Testament's new album is a concept album
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For over three decades, the Bay Area quintet - Chuck Billy (vocals), Eric Peterson (guitars), Alex Skolnick (guitars), Steve DiGiorgio (bass), and Gene Hoglan (drums) - has consistently delivered unadulterated, unbridled, and unbreakable metal in its purest form without compromise or any signs of slowing down.
Over the course of seminal releases ranging from 'The Legacy' and Practice What You Preach' to 'The Gathering' and 'The Formation Of Damnation', which won "Best Album" at Metal Hammer's 2008 Golden Gods Awards, the group's sales exceeded 14 million worldwide with 2 million in the U.S. alone.
Most recently, 2012's critically praised 'Dark Roots Of Earth' assaulted the charts, moving over 20,000 first-week copies and seizing #12 on the Billboard Top 200, the band's highest U.S. chart bow ever. However, in 2016, TESTAMENT return with more teeth than ever on 'Brotherhood Of The Snake' (Nuclear Blast).
We spoke to frontman Chuck Billy about the album.
Marc Stapelberg: Eliran Kantor did the new album artwork, and his artwork on the banner at Soundwave looked amazing. Did you guys have much input in the final product?
Chuck Billy: Yeah, Eric, the guitarist is the artist of the group so him and Eliran have been working together maybe three or four records and he has done some backdrops and some t-shirts. He has been working for the band now for many years and he seems to have a good grip on what Eric is shooting for on these and they seem to work well together.My first glance at the record cover and art was 'I like it'. I didn't really have much to say. It was pretty spot on.
MS: Do you believe in aliens?
CB: I'm open to the possibilities. I mean I think that was kind of the inspiration point where we started writing our lyrics and coming up with some ideas and concepts for the record. I was kind of fascinated with the shows I had been watching at the time about documentation of sightings, or in different religions or different people around the world that have documented alien beings with the long arms and the big heads and flying objects across the sky. And it really opens up the mind to the possibilities that maybe there is something to this alien thing and maybe there is some truth to this. It just made me open my mind to it. I was actually born and raised Catholic so I was born and raised with different beliefs and the stories of the bible. Aliens was a far-fetched idea but now where I am in my life my mind is more open to the possibilities of that now.
MS: What would you say to the "Pale King' if you met him?
CB: Hopefully I wouldn't be one of mankind working as a slave for him. I don't know what I would say to him. I would probably try to save the planet in some way if there was a civilisation as of today and he came down to rule the planet.
MS: Have you been following the protests in Dakota?
CB: I've seen some of it on the news. I haven't followed it a lot. It is never a good thing.
MS: How was the european festival run?
CB: Interesting. We actually went back three times. We chose to pop in and out from America back to Europe and it just made for a nice trip. It gave us a little time to relax and rest the voice and come back strong and give a 110%. Overall it was a good summer festival run.
MS: You are going on tour with Amon Amarth?
CB: That's going to start October 27, and I believe the record is coming out October 28 and the release of the new record will come on side with the tour and that starts in Europe. We will be on it for about five weeks.
MS: And Australia?
CB: I had a meeting with the agent this year and he has informed us he has something in the works for possibility this February. So hopefully that all works out and we get to be there. I know we are going to Japan and a few other stops so usually those two go hand in hand.
MS: You recently reconnected with your roots while battling cancer. Did it change the way you look at your ancestory?
CB: It hasn't changed things for me in anyway. It has just made me keep my views. I don't vote. I've never vote. Just being raised in the reservation we really didn't get much help or any help for that matter with housing, and schools, and transportation and police departments and fire departments. The tribe was kind of on their own til they built the Casino and then the government were like 'Oh ok' and had their hands out for their share. But things have changed for the better because the Casino has raised some money for the tribe and people that are there. It is not a big reservation so people have jobs and they are raising money for the kids to get to schools, and have buses and have cleaned up the water system, and the housing and keep the streets clean. It has changed from what it was then to what it is now. But from the political sense of it "wow, we are native Americans, first people here and they still have reservations.' They are still not getting help from the government but they are still paying the tax when it comes to big money coming through the Casino. I have a different feeling about that whole kind of thing.
MS: Do you think Testament would have survived without change to that heavy swedish sound?
CB: Put it this way - when we were in The Gathering record I think we had found something new and a new style and element with more blast beats and stuff. But I became ill in 2001 with cancer and beat cancer and at the point of doing the Gathering we had a lot of line-up changes so we weren't touring really hard because we weren't sure who was coming and going and who was available and it was a revolving door of musicians. So we were calling ourselves weekend warriors because we would go away and play Friday, Saturday, Sunday and come home Monday. To do shows like that and not go on extensive tours we knew that that was getting old and we were probably getting close to seeing this as it. And then when I became ill I didn't think I was going to be playing music again because when I looked in the mirror I didn't recognise the same person - that wasn't the lead singer of Testament. After that they had this benefit show in the bay area called Thrash of the Titans and it was the first time that Louis and Alex and Greg, and Eric and myself all got on a stage together. And we sang one song and the following day Alex came to our studio and laid down the takes on the First Strike Still Deadly records where we pulled out a bunch of early songs again and that kind of opened up the door with Alex possibly working. We didn't really push it or talk about it until my friend Andrea who ran the Dynamo Festival called that he had the original Anthrax performing and was it possible to get the original Testament. It made perfect sense because Anthrax was one of the first bands that took Testament on tour in Europe. So they go way back with us and 'you know what that actually sounds really cool.' So I called everyone up and within a week everyone committed to doing it and it was just the one show. And the one show turned into five shows and the five shows turned into ten and turned into a tour and then twelve years later here we are. Still going along and I think that is kind of what inspired us having all the original guys back and even Louis the original drummer at the time came back. Full band. It really gave us the feeling like "All right lets go out and do this and finish what we had started together." It was kind of that feeling and it was kind of a boost of confidence and I think at that point we kind of just let it do its thing without talking about it. Until about around 2008 realised we toured a lot, we got along well on tour, 'what do you guys think about making a record." And that's when we did the Formation record and that's when we said 'If we are doing this then we are really doing this and we are all in and we are going to work hard and we are going to be a touring band again." And since that point we kind have just kept touring and trying to put out record. And luckily we have put out some pretty good records since Formation.
MS: Eric is quoted as saying the album is more thrash, you have said it is heavy and the reviews say it is awesome? Which is it?
CB: It is definitely more thrash. You always try to top your last record so going into this it was like 'What can we do to improve or make it better' and the thing is thrash - ' Hey we are a thrash band'. We knew we wanted to go into that a little faster and the tempos and have Gene really work and play. So that's what we did. And I think shoot 90 per cent of the record is thrash. Every song has thrash in it so we accomplished it.
MS: Yeah apparently Gene said that one of the singles has his fastest blast beat ever.
CB: There's some great stuff, you really have to go play it back. It's like 'Holy Shit, it's crazy.' But the beautiful thing is Andy Sneap did such a great mix you can really hear every drumbeat, every cymbal, every tom, everything. You really hear everything really well.More heavy articles at: http://www.northernstar.com.au/topic/the-hard-word/