 1988. This is a re-recording of the band’s earlier material so it would naturally sound different. Besides, there is still the thrash metal feel that many would love so what is going on here? It could be that perhaps songs such as “Trial By Fire” are slower than they should be and this could be what bothers some people. Nonetheless, First Strike Still Deadly is a good album for those that wish to return to the good old days of Testament but want to hear a modern version of these songs. There is another song on here called “Reign of Terror” which is on the LIVE mini album called Return to the Apocalyptic City which was released in 1993. Lyrically there is a reference to what happened during World War 2 when Adolf Hitler was in power. If you are still disappointed about this album look at it this way: you get to hear Testament’s original vocalist plus the man that would replace him in Chuck Billy combined with a more modern production. I’d say these are the qualities that produce a winning musical formula. The bass guitar play of Steve Digiorgio in the beginning of the song “Trial by Fire” deserves much praise for how well he plucked those notes. For what it is worth, First Strike Still Deadly is a darn good album for the open-minded avid heavy metal fan that has nostalgia for the 1980s and wants to take a trip back in time without using a time machine. On the Oricon Music Charts, this album was at #70 which means that it was still ranked at a pretty good position. Let’s also add some much needed additional perspective about this album by saying that a reviewer on the website Metal Archives by the name of Laura Fannuchi-Banash says that this album is “not a step backward but a better and more fluent examination of the band to see what they seemed to reiterate with these newer thrash metal remakes.” This is definitely not a step backward for the Bay Area’s Testament but it was a great opportunity for the guys Steve Digiorgio and John Tempesta to be a part of something nostalgic and special for a modern thrash metal album.
 Laura Fannuchi-Banash, “Testament – First Strike Still Deadly,” Metal Archives, January 28, 2010, https://www.metal-archives.com/reviews/Testament/First_Strike_Still_Deadly/260/
Fannuchi-Banash, Laura. “Testament – First Strike Still Deadly.” Metal Archives, January 28, 2010. https://www.metal-archives.com/reviews/Testament/First_Strike_Still_Deadly/260.
© 2021 Ara Vahanian