Testament: Eleventh Time’s The Charm
The Bay Area thrash movement of the early 1980s not only spurned the likes of Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth – collectively known as the Big 4 – but also a number of other bands that, while not etched in metal folklore as much as other names, are still pivotal players in a musical revolution that continues unabated today. Testament are one of those bands, who, although not mentioned in the same breath as the Big 4 in some circles, are equally – if not moreso – revered in others.
Since forming in 1983, Testament have released ten albums, and have been happy to live somewhat in the shadows of their more recognisable big brothers, content in the knowledge that they are staying true to their art. With a sound unmistakably their own, and one that has not ‘evolved’ as heavily as their contemporaries have, Testament have stayed true to their roots moreso that most other bands, with vocalist Chuck Billy saying that the success of each of the bands still going from that era is as much about personal belief as it is success on the charts.
“I think the main thing is that everybody believes 100% in what they’ve created, and I think that all of those bands have created their own sound and style and imprint on metal music,” he says. “I think there’s always new generations of metal – actually, it has been on the rise since the early 2000s and is growing every day! With us, and I think especially with the material we have been writing, it doesn’t sound like we’re a 30-year-dld band trying to live off past releases. We’re not trying to release songs that are too much like our early stuff, either. I think our music has had a progression and is still sounding fresh, but more importantly, it still sounds like us.”
That legacy continues on October 28th, when their eleventh album, Brotherhood of the Snake, is unleashed. Of course, Billy is unashamedly excited about its release.
“We don’t even know what we’re gonna write, but you’ll still know it’s Testament when you hear it!”
“We definitely knew, writing the songs, that we wanted to write a faster record than Dark Roots of Earth,” he enthuses. “We went into the studio really focused on trying to get the biggest drum sound we possibly could, and we accomplished that. The tempo was really sped up, so everything we set out to do, we achieved. I think the process of just getting the record written and recorded was really treacherous, and it was a long path that took a few years. Over those years, we did some tours, and then went back home and wrote, but we couldn’t seem to get the songs into the complete, finished form that we wanted.
“We went into the studio the most under-prepared we have ever been – we didn’t go and rehearse the demos, we just went in and went for it, and I think something about that worked: having our backs against the wall, just going in and doing it and playing and recording from your gut – what feels good the first time around – and not over-guessing or rethinking things, or second guessing yourself. Whatever we had to go through to get to this point of the record, we did. It wasn’t the easiest, but the quality of the songs came out kick-ass.”
With so many albums under their belts, it would be easy to assume that Billy has his favourites. But, he says the case is the exact opposite.
“I like them all equally,” he says democratically. “Each record has its own killer songs in the live set, but I’m really enjoying where we are as a band for our last three or four records. To me, it’s all about moving forward I think we are all playing to our abilities right now. It’s just a good time for the band, and maybe something that comes along with that is having the original guys back. Since they came back, we have put out a couple of really good records. It doesn’t hurt the confidence in yourself or your ability.”
The “old” members coming back are Alex Skolnick [guitar], Gene Hoglan [drums] and Steve DiGiorgio [bass], and aside from providing an energising presence and reflection of where the band has come from, Billy points out that the whole dynamic behind Testament’s daily grind have shifted.
“We’re doing it for ourselves now,” he admitted. “When we were young and just going for it with the band, it was just party, party, party. But now, it’s about writing good music that feels right to us. We’ve established who we are and what we do, and I think we’ve always kept our fans on their toes when it comes time for a new record; not knowing what we’re going to deliver because we’re in the same boat. We don’t even know what we’re gonna write, but you’ll still know it’s Testament when you hear it!”