Latest release: Titans of Creation (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.testamentlegions.com
Thrash metal titans Testament are one of the most successful and enduring bands of the genre. From their early 80s beginning as Legacy until now, Testament has weathered every storm, remaining popular and influential as one of the leading lights of thrash metal’s second wave as they head into the thirty-third year since the release of their debut.
To be released on April 3, Titans of Creation will be their 13th album, but as vocalist Chuck Billy points out, it could have all ended many years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer, at almost the same time as Testament’s then guitarist James Murphy was also found to have a tumour in his brain.
“After I beat the cancer in 2001, 2002, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play music again,” Billy admits, on the phone after the final rehearsal for Testament’s current European tour. “I feel blessed, just to beat cancer, and then to return to music. Because when I would look in the mirror, I wasn’t the same person, the singer of Testament. I didn’t recognise myself.”
Testament had become less recognisable too. The 90s had seen a procession of players pass through the ranks, with only Billy and guitarist Eric Peterson the mainstays, and the band had developed a darker and heavier sound from that of their earlier releases. 1999’s The Gathering was almost their last.
Reflecting on that period, Billy says, “When I was ill in 2001, right around The Gathering, we had so many musicians, from bass players and drummers and guitar players, go through the band, that was probably one of the tougher things that we didn’t think we were going to get through.”
Defeating his illness led not only to the recovery of Testament, but to a revival of Bay Area thrash. In the wake of their appearance at the legendary Thrash of the Titans benefit show in August of 2001 – funds from which were also diverted to Death’s Chuck Schuldiner, who sadly passed away five months later – Exodus and Death Angel both went on to permanently reactivate, and continue to this day. The original Testament also reformed, and toured through 2005. Billy’s cancer was as much a blessing as it was a curse.
“When we had the reunion with the original band in 2005,” he says, “there was a real sense of confidence and we were really happy and we all felt like a team again. Like, ‘Hey we all got to tour together, now let’s go finish what we started’. It felt real good and it was a good way to come back to the music again. I think if I didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have got back together at that point, but things happen for a reason and me getting cancer brought Testament back together, brought Exodus back together, brought Death Angel back together! It brought a lot of these bands back together for the benefit show, so it happened for a reason. All those bands are still together now and putting out great records, touring the world and spreading the word of the Bay Area sound.”
Testament return to Australian shores for the first time in six years soon at the Download Festival. Between now and then, they’re on tour across Europe with their buddies Exodus and Death Angel.
“We’ve never toured with Death Angel and Exodus together,” Billy says, “and that starts next week: Bay Strikes Back! And that’s going to be pretty awesome because we all grew up together in the same timeframe, and here we are still performing and now we get to go spread the word together.”
The area around San Francisco Bay was pivotal to the sound and development of modern metal music, one of the birthplaces of thrash that fostered Metallica and spawned not only Testament, Exodus and Death Angel, but also Vio-lence, Heathen, Forbidden, Possessed and more. Few if any of them were probably aware of what they were setting in motion. Over thirty years later, thrash remains one of the most important cornerstones of metal music and culture, and Testament is one of its most revered acts.
“When we first started the band, it was a new music, and a new sound and a new thing. We didn’t really realise how precious and special that was, until now. We were just doing what we were doing, writing music and banging our heads wearing leather jackets and it really stuck. And it stuck around all the world for some people and really influenced a lot of different styles of metal, and that’s been a great honour.”