Testament Titans of Creation

The band’s thirteenth studio release proves once again how they themselves are titans of creation in the thrash metal lineage.

Although drummer Gene Hoglan is not an original member of Testament, his drumming style created the molds from which most all thrash and extreme metal drumming spawned. Case in point is the opening track of Testament’s new album, Titans of Creation (Nuclear Blast). On “Children of the Next Level,” Hoglan’s double kicks gallop in unison with the guitars, something he pioneered back in the ’80s with Death and Dark Angel, and that metal drummers have emulated ever since. “Night of the Witch” covers some new terrain for the band, channeling black metal vibes with the help of the haunting vocals of guitarist Eric Peterson. Overall, the album maintains a classic Testament sound with some modern progressive elements thrown into the mix. Hoglan’s signature drumming is peppered throughout the record; however, his restraint is what’s most impressive, showcasing his humility by playing for the song. We spoke to Gene to get some details about the recording, and about where he and the band are at creatively today.

MD: What are the pros and cons of making records today as opposed to thirty-five years ago?

Gene: They’re still about the same for me, because I’m one of those fortunate dudes that comes from the analog era. Back then, albums got put out warts and all, and editing was very time consuming. You had to be able to play the songs all the way through, so I am not someone that relies on all the studio magic available today. 

I can tell you how the digital world is helpful. On this record, Eric and I spent about six months putting together the ideas for the record. Then as a band we spent three weeks in the studio doing the pre-production, and then went immediately into the recording. Even then, arrangements still might change after I’ve recorded my parts, so if a section needs to be extended, cut down, or even moved to another part of the song, that’s where the convenience of studio editing today is practical, because that can all be done after you’re done recording.

MD: One thing that jumped out while listening to the record with headphones was that there was a hi-hat sometimes panned to the right. You’ve long had a dual ride setup, with the kit panned from the drummer’s perspective, so did you add a second hi-hat on your right?

Gene: I know, I heard that, too! I haven’t added a hi-hat on the right, and even the secondary hi-hat that I used in the past was on my left, and it’s long gone. I always request that my drums are mixed from the drummer’s perspective, but sometimes things happen. I actually did use the ride cymbal on my right-hand side a lot more on this record, just because it was there.

MD: Your drumming on this record really seems to be there to serve the song more than to be at the forefront. Granted, playing for the song in a thrash band still requires being chock full of chops. 

Gene: I’ll tell you flat out that with any band I play in, I always dig all the brutally fast stuff. That said, there’s not much brutality drumming-wise on this record. There are no serious BPMs, or challenging double bass, but I really like all the songs on this record. As a hired gun, I definitely can’t say that for all the records I’ve played on.

MD: Thrash metal is a genre where if bands start under that umbrella, they tend not to stray too far from its reach. There’s a loyalty to the sound and what it stands for.

Gene: Thrash metal was created at a time when bands like Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot were considered “heavy metal,” and the energy of thrash metal was an aggressive response to that false impression. The excitement of the early days of thrash still prevails!

David Ciauro

Gene Hoglan plays Pearl Reference drums and Demon Eliminator Redline pedals, Evans drumheads, Sabian cymbals, ProMark 2B nylon-tip drumsticks, and an Attack rack.

David Glasser Hypocrisy Democracy

A particularly great showpiece for MATT WILSON’s brilliance for thematic and “melodic” drumming.

As a member of the Count Basie Orchestra and a former Clark Terry sideman, alto saxophonist Dave Glasser has firm roots in mainstream jazz. Yet his fleet, razor-toned soloing has always leaned to modern frontiers. This outing may be his most progressive yet, thanks to his like-minded sidemen: pianist Andy Milne, bassist Ben Allison, and drummer Matt Wilson. As always, Wilson is swinging, inventive, and responsive. The opener, “Knit Wit,” is a shining example. Within the open spaces of the head, he playfully answers and finishes phrases in some of the most “singing” kit work imaginable. Think Max Roach or Alan Dawson. In another highlight, the alto/drums duet “Glee for Lee,” Wilson’s pulse and thematic interplay are irresistible. The spare setting reveals his attention to sound as well: a beautiful balance of touch, tuning, and articulation. (Here Tiz Music)

Jeff Potter

Eldar Djangirov Rhapsodize

New York jazzer JIMMY MACBRIDE handles the piano virtuoso’s material with his own advanced skills.

Eldar Djangirov has never allowed being considered a child prodigy to burden him. Now in his early thirties, he just keeps releasing album after album of uniformly excellent piano jazz. Yes, this guy can get around a keyboard with blazing speed and accuracy, but his playing is never short on melodicism and rhythmic verve. The same can be said of Djangirov’s bandmates, and each brings his A-game to Rhapsodize, a trio date with an assortment of compositional flavors. Drummer Jimmy Macbride works his bell with hip accents on the head of burning opener “A Night in Tunisia,” and lays down a groovy 7/4 pulse on the wistful “Airport.” Check out the syncopated twists and turns Macbride deals with in meticulously arranged tunes like “Anthemic” and “Burn” and the ghost-note and ride cymbal tour-de-force “Variations on a Bach Prelude.” Whether swinging on breakneck tempos or navigating pages black with notes, Macbride is up for this challenge. (Twelve Tone Resonance)

Ilya Stemkovsky

Wolfgang Muthspiel Angular Blues

Another impeccably recorded and performed BRIAN BLADE date, with quiet fire.

Another impeccably recorded and performed BRIAN BLADE date, with quiet fire.
“It’s about playing with space: leaving it, creating it, filling it,” said guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel in press materials about “I’ll Remember April,” the standard concluding his wonderful new ECM disc. But that statement could almost be a sonic manifesto for the group’s whole sound, a declaration of artistic intent that yields magical results when these players make music together. Though bassist Scott Colley’s solid presence is a new variable this time around, he fits into the dynamic leader Muthspiel and Brian Blade have built over the years with velvety ease. This is lovely, understated modern trio jazz. Blade floats atop a 5/4 pulse in “Wondering” just out of the way of the acoustic guitar, before soloing over the form with soft tom rolls and elegant restraint. The title track finds the drummer supporting some complex changes and rhythmic shifts with signature seductive cymbal work, and he lends silky brushes to “Ride,” a pure swinger rare for this group. Delicate and enchanting stuff. (ECM)

(ECM) Ilya Stemkovsky


Kick It by Matt Brennan

A fluent historical analysis that manages to rescue the working drummer from the indignities with which we’ve been saddled for the drumset’s hundred-year history.

Have you ever wondered why the drummer is the punching bag of the instrumentalist community? As we all know, countless drummers are the organizational lynchpins and engine drivers of their bands’ success. The clichés about us don’t add up. Enter academic (and drummer) Matt Brennan’s new social history of the drumkit, Kick It.

While illuminating the institutional racism that underpins the dismissive drummer jokes and “savage” descriptives of our craft, Brennan pulls off something remarkable: he makes a deeply investigated and well-sourced history of musicians and drum manufacturers a page-turner. Don’t be afraid of the Oxford University Press imprint—the book is short on jargon and blather. Like the geniuses who manage to make limb independence look easy, Kick It consolidates the myriad threads that contributed to the creation of the modern drumkit and makes it swing.

(Oxford University Press) John Colpitts