Instead of a long history of Testament, I’ll give you my version. Thanks to Headbangers Ball, Testament was part of my “Big Four” back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Along with Metallica, Megadeth and Sepultura, Testament’s Practice What You Preach became one of my go-to cassette tapes, with tracks like “Greenhouse Effect” and “The Ballad,” both of which had music videos that were featured prominently on the cult MTV show airing at midnight every Saturday night. I went back and discovered the thrash metal masterpiece The New Order, then came Souls of Black and Low. I had a Testament concert poster proudly hanging above my bed. In summer, I wore a black tank top displaying the band’s iconic logo. Years after their release, I was still listening to those albumsreligiously. Then in the late ’90s, like many metal bands, Testament kind of lost its way, and I kind of went down a different path musically.
Now, Testament—after disbanding and reuniting in early 2005—is about to unleash its third album of the 2000s, The Brotherhood of the Snake. And if it’s anything like its previous two, The Formation of Damnation and Dark Roots of the Earth, then fans, new and old, are in for a treat. The Testament I grew up with has been back for a few years now, and there’s no end in sight.
Vocalist Chuck Billy took a few minutes of his time to give us some dirt on the new album, The Brotherhood of the Snake.
LIVE METAL: How’s it goin’, man? I’ve been a fan for a long, long time. I don’t mean to make you feel old, but I’ll be 40 years old this year, and I think I started listening to you guys when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old maybe. I first got into you guys with Practice What You Preach—it’s probably still my favorite album from you guys to date. I’m actually trying to track down a copy on eBay, but they’re kind of expensive and hard to find now. I even had the band poster in my bedroom—it wasn’t even that cool of a poster. I think I got it at Sam Goody or something, but just because it was (Testament), I had it hanging over my bed. I finally saw you guys a few years ago, opening for Megadeth during the Rust in Peace anniversary tour.
CHUCK BILLY: Wow.
The Brotherhood of the Snake is actually about a secret society, that was one of the first secret societies, formed over 6,000 years ago. There were on a crusade to basically devalue or put down religions. Their religion was based on the belief of an alien being, a leader, a god, named Enki that controlled and created humanity, but was sentenced and punished to earth to mine the earth of its gold and minerals. It’s one of the oldest secret societies, and it kind of tied in with politics and power and big business, and all that fit in. So it made for a good topic to kind of grab on some lyrics to.
But is it a concept album, or is this just the running theme?
It started with writing the songs about that, but it’s not like the whole concept of the record, but a lot of it was kind of created around that idea.
So stylistically, I was reading up on the upcoming album. And like I said, I’m a fan of the older material where you have more of the thrash metal singing-type style. I like heavy stuff and I’m a huge fan, but you guys kind of went really heavy in that period in the ’90s. It seems like on the last few albums you kind of reverted back to the old style, combining in a mixture of both. So how would you describe the new album, both stylistically and you singing?
I think stylistically, more like Practice What You Preach. It has a little more melody and vocal hooks and a cleaner voice. I do use the heavier voice and heavier tone when need be, in spot places where it works.
Was there a reason in going back to the more singing style? Was it just natural or was it just something you felt more comfortable with?
I do feel more comfortable singing like that, and honestly, I think when you think that it’s gotta be heavy, you right away think that the voice has to be heavy like that. But I think having the music be heavy and having the vocals still be heavy but catchier gives it more of a feeling for me. I’d rather have someone understand my vocals and feel the vocals and the voice, rather than just have screaming and yelling and high energy. So I wanted to definitely have that feeling that somebody would get off singing a tune or having a hook or a line that you remember.
And on this one, sonically and recording-wise—especially on Dark Roots of the Earth—I had cleaned up the vocals, like really dry. It’s not a bunch of effects and delays, reverbs and tricks goin’ on, which I like, so I went with more of that approach on this one. So sonically, since I did dry up the vocals, and the guitars are right up in your face, it really did open up some more room for the bass and drums to be heard. On the new one, everything’s really in a great place, a great mix where it’s at.
Other than the title track, what are a few of your favorite tracks and tracks that you’ll want to definitely be playing live right off the bat?
Shoot, there’s a bunch of ’em. Like 80 percent of this record is more thrash, so we’re already saying that these feel like some live songs. We’ll have to figure it out, but for me, I would say “Seven Seals” is a special one for me just because that was one of the songs I wrote in the studio at the last minute. And when a song comes together real quick, it makes it a little special because you put it together quick and it works and feels good. So that one has a good live feel; it’s heavy, and that riff makes for a good live song.
I didn’t read the full article, but I saw where you recently said that you didn’t really have a good time making the album (read here). But I can kind of see how being holed up and doing repetitive things hundreds of times could kind of get old pretty quick.
We were working on it for just so long that it kind of got frustrating and you feel like it’s getting stagnant. Then you start second guessing as to why it’s taking so long. Obviously, lots of emotions are going into it, you know? It’s a process, but whatever it did to get the creativity to go down on this record, it worked. I wouldn’t ever try to do it again like that, thinking that it worked on that one so let’s try it again. It was tough. I just think we had to go through this for this record, for this record to make it out to where it is and what it is. So maybe next time, it’ll just be easy and it’ll be fun. I pretty glad and proud that we did go through what we did because the final product is something to be very proud of.
OK, so outline the touring plans for the band. I know you are going to be going out with Amon Amarth.
Yeah, that’s going to be starting in October into November. Then we’ll take the holidays off and start back up over in Australia and Asia, probably in January/February. And then we got an American tour planned in April and May. Then, of course, right back to the summer festivals and then a European run. So we got it all mapped out.
It’s just absolutely cool. I’ve previously talked with (Exodus vocalist) Steve “Zetro” Souza, (Exodus/Slayer guitarist) Gary Holt, the Megadeth guys (bassist Dave Ellefson, former drummer Shawn Drover), (vocalist) Mark (Osegueda) from Death Angel and lot of the old-time thrash guys that I grew up listening to, and it’s just amazing that you guys are all still around today. So what is this ambition? What still drives you guys, especially in going through what you just went through to make this new record today? Is it just your life? Is it that simple?
Well, sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. In our case, having a second opportunity and having the reunion back in 2005, to where we’re at today and the records we’ve done since then, have made for some special years. And I don’t see us thinking of doing something else or anything else. We’re just enjoying what we do, and I think we finally found our way after 30 years. I think we’re putting out songs that sound like bands that would be current today. I don’t think we sound like a dated band, and that’s important to us.
Well, it looks like you at least got the next few years of your life mapped out and there’s no end in sight. Thank you for your time, Chuck. I’m really looking forward to the new album and seeing you guys on tour.
Thank you for the interview. I’ll be talking to you.