Testament‘s last album, entitled “The Formation Of Damnation”, is a tough act to follow. However, Chuck Billy and Co return with an equally strong follow-up record in the form of “Dark Roots Of Earth”. Guitarist and main songwriter Eric Peterson was more than happy to shed his light on the new album, working with Gene Hoglan, returning band members and much more…
“The Formation Of Damnation” was a pretty tough act to follow in terms of songwriting and overall quality. Did you feel any pressure while writing the new album?
No, not really. We wanted to combine the melodic aspects of “Formation” with the aggressiveness of “The Gathering”.We got rid of a lot of the mid tempo stuff and add some variety to it as well. A great example of this are the blastbeats of “True American Hate” and “Native Blood”. While writing those songs I was jamming with Jon Allen and we tried out several types of beats and he thought it would be awesome to incorporate blastbeats in those songs. Chuck isn’t the biggest fan of using blastbeats in Testament, but after hearing the material he suggested to use blastbeats. Jon Allen and I felt like kids in a candy store. Gene (Hoglan) actually played those songs on the new record and he really brought things to a new level. He is the king of blastbeats.
“Dark Roots Of Earth” reminds me a lot of the older Testament albums, like “Souls Of Black” and “Practise What You Preach”. Was this a conscious effort on your behalf?
Funny that you mention that, because “Dark Roots” doesn’t sound like “Practise What You Preach” or “Souls Of Black” at all in my ears. Perhaps it’s because Chuck uses his normal singing voice more often and because melody is a very important element of the new album. I’m still proud of what we’ve done on our old albums, but I was never truly happen with the production. Albums like “Practise” and “Souls” sound kind of thin compared to our later albums. On our new album we were looking for a more organic sound and not tinker around too much with fixing little mistakes with Pro-tools.
Andy Sneap certainly delivered the goods on “Dark Roots”. What was his biggest contribution?
He really helped us with finding and capturing the drum and guitar sound we had in mind. We wanted to have a real sound like bands had back in the late seventies and early 80’s, such as the early Iron Maiden albums, instead of all the programmed stuff that many modern bands use nowadays. He was a great help in that respect.
What is the status of Gene Hoglan within Testament?
Besides playing drums on the new record he will play a lot of shows with us for the current touring cycle for “Dark Roots Of Earth”. As you may know Gene is involved with lots of different projects and other bands, including Dethklok. He will be recording an album with them pretty soon, so he won’t be available when sudden opportunities arise. We have agreed to work around each others agenda as best we can. When Gene isn’t available we will make use of Mark Hernandez. He played on “Omega Wave”, the latest Forbidden album. If things really work out he might be our next drummer. Every new drummer should be able to play the blastbeats of “True American Hate” and “Native Blood”, otherwise he won’t be a part of the band. Gene raised the bar pretty high, haha!
Talking about other drummers, I’ve read that Chris Adler (Lamb Of God) also contributed drums to the new album. On which tracks does he appear?
That’s right, but he doesn’t appear on the regular version of “Dark Roots Of Earth”. Instead we decided to release a version of “A Day In The Death” with Chris Adler on drums via iTunes. It sounds really cool, but very different from the version Gene has recorded. Both Gene and Chris are great drummers in their own right, but they’re very different as far as style goes. Chris has more of jazzy feel to his playing, while Gene is this hard-hitting powerhouse of a drummer. He does have this Neil Peart/Rush thing going on some of the more intricate parts on the new album.
Chuck Billy and you are very much the creative backbone of Testament. Did anything change with the return of Greg Christian and Alex Skolnick?
Chuck and I are still very much in control of the creative direction of Testament and I still write most of the new songs. Greg doesn’t really write new songs, but he’s a great bass player and he adds his personality to the Testament songs by the way he plays and the subtle nuances he brings in. Alex has his own trademark style of playing and with him back in the band I can revisit a lot of the older elements in the Testament sound and use them in new songs. This time around Alex didn’t bring any new songs in, but he co-write five songs with me, including “A Day In The Death” and “Cold Embrace”. Testament would sound very different if I or Chuck would leave the band.
In past interviews you voiced your annoyance that all the guitar solos and lead on “The Formation Of Damnation” were attributed to Alex Skolnick, while in reality you guys shared a lot of the guitar duties. What’s the deal on that?
Yes, I clearly remember the first reviews on “Formation” coming in where people thought that Alex played all the leads and solos. At first I ignored this, but after reading 20 reviews saying the same I got pretty annoyed by it. Back in the day I was the rhythm guy and Alex took care of all the leads and solos. Nowadays the lines are more blurred and we both play rhythm and lead guitar. I think that’s a really cool thing. On the new album I played 50 percent of the guitar solos and leads. Of course Alex asks me to play things in a different way or has different ideas on things, but that’s only to improve the quality of a song.
Nowadays there’s a thrash metal revival going on. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s a great thing. It keeps the scene healthy and vital. It’s also good for a band like Testament, because younger kids will check us out. It reminds me when bands like In Flames, At The Gates, Soilwork and Darkane released their first couple of records. It sounded like an updated version of Bay Area Thrash metal to me, because they focused so much on the melodic aspect of it. Eventually this lead to the so-called Gothenburg sound.
The thing that bothers me about the thrash revival is that many younger bands are more inclined to copy bands like Exodus and Testament, than to add their own unique twist to things…
Yeah, sometimes those bands remind me of our demo days, because of the poor production values and the sloppy playing. Back in the day we didn’t know any better and we didn’t have the skills or the money to do it properly. I can’t understand why bands try to sound that way intentionally. To me thrash metal is about high quality playing, great sounding productions and epic songs. Thrash metal sounds like a beautiful storm to me.
What is the secret of Testament’s relevance and longevity?
I think it has to do with all the member changes we had. Each new member brought his unique personality and style in and that allowed us to start over again every time, instead of growing old and bored together after being in the same band for years on end. That’s the main reason why albums like “The Gathering” and “Formation Of Damnation” still sound fresh and relevant in my opinion. We also have the chance to try different things in our respective side projects, like me in Dragonlord and Alex in his jazz outfit. With Dragonlord I had to start from square one, despite having a name and being a member of a well-known band. This makes me appreciate the things we have achieved with Testament much more.
Time for the final question. What is next in terms of touring and other projects?
I don’t have all the dates ready, but we’re going to play on some European festivals in August, including Wacken Open Air, Bloodstock and Metalcamp. Later this month I’m going to record a new album with my other band Dragonlord. We just signed a deal with Spinefarm/Universal. My agenda is pretty full for the next couple of months, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A special thanks to Myron Schmidt for inspiration and his input.
Main photo used courtesy of Carlini Photo