Testament was born over three decades ago out of the Bay Area thrash movement of the early 80s. Along with their contemporaries in Metallica, Exodus, and Death Angel, they have become icons of heavy metal. Formed as The Legacy in 1983 by guitarist and principal songwriter Eric Peterson, the band has built a global following on the strength of seminal albums like The Legacy, The Formation of Damnation, Practice What You Preach, and The New Order. Guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick joined the ranks that same year, and in 1986, frontman Chuck Billy signed on as the band changed its name to Testament and prepared to record its debut album. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio and drummer Gene Hoglan round out this lethal line-up. This week, Metalholic sat down with Chuck Billy to discuss the group’s eleventh studio record, Brotherhood of the Snake, his three decades with the band, as well as looking back at recording their debut record.
Tell us about Brotherhood of the Snake from your perspective.
“It’s a record that took a lot out of us over the last couple of years. We’ve had a few tours that kind of slowed things up, but for the most part, we’ve been working on it so long it started getting kind of frustrating and some emotions started coming out just because the process was taking so long and we didn’t know if we were going to have a record this year. It kind of just put the pressure on us to get it out. We jumped into the studio before we had demos done and we just went for it. I think because of that it pushed us out of our comfort zone and made us work a little harder, dig down deep, and come up with up some of the best stuff we’ve probably recorded ever. We didn’t have too much time to double-guess it and polish it up. I think maybe we had to go through this to get the record how it came out, because we’re very proud of the final outcome.”
I spoke to Eric about the album when it was in its infancy stage and he said he felt the new material was faster and thrashier. However, that was before all the writing was completed. Do you think that’s how it played out on the record?
“It definitely is. That was what we did discuss before writing…what we wanted to do to improve from where we were with the Dark Roots record. You know, I love that record and there’s some really good songs and it sounds great—I just think we were missing a little more of the edge of thrash. Going into this we knew we wanted to pick up the pace. A majority of the record is thrash. I’d say 80% at least.”
Lyrically the Brotherhood of the Snake is a secret society of Draconian aliens that supposedly created man to use as slaves. Have you woven that into something of a concept here?
“That started the kick off of where we were kind of going lyrically. In the past, I’ve been writing stuff that’s more real; current events that affected me and our world today. Eric really wanted to create some sort of story and image with some cool lyrics, and I came across the Brotherhood of the Snake story. It set up a good premise, not for a concept record, but to grab a concept of the aliens, religions, and secret societies and power. It tied together and seemed like a good place to start.”
It’s certainly very metal.
“Yeah. It was interesting. I mean you might think that it’s something that’s not real or some people might totally believe it—that there are aliens. Who knows? I’m open to the possibilities at least. Trump’s probably an alien [laughs].”
This year marks your 30th anniversary with the band as well as the 30th anniversary of the year you entered the studio to record your debut album, The Legacy. Can you share some of your memories of making that album?
“For us, because we were from California, had never really left California much, going all the way to Ithaca, New York in the winter, driving in the snow, recording away from home…all being young away from home doing our first record was, of course, exciting. It was a college town, so a lot of the guys got away with hanging out in the bars drinking. So it was a good time. A wild time for us. That’s where it all began basically, getting away from home and doing that first record.”
You can check out the full interview with Chuck Billy in the video above as he talks about some of the songs on Brotherhood of the Snake, looking back objectively at past albums, and even his thoughts on the opening week of the NFL and the Oakland Raider’s strange triumph.
Testament will release Brotherhood of the Snake on October 28 through Nuclear Blast records.