Latest release: The Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.testamentlegions.com
Testament vocalist Chuck Billy is unapologetic when it comes to the process behind his band’s new album, their first in four years.
“Trying to write a record for two years really drains you. I’m glad it’s over!”
It’s a confession he has made time and again in interviews ahead of the October 28th release of Testament’s eleventh album The Brotherhood of the Snake. He’s also quick to admit, however, that the work they put in has paid off.
“But you know we worked hard and we put a lot into it,” he says, “and anything you do that comes out good is not easy. We laboured hard on this one, so we’re pretty proud of the final product.”
As well they should be, with critical opinion so far showing strong favour for the album which comes as the latest in a triumvirate of well-received recordings since the 2005 return of guitarist Alex Skolnick to the fold. This time, song writers Billy and guitarist Eric Peterson decided to move away from the personal and social issues of the two previous albums and instead explore mythological themes, hence the titular Brotherhood.
“The Brotherhood was a secret society that was formed over 6000 years ago and was out on a crusade to basically bring down all other religions except their own,” Billy explains. “Their religion believed that a God or a King created man as slaves on Earth to basically mine for all its gold and minerals.”
The idea became the basis for the theme of the album that expanded into the popular if scientifically-denounced alien astronaut theory of history, explored in shows like Ancient Aliens. Chuck Billy doesn’t necessarily believe in the concept, but he does admit it “kind of opened my mind to the possibility that there is something to the alien thing.”
“We wanted to get off the reality stuff,” he continues, “and I just thought that the Brotherhood was [an] interesting [analogy for] corporate power and political power, and also I’m kind of fascinated with a show that I’d been watching at the time [that was about] the visitation of aliens being documented all around the world thousands of years ago.”
The usual socio-political aspects of Testament’s work are rendered as metaphors this time, but the album isn’t completely conceptual.
“There’s a little bit of everything in there,” the singer says, “and there’s some songs that go a bit off the subject, songs like ‘Neptune’s Spear’, ‘Black Jack’, ‘The Number Game’… those songs kind of got off the alien thing, but it’s still typical Testament stuff.”
Despite the vocalist’s protestations about Brotherhood‘s creative process, not all of it was difficult. Once in a while a track would just come together, like album highlight ‘Seven Seals’, as he explains.
“I was introduced to that song when I was in the studio recording vocals, and there was a new song that I’d never heard before! I kind of ingested it for a few days, and took it home that night, wrote it that night, came back and recorded it. So within a week I had taken it in, wrote it and delivered it, and it ended up being one of the better songs. It’s killer. It’s one of those songs that when it comes together quick, it’s a special song. That one jumps out to me all the time.”
As always, The Brotherhood of the Snake is Testament making sure that they don’t sound exactly the same as they did before. In a year which has already seen some excellent thrash metal albums, not only from contemporaries like Death Angel, Destruction and Megadeth, but from newcomers like Meshiaak, Testament’s eleventh album still stands out from the crowd.
“Working as long as we have I think we’ve kind of figured out what we do and it helps having Eric on the creative side as far as the guitar player and riff-writer,” Chuck Billy says. “He doesn’t, or ever has, followed anybody. He stays in his own little world when it comes to writing. He loves his black metal and he puts a little of that inspiration into Testament I’m sure, but I think that always keeps our records unique and different. None of them are the same. We’re not trying to relive old stuff that was successful. I’m really happy with the progression we’ve had over the years.”
Thirty years into their careern and the band’s following shows no sign of diminishing. Indeed, as metal continues to flourish, the fanbase just gets wider, in numbers and demographically.
“I think maybe the families of different metalheads have taught their children well! There’s a young fanbase of metalheads cropping up all around the world and I can see and feel it. When I’m at the shows sometimes there’s three generations showing up to our shows, so metal has definitely opened eyes and minds around the world over the years.”
Metal has been a musical form that has long embraced lyrical open-mindedness. There are few topics left untouched, although due to its very nature metal has typically explored darker subject matter. It is this aspect that has left many with the wrong idea about what is now one of the most popular forms of modern music.
“People think when they hear about heavy metal, especially if they don’t listen to it or know much about it, the first thing they think is, ‘Oh it’s that Satan worshippers, preaching the Devil and this and that’. It just has a bad image right away,” Chuck Billy says. “There’s not a lot of genres getting about that write lyrics about good and evil, right and wrong, things like that, and thrash is heavily into that. Heavy metal has a lot more balls than any of the music out there.”