One of the greatest thrash metal bands of all-time, Testament blew the music industry away with the reunion of their original lineup and the subsequent release of their 2008 opus, The Formation Of Damnation. That was 25 years into their career.
After that amount of time, most bands either haven’t been speaking for 20 years or are embarking on one nostalgia tour after another. Testament, however, was reinvigorated, making the best music of their career, playing their biggest shows and pulverizing audiences across the globe the way few bands can.
Three years later, after the departure of drummer Paul Bostaph and bringing “The Atomic Clock” Gene Hoglan back into the fold (Gene also played drums on 1997’s Demonic), Testament was keeping most of the industry in the dark as far as the status of the Formation follow-up. But with the second leg of their tour with Anthrax and Death Angel on the horizon, the band is ready to enlighten their legion and get the word out for the new album.
Ten studio albums is a landmark in the career of any artist, but as vocalist Chuck Billy discusses below, the expected April 2012 release of The Dark Roots Of Earth has special meaning for the band; it might just be that last thing you ever hear.
How does the upcoming album compare stylistically to the last one?
Well, I think all of our records are different in their own way. I’d say it’s right in the same vein as Formation. There’s some really good songs on the record that really stand out. We weren’t just trying to focus and say, “Okay, let’s just thrash as hard as we can from start to finish.” We kinda wanted to make it more dynamic and just more of a good record that you could put on and listen to over and over again, sonically it sounds good and the songwriting is good as well.
Did you feel like when you got into the studio, you had a lot of ideas ready or were you going in for the writing of the album?
Once we got into the studio, most of the stuff was thought-out and finished writing-wise. There, of course, was still a few songs that when we started the recording process weren’t really finished—they were still kind of in the works. But after massaging them over, they’ve turned out to be some of the better songs. Usually the last songs we write are kind of at the bottom of the priority list as far as what’s making us feel good. That’s the way it always ends up, but those songs ended up being some of the better ones.
For this record, I think we had about seven songs that were solid going into recording and another three that we kind of had to put together.
So there’s 10 songs?
Then, did everything you write go on the record?
Yeah, that’s just the way Eric [Peterson, guitarist] writes. We always say it, every time, “Let’s write 15 – 20 songs and we’ll pick the best 10.” It never ends up that way; we always end up stealing a riff from another idea, another song and then building one, so parts get scraped. So we’re constantly robbing other songs, so there’s no extra tracks.
You’re going out with Anthrax in a few weeks; had you ever toured with them back in the day?
We toured with them in 1987, but we just did the first leg of this tour a couple months ago. We did, I think, five weeks with Anthrax and Death Angel, and it went really well, so there’s a second leg that we’re starting next week.
Do you find that there are different crowds coming to those shows?
It’s definitely a newer, younger crowd. It’s not just 20 – 30-year fans of the music of all three bands that have been around that long. It’s not just old fans coming. It’s a lot of newer, young kids who have been exposed to this type of music. Sirius radio makes a big play in that, you know?
How is Paul Bostaph? Is he still recovering from that back injury?
He’s fully recovered. He chose not to come back to the band and he’s starting his own project now. We expected Paul to come back once he was better and the record was done and start touring like normal, but he chose to not come back to the band and he wants to start his own project. We can’t stop him and wish him the best. Life goes on.
Where did the title of the record come from?
Eric thought of that. We’ve always been a band that’s kind of planet-conscious, environment-conscious in our lyrics. So, you know, it was kind of a take of The New Order . Here we are in 2012, the ‘end of the world,’ you know. So The Dark Roots Of Earth just kind of made sense to us. It’s almost like taking a stance, defending the planet, holding on to the planet, holding on to our beliefs about the planet.
From an environmental perspective?
Yeah, and for me, I’m Native American and Native Americans are really into the Earth. Mother Earth is a big part of their spirituality. For me, it’s right in line with things I think are cool.
Why did you decide to tackle some of those issues at this point in your career?
Well, I don’t think we tackled them [just] at this point. The New Order record, which was our second record in 1988, was basically about all Nostradamus predictions about the planet, the greenhouse effect and things like that.
So once we did The New Order record, we kind of got away from our first record, The Legacy, which was more like ghoulies and goblins and demons, almost like stereotypical heavy metal lyrics. To The New Order we decided to write about things that actually were real, or understood to be real. A prediction which we, which the world probably, sees how on [Nostradamus] has been with all his writings and stuff.
To us that was fascinating. He’s hitting it on the head. Everything we talked about in 1988, here we are now almost living it today with the environment.
So you’re looking back at those albums and kind of seeing some of what you were talking about coming true.
Oh, totally. We wrote about the ice sheets melting and the water burying some of the smaller islands. The planet freezing over again, back to the Ice Age. There’s so much that has happened to our planet, it could happen again.
Here we are—all the stuff we talked about. We’re in 2012 now; this is the year it’s supposed to be over. It’s been 20 years and we’re still playing, writing about the planet and we’re living in the year that it’s all supposed to happen.
Is that something that you believe?
I don’t know if I’m a true believer, but there’s got to be something to it.
How do you describe your spirituality or religion?
Well, I was raised Catholic. My mother was very religious. I went to church and did Catechism when I was younger. And then I just stopped going. I don’t know if it’s—I guess I believe in right and wrong, there’s a good and bad, and a righteous person is the way to be.
I don’t know about the beliefs that I was raised on. I believe in God and a Devil, but I’m not sold that ‘give everything up and you’re going to be saved and live forever,’ to me that’s… I don’t know. I don’t know if there is an afterlife.
When you stopped going to church, was that before or after you discovered heavy metal?
It was before. Once I moved out and was on my own, the only time I went to church was for a wedding or a funeral. We were there every Sunday and holiday. My mom went to church every day of her life. That’s what she believed.
I respect that—I respect anyone’s beliefs. Growing up and I guess learning and understanding other religions and other beliefs, I don’t know if you just need something to believe in like that to give you hope that this isn’t just it, but there’s nothing backing where you go or what happens in the afterlife. Where do you go?
It’s just a little different. I don’t follow that and preach it. I just believe being a good person and a righteous person is the way to go.
Were you at all attracted to that heavy metal treatment of religion when you started listening to it?
I don’t know why [religion] has to be treated that way. If you’re in a heavy metal band, you have to believe in Satan or worship Satan? I don’t think that’s true so much. Like I said, my mom was very religious and she’s seen the name of our band and the skull and pentagram… but she also knew that that’s not what I followed and preached—it was just part of the act, I guess.
So you weren’t actively rebelling?
No, not at all. I guess, maybe, why [metal bands] get stereotyped into that is that there’s not a lot of other musical artists, from country to pop to blues—maybe some blues—that really talk about God and Devil; good and evil. A lot of heavy metal seems to be the type of music that has the balls to cover that type of topic and imagery. Other bands in other genres don’t.
Testament will play at the Best Buy Theater with Anthrax and Death Angel on Feb. 8. For more information, go to testamentlegions.com.