In a genre teeming with such Type-A personalities as Lars Ulrich, Dave Mustaine, and Kerry King, it’s easy to see why Testament gets overlooked. The further you steer away from the life-or-death extremism of thrash metal’s staunchest defenders, the less likely it is that you’ll ever come across someone able to formulate any concept of just how much the band formerly known as Legacy contributed to the Bay Area scene.
Everyone knows what happened once Metallica swept in from Los Angeles with nothing but the musical equivalent of eminent domain on its horizon, but how many casual fans can recall the scorching melodies summoned by bands that could never claim a “Black Album” on their resumé?
How many people put Peterson and Skolnick on the same six-string pedestal as Hammett and Hetfield? When will “Envy Life” be deemed worthy enough to be played right alongside “Enter Sandman” during halftime of a major American sporting event?
That last inquiry might be asking too much, but hopefully the fine line between international adulation and dive bar anonymity has been drawn sharply enough for readers to realize that talent doesn’t always equal success, especially when dealing with an industry prone to celebrating the lowest common denominator.
I spoke with Testament’s founding guitarist Eric Peterson while the band was out on the road with Exodus as part of “The Dark Roots of Thrash II”tour and he had no qualms whatsoever regarding his band’s place in history. Their date inside The Rapids Theatre was nothing short of a clinic, as he and Skolnick jelled together as seamlessly as they ever have while lead vocalist Chuck Billy remained one of the best live performers currently working the metal circuit.
As Notorious BIG rapped once upon a time, “If you don’t know, now you know.”
Question: How did the tour with Exodus initially come about?
Peterson: We were getting an itch to come back out and had a plan for the tour to coincide with the release of the new record, but that obviously didn’t happen. Instead, we decided to celebrate the first two records by playing them both in their entirety alongside a few selections from Practice What You Preach that we know the fans will love. Exodus has been a major part of the thrash movement from the beginning and they’ve never compromised their sound for anybody, so we always have a great time out on the road together.
Question: What’s the best thing about touring with a band that you’ve known for such a long time?
Peterson: They’re known for introducing the Bay Area thrash sound before Metallica even arrived, which was really significant for me during my high school years. The fact that we both came up at the same moment and are still about the type of music we cut our teeth on is very important to us. Staying true to ourselves has allowed us to remain viable 25 years later.
Question: How has the band adjusted following last year’s departure of bassist Greg Christian?
Peterson: We’ve adjusted just fine. Steve DiGiorgio has come in and made the band sound more modern, I think, because he’s added in some elements of death and black metal that I really enjoy. The interesting thing about Testament is that we essentially reinvented ourselves a bit when he joined, because 1999’s The Gathering was very low and demonic compared to 1992’s The Ritual. We had gone seven years without a new record, but his involvement brought us something new and we’ve been glad to have him.
Question: The first time I saw you guys, Alex was on tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra and you blew me away with how well you handled the guitar parts in his absence. Is tackling more lead parts something that you always wanted to get into?
Peterson: Definitely. I’d love to be able introduce super, super fast picking more often, because I always wanted to have that Uli/Schenker dynamic that the Scorpions once did. In the beginning, it was Derrick and I playing the parts without any formal guitar training, but, when Alex joined, it was like having Yngwie (Malmsteen) in the band. He was only 16-years-old and had studied under Joe Satriani for a while, so he was already a dynamic lead player by that point. I think our relationship has improved as we’ve gotten older, because there’s not a lot of confrontation anymore regarding who plays the lead parts. The more intricate the parts, the more messed up my hands get, which I find a lot of fun when I realize how brutalized my thumb and index finger become from playing complex arrangements.
Question: How’s the new record coming along?
Peterson: It’s coming along great. We’re big believers in the “No Wine Before Its Time” philosophy, so it’s taking a little longer than we originally anticipated. We had 100 songs prepared for the sessions without changing our sound, but the challenge lies in trying to sound fresh while not deviating too much from what made the band work to begin with.
Question: Because you’re one of the founding members dating back to the Legacy days, what does it mean to you that the band’s popularity feels as strong as it ever has?
Peterson: It’s great, because we’re pretty happy with what we’ve done. We never wanted to achieve superstardom if it meant becoming something we didn’t want to be and that dedication has enabled us to keep a viable career doing what we love. There are some things I wish I had known back then about the music industry, but it’s been an amazing run. The older days seemed simpler and easier given the landscape, but the access to information in today’s world allows more people to discover our music for the first time.
Question: Are there any plans for a new Dragonlord album?
Peterson: It’s funny that you mention that, because we’ve actually been working on new material for a while with some excellent results. We have a lot of exciting orchestral arrangements prepared as well as a 21-year-old drummer who has brought new life to the band. Leah and I trade off vocals really well, but I don’t think we’ll ever bring the album to the stage given its complexity. Getting the production correct would just be too much. Although we had some hiccups early on, we’re hoping for a Halloween 2016 release date.
Testament is currently on its 2015 European Tour and hopes to release a new album in 2016.