In recent years the Thrash-metal Titans of Testament have made an unlikely and impressive comeback with the albums ‘The Formation of Damnation’ and ‘Dark Roots of Earth’. In February next year the band will be one of the must-see acts at Soundwave. Aussie fans can get in the mood for these sure to be memorable performances with the brand new live DVD ‘Dark Roots of Thrash’.
Throughout the years Testament has had so many line-up changes you could create a complete football team out of its past and present band members, but ever since the band started in 1983 as Legacy one founding member has consistently been part of this formation: Guitarist Eric Peterson. We talk with Eric about the new DVD, the upcoming Soundwave Tour, his side-project Dragonlord, classic Testament album artwork, band dynamics and what happened to Testament in the early nineties.
SR: Tell us about the new DVD ‘Dark Roots of Thrash’- what are the main differences between this DVD and 2005’s ‘Live in London’?
EP: In 2005 the band got back together with the original line-up. We ended up doing a reunion tour and filmed that, which became the ‘Live in London’-DVD. The setlist was a lot of old stuff that we did with the original line-up. The reunion thing is gone and this is now a full-on band. Now we are Testament, and we are on our second wave of playing melodic brutal music. I think right now we are at the peak of our career, and it’s a peak that will last for a while. We are on fire right now. Especially for our age; we’re not twenty or thirty year olds anymore, but we’re playing heavier than we have ever played. It’s a good time to see Testament live right now, we’re on top of our game. Now that we’re older the metal seems to be flowing out of us better. A couple of different things are different now; I’m playing a lot more solos and Gene Hoglan is the drummer in the band. He has been with us throughout the whole campaign. Gene is on this new release and it looks like he will be on the next Testament record as well.
SR: That’s good to hear, because I’ve been wondering what Gene’s official position is in Testament; according to your website he is not an official member, but he is in all your band photos.
EP: Gene is a lot of things, and he’s doing a lot of stuff on his own, but we’re working it out to where he is in Testament.
SR: My favourite Testament-track is “Electric Crown” and when I saw the tracklisting of the DVD I went “Where is it?” Initially I thought that was just me, but then I noticed a lot of fans are saying the same thing online. How come songs like “Electric Crown”, “Souls of Black” or “The Legacy” aren’t on there? How come you picked tracks like “Riding the Snake” and “Eyes of Wrath” instead?
EP: I think we’re going to have to put out a poll. We might have to do that; put out a poll via the Soundwave-website and ask the fans to put out a wish list set from Testament!
SR: That sounds like an awesome idea!
EP: That way everybody knows what they’re going to get, and that it’ll be what they want to hear. Maybe we can also compile an alternative set so we don’t have to play the same set every time because there are five Soundwave-shows right?
SR: There are five of them indeed, throughout the country. It’s basically the Australian Ozzfest. Many bands also do their own headline shows called Sidewaves in arenas and clubs the days before and after each festival. Are you already talking about doing Sidewaves?
EP: … That sounds like it could be an idea!
SR: In the early nineties, around the time when you were doing the Clash of the titans-tour with Slayer and Megadeth, it really looked like you were going to close the gap with The Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth), and it would become the Big Five – but it didn’t happen. What got in the way? Did something happen with Atlantic Records dropping the ball on promotion? Was there something else we don’t know about? Or was it just bad luck?
EP: It was kind of everything; it was our manager, I don’t think he was guiding us in the right direction. He didn’t understand the music and didn’t know what to do with us. Then there was the label, where the artist representatives were mainly lawyer type of people who didn’t understand the music. And then there was a whole new genre north of us about to plague the world with its grunge, that came and just saturated the market and metal was now obsolete. Not for long, but it definitely wiped out a lot of the bands that played metal; they either broke up or they cut their hair and put on some flannel shirts and became a grunge band.
We then got our last chance with Atlantic to do stuff a bit different. Their music director came to us and said: “We want you guys to give us an alternative record”. According to the world alternative, that would mean something totally different; so I came up with “Dog Faced Gods”, which is more leaning towards death-metal, and I went: “Here you go, this is our alternative!” But what they wanted was the name alternative. They wanted a mainstream song for the alternative movement.
“Dog Faced Gods” gave us a whole different perspective of what Testament was all about; we were now entering the realm of Swedish black metal, we were flirting with that vibe and mixing it with our stuff. It took on a whole new vibe; by the time we got to ‘The Gathering’ we reinvented ourselves. ‘The Gathering’ was like our first record, ‘The Formation of Damnation’ was our second record, and ‘Dark Roots of Earth’ is our third record. This is the second wave of Testament. It’s a lot of fun. Everything feels fresh, there are a lot of good ideas going on, and we’re older but still younger.
SR: We know Alex Skolnick left the band in 1993 because of musical differences, but now that you guys are back in full force wouldn’t you reckon you and him are the yin to each other’s yang? Would you agree his melodic style and your preference for dark & heavy make a creative synergy?
EP: Alex isn’t so much a total metalhead like me & Chuck, he is more of a music theory guy that comes up with questions like “What if that riff was in a different key?” or “What if that was major instead of minor?” Those things can matter so that’s kinda cool. But the music starts with me. Chuck pointed that out a lot lately, he said: “Until Eric writes a riff I can’t do anything, he lays the foundation for us to build upon”.
We all got our own different styles in Testament, and when you are in a band like this a lot of compromise is in order. When you’re really gung-ho on something it’s probably best to do a side project. I get a lot of my symphonic, evil, darker, cinematic Lord of the Rings-type of music out on my other project Dragonlord. I am actually working on a record now and I’m halfway done with it. I recruited a new drummer, he’s twenty years old and his name is Alex Bent. He’s been working with Decrepit Birth and he’s a really really good superfast drummer, who also plays in a church band where he plays Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire-stuff with his dad. He plays R&B and Funk, and then by heart he plays grindcore. He loves Cradle of Filth and Nick Barker, and his favourite drummer is Pete Sandoval. Lyle (Livingston, keyboard player in Dragonlord), myself and our new drummer put together a really awesome record. We are now signed to Universal, and the label definitely wants us to do a tour. I’ll probably be mixing the album in December and it should come out next year, before the new Testament record. So we’ll have a really metal year next year!
I also started writing new Testament-stuff already, and it’s definitely influenced by what I was listening to when I was a kid; a lot of live records like Judas Priest’s ‘Unleashed in the east’, AC/DC’s ‘If You Want Blood You’ve Got It’, and ‘Tokyo Tapes’ by The Scorpions. It is a lot of fun rock & roll stuff, but we mix in the darkness that what we’re about. There are a lot of riffs of which I’d like to borrow the essence and make it Testament, like Metallica did with Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil.”
SR: But sure enough you’re not going to do covers right now that you’re on such a creative high?
EP: Well… Something is going to happen you know.
SR: In the twelve years between The Ritual and Live in London, you and Chuck always continued no matter what; even when Chuck got cancer it didn’t stop you?! Have you guys ever considered calling it quits during that period?
EP: Yeah, there were a couple of times where it got pretty frustrating and we said “Maybe it’s time to bag it up”. That particular thought crossed my mind in 2004. Chuck and I had been touring nonstop from the beginning and put out three brutal records; ‘Low’, ‘Demonic’ and ‘The Gathering’. We almost had a new second wind coming, but we had some band issues with members coming in and out of the band and we were getting frustrated. So it was really good for me and Chuck to get together with Al & Greg again. We told them: “We’re kind of done teaching all these new players the tenth version of Testament, why don’t you guys come back and we book some shows?” They were more than excited to do that, so we did it and it all took off! One festival turned into the Ten Days in May Tour, one of those dates ended up being filmed for the ‘Live in London’-DVD, and after that we found ourselves touring all over the place for the next two years. Then we put out ‘The Formation of Damnation’ which was critically acclaimed, we worked hard and toured for another 2,5 years, we came back out with ‘Dark Roots of Earth’, and charted our highest ever position in the German and American charts.
SR: Going back a few decades, I was always intrigued by the artwork from 1989’s ‘Practice What You Preach’, with the five statues. Can you tell me what it means?
EP: It was based on a dream that Jim Martin, the at the time guitar player for Faith No More, had. He told his girlfriend about it, who was one of our best friends, and she made a sketch of it. This fell out of her sketchbook, and I was like “Whoa, what’s that?” It looks like humanity has been frozen in time. These five statues are facing the troubled sky, the earth around them was once alive but is now cracked, and the shadows behind them are the shadows of the cross. I don’t know how it came out, but Chuck saw it and he said “Practice what you preach”. It fit with the look of ‘The New Order’, it all fit together. It didn’t really all make sense, but does it sounds like it made sense? Yeah!
SR: To finish off there are two questions we always ask to everyone: First of all, what’s the craziest fan request you – or anyone else in Testament – has ever had?
EP: A mother & daughter somewhere in Europe once asked me if I wanted to “see” them both, and I was like “No I don’t think so”. That was pretty crazy and weird.
SR: And lastly, do you have any advice for starting Aussie metal musicians?
EP: Be true to the sound you want. If you’re obsessed with something, and you know that’s what you want to do and that’s your sound, then you need to stick to that formula. And if you write your songs, you need to find some people who are not strong-headed like you, you need to find some good players that like what you do. Then guide the way, but don’t be a dick; you can’t turn into a dictator when people give you the reigns. When you become the leader it’s easy to turn into an asshole, but if your band is not going to listen to you, then you’re not gonna have your sound. It takes the whole band to become a team, but every team has to have a leader.
SR: So that explains your position in testament?
EP: Not just us, a lot of bands work like that. You see a lot of bands rise and fall because they get envious and band members are saying “He just wants to be the leader”. Well, maybe you should’ve listened to him; maybe he has some good ideas.
‘The Dark Roots of Thrash’ is out now!
SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY – BRISBANE, RNA SHOWGROUNDS
SUNDAY 23 FEBRUARY – SYDNEY, OLYMPIC PARK
FRIDAY 28 FEBRUARY – MELBOURNE, FLEMINGTON RACECOURSE
SATURDAY 1 MARCH – ADELAIDE, BONYTHON PARK
MONDAY 3 MARCH – PERTH, CLAREMONT SHOWGROUNDS
Get your tickets via www.soundwavefestival.com