Latest Release: Titans of Creation (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.testamentlegions.com
Thrash metal legends Testament remain one of the most critically acclaimed metal bands of the scene. Their musicianship makes them one of the genre’s leading lights and a consistent back catalogue includes some classic songs of the early thrash metal movement, with lauded live performance reference points for many other bands. Testament’s discography is virtually flawless and consistently powerful, even with stylistic variations
Sadly, global events have stopped all bands touring and performing live. It is particularly notable for Testament as the high ranking Download Festival band had recently completed a blistering tour with thrash contemporaries, Death Angel and Exodus. It was recently reported that members of various camps within the touring party contracted the COVID-19. Luckily, the severity was manageable in this instance and all concerned are recuperating. In the case of Testament, they have also just released one of their most entertaining metal albums since guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick returned to the fold in 2005. We caught up with co-founding guitarist Eric Peterson very recently to discuss all things New Testament, with a bit of an Old Testament for good measure.
How’s your collective health currently?
I’m all good; everybody seems to be doing well. Chuck [Billy] and Steve [Di Giorgio] are both on the mend. The guitar techs that caught it are also getting better. Everybody sort of had different symptoms for a little bit but they are all pulling through so it is good.
That is great news. The new album is impressive with some interesting rhythm guitar figures in there. Did you spend a lot of time writing the parts or just do lots of jamming?
I did it in a couple of different ways. Sometimes I have stuff lying around from a long time ago or I might listen to some jam sessions that I did by myself, meaning I’ll just record myself. I’ll always give it a second listen even for thing I recorded four or five years ago. Sometimes I’ll find I’ve missed something from the first time around and I’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool’. When I am on tour and when I am waiting to go onstage, sometimes if I have an idea I’ll just record it into my phone and then when I get home, I’ll listen to it to see if there is anything there. But really, most of it is done when I am preparing that record at that time. I’ll record myself and just get lost in the recording for a half hour to then listen to it the next day. If I hear something I like, I will pursue it and maybe try to add to it, put palm mutes on it, or whatnot. Once I get enough stuff for a couple of songs, I’ll have Gene [Hoglan] come up and we’ll jam together and record. So we put together a musical skeleton and then record it and he’ll leave so I’ll then edit the drums and keep adding things. Once I get something from that I kind of show it to the band.
The track Curse of Osiris is an example of a really good, thrash metal guitar rhythm.
Yeah, that one developed well. We were actually done recording Gene and we were just listening to everything and then Gene looked at me in the studio and said, ‘We need one more fast song’ and I was just thinking and a riff came into my head. Ha ha. So I said, ‘I’ve got a riff in my head right now, so let’s jam’ and so from that idea, I swear that song was written in about fifteen minutes.
The Healers has some overt Judas Priest aspects to it.
Oh yeah, especially in the beginning part. It reminds me of something that Priest would do, definitely, from Screaming for Vengeance or something like that. There are other elements to the song such as black metal and death metal styled picking, single string picking and fast double bass drums but then the vocals are more melodic so it kind of takes you to a different place. If Chuck had done some deep death bellows over it, that would have made it that much more intense but by him singing over it, he smoothed it out but it is still intense. It’s quite the trip and I really like that song because there are so many elements that are different but they all work together. So it is a cool mutation of melody and brutality.
Does having a drummer like Gene in the band push your songs into the more extreme metal styles?
I mean, Gene can definitely play that kind of stuff but for me, black metal goes way back to before I jammed with Gene. I have a side project called Dragonlord for which I have a few records out. I think that the first time I pushed for a blast beat was with Dave Lombardo and he asked me, ‘What is a blast beat?’ because his version was just hitting everything at once, super-fast, ha-ha. But yeah, it worked and it was a trip to see him do that and him explaining the snare hit in between the bass drums which is the super-fast, old school way of just doubling up the thrash beats. Then there is the new school way where you do double bass beats and you put the snare in between. I think that Gene does all of them. Adding those different elements here and there, like in the chorus of Native Blood on Dark Roots of Earth. On the new song Curse of Osiris there is some of my singing in the chorus and with the blast beat stuff, it has a little bit a blackened Slayer feel to it.
Alex Skolnick’s solos are very precise, as always but there are also more bluesy and expressive solos on the album. They all tend to jump out in the mix really well. Did producer Andy Sneap push for those variations a bit more this time around?
Well, it depends on which solos you’re talking about because I do about half of the solos on the record. I heard a couple of people mention stuff about certain solos that were mine…ha-ha, if you get the liner notes it shows who is playing what. Not taking anything away from what you’re saying, we all kind of push each other on what we’re doing and yeah, Alex tore it up on this one for all of his solos with his elements as well as different ways of strumming which was really cool. Some the bluesier stuff would be on my end. Which solo did you mean?
As an example, say the song False Prophet, which has an interesting, melodic guitar solo on it.
Oh, that is Alex on that one, for sure, definitely. It’s great with that choppy riff.
I know that you did solos at one point when Alex wasn’t in the band for a while. I guess that let you experiment with it a little bit more.
Yeah, it definitely took the jacket off me of just being the rhythm guitar player. When James [Murphy] came in, he was always asking, ‘Why don’t you play solos?’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t know’, so, he’d listen to me play them and he’d say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could play like that’, I was sort of, ‘Well, yeah, I’m a guitar player.’ But on Low, we did some trade off stuff. On this new record, we do a lot of trade-off stuff. I think you could probably tell who is who because I’m the one with the bluesier, Schenker vibe and Alex has his shredding, fast picking playing.
That explains it since there were some aspects that Alex wouldn’t generally do. On Dream Deceiver there is the use of a wah pedal more as a sonic filter.
Yeah, that first solo is mine and then Alex kicks in for the second solo. For the track, Ishtars Gates, I do the first two and then Alex kicks in and the same set up applies for the track City of Angels. There are also little shuffles of parts here and there but also the original format where he does the full solo. There are a couple of tracks where I do the solos which are Curse of Osiris and The Healers. Those are my solos but I like doing that because it is another element that adds to Testament. We might also bring the bass up in the mix a little bit or Chuck might sound a little bit more melodic as opposed to more the death grunts. There is a lot more guitar stuff and Gene is kicking ass so yeah, I think that all made these record bit more special, even adding in the little vocals that I did. All of those little details just made the overall album just that much better.
Did [engineer] Juan Urteaga also encourage you to try different things at Trident Studios?
That was more about getting the songs together. All of the candy that went on top of it was kind of just ad-libbing to it and in some cases, even by accident such as, ‘Oh, there were supposed to be vocals there, I’ll put a solo there instead,’ or like in the pre-chorus part of Night of the Witch. I remember sitting and listening to what Chuck was doing with it as we had the title, the lyrics and the whole vibe to it, when that part came up, he was saying, ‘I don’t know, I don’t hear everything on this part, I’m not really feeling it,’ so I said, ‘Oh, I can try all kinds of parts’ and so I ended up going in there and singing something, I just did what I did and they all said, ‘Okay, you do that.’ So that kind of worked out pretty cool and I always thought that was going to be more of a deep cut track and not a single but, it ended up being a single. It was pretty cool.
A lot heavier bands today have a prerequisite seven string guitar or a baritone guitar. What are your thoughts on that given Testament has a more traditional thrash metal approach?
It really depends on who you do it and it is cool if it is as heavy as hell. But, it can be overdone and I like the way that the original seven string guitar bands like Korn and Slipknot use it. I think that for technical stuff, it might be a little bit much but that is just my opinion. That being said, everybody has got an opinion. I do prefer six strings but seven strings are cool. I guess it just depends on how you approach it.
To a large extent, Testament have stuck to their sound even though along the way, there has been some really heavy material. Is that intentional or simply just the way that your songs are written?
Well, as far as tuning down goes, we do the key changes with different guitars on tour. We like to play with some interesting tunings. So, we will play some drop C tunings or tune the guitars all the way down for all strings to a C sharp tuning. Sometimes we’ll have E flat stuff so yeah, we like different tunings to keep things interesting. On this album, City of Angels and Symptoms are both songs in drop C tunings. Other tracks are pretty much E flat so that has to do with the pitch of the lyrics. It is really cool to drop the sixth string because all the other strings still feel tighter and so you get a more in-tune sound, I guess, when playing faster where you don’t want it to be too dense sounding. Being I’m a guitar player though, it all works in how you play it though, I guess.
Back in the day of music videos, MTV were had Headbanger’s Ball but the thrash side took a while to be fairly represented. Around the time of Practice What You Preach, they started playing more Testament material. Did that coverage provide a noticeable impact on touring successes?
Oh yeah, it did. There wasn’t the Internet so back then, it was MTV. There weren’t that many outlets to play heavy music and yeah, there were a lot of radio stations but now there is satellite radio and SiriusXM radio which helps bands like Testament get the music out there. Before, a heavy metal show would say it was metal but they would play all this sort of Whitesnake material. I have nothing against Whitesnake, I love them but they would cover all that stuff, then play Metallica or a bit of a Slayer song but then the rest was Slaughter, Ratt and more Whitesnake. Back to the MTV thing and us, it definitely helped us out a little bit because we were seen as part of leading heavier kinds of music, at the time.
Thanks so much for talking to us during this difficult time.
We’re sorry that we didn’t get to make it there this time but we hope everybody is staying safe. We will do our best to try to make it back there as soon as we can.