It’s hard to believe that Bay Area thrash metal legends Testament have been together for over 30 years. Established in 1993, the band has gone through several changes, but at its core has always been Chuck Billy, on lead vocals who replaced Steve Souza in 1996 and Eric Peterson on rhythm and lead guitar. Till the point of Billy’s introduction, the band hadn’t put out any material; eleven albums later and a cancer scare somewhere between, the bands still going strong. Last year the band released Brotherhood of the Snake, their eleventh album, and biggest success. I caught up with Chuck and talked about the upcoming show at the House of Blues and the Brotherhood of the Snake album they released last October.
The last time the band played New Orleans was another House of Blues gig in May of 2009. Billy didn’t realize that was the last time the group came through town. Oddly enough, they had never toured with Sepultura.
WY@: Are you excited to be touring with Sepultura and … (pause to ponder the silly question)… Prong
[Musically, this combination of the act is spot on and a promoters dream. Chuck at the same point jokingly called me on the answer to the question I already knew, but added…]
CB: We’ve been fans of both for a long time. Oddly enough, through all our tours and festival appearances (never played the same stage), we’ve never played with Sepultura. So when the idea of a tour was floated around, Sepultura was an obvious choice, it didn’t hurt that they signed to the label we’re on too.
[Rounding out the tour alongside Prong and Sepultura is The Convalescence from Toledo, OH, another deathcore band. Another band, Infernal Tenebra was slated for that slot but had to bail due to Visa issues, according to Billy.]
WY@: I’d like to congratulate you on the success of you latest album…What do you think fans connect to with this album.
CB: Thanks…First and foremost, this is a true thrash album. We’ve gotten back to the basics. Also, the lyrical content on this album is more personal, than albums in the past.
[The recording process of this album took far longer than Billy had hoped and to make things worse, the band had an unintentional deadline to get the album done, as they needed it to be released before their European tour.]
CB: We backed ourselves into a wall and that pressure to get things done, no matter how chaotic, gave the end project shape.
[Unlike recording sessions in the past, Billy said this one was by far the most difficult. He said, “we didn’t even have band practice before we went into the studio [with Juan Urtega].]
WY@: Did Juan have any influence on the album?
CB: Juan is a great producer and he basically just lets us do what we want. He fine tunes things along the way. He said recording with Eric was a bit chaotic...
[Needless to say, Billy was a bit hesitant to hear the final rifts, but much to his surprise, they were far greater than he ever expected. The whole backed against the wall position they were in really did pay off.]
WY@: It sounds like you came up with the album title after the recording; this being a “Brotherhood” experience.
CB: Yes the album title did come later, but it flowed from the material I had written.
[At this point, the conversation got interesting. He talked about how he was into Ancient Aliens, the TV series. He went on to explain that he thinks it is awfully “vain” to think that’s we’re the only civilization out there. All these ideas were swarming around in his head, which made a right turn into secret organizations. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the Freemasons or Illuminati, but in fact, there were many other secret societies prior to them. The Brotherhood of the Snake may, in fact, be the very first one. Tying into Bill’s Ancient Aliens fascination is the fact that, the "Brotherhood of the Snake", a secret society set up by an alien named Ea or Enki who wanted to use the enslave the human population and use them for fuel. Subsequently, the snake imagery appears throughout the artwork the band uses.]
WY@: I know it’s not fair to rank albums when they each have their own story, but where would you say this one is in the whole catalogue?
CB: I’d say it is right up there at the top, mainly due to the whole process of getting the album together and being able to get through all the problems. We’ll be playing five tracks from it on this tour. The fans seem to be receptive to hearing the new material and not in need of a retrospective set.
[There are and were greater problems to tackle. Billy was given a cancer diagnosis and could have easily ended his career. To combat the escalating costs of treatment, Billy approached Alex Skolnik to see if he’d do a reunion show. That reunion show was repeated at the Dynamo Festival because Anthrax was doing the same thing. One show led into another, and Alex was back.]
WY@: So what are the odds of Alex breaking out same improvisational jazz mid-riff in the set? I mean, it is New Orleans.
CB: Alex left to expand his music career and studied several different things. Jazz was one of them. When I approached him, I think he came to the realization that he was at the end of his musical exploration and wanted to come back to something that was familiar.
You can catch Testament, Sepultura, Prong, and The Convalescence at the House of Blues April 10.