Testament:

"Well, when you pass out that’s a pretty good night’s sleep too"

Aside from the familiar constituents; thrash, brutality and groove what else was poured into Testament’s latest album Brotherhood of the Snake? How about frustration, fluster, fear and chaos all joined without a clear vision – not to our surprise though Testament are about to launch one of their greatest albums of their career. Blood, sweat and tears, that’s what we like to see in our metal and to talk about this bedlam that was the creative process for the album Metal As Fuck caught up with the man himself, Chuck Billy.  

You guys have shortly just wrapped up a tour with Slayer and Carcass so how was it? It was great. Always touring with Slayer is a blast – we have a lot of history with those guys so it always makes for a good time. We thought we might have got out on the road and finished writing the record at that time but things didn’t work out trying to write and tour [Laughs] so right when we finished that tour we got home and went straight into trying to finish the record”. Yes, the new album, which I have a million questions about that we’ll get to shortly; I am curious though, the long history you speak of with Slayer, how is contrasting touring together in the early days as to now? “The younger days there was a lot more drinking... A lot more hangovers, a lot more madness. In that sense it’s more controlled but I think, probably from both bands – both bands are more focused more so on the show and putting on a good performance for fans and this is what it seems to be more about now rather than the party and the hangover”. And a much better night sleep I would assume “Oh [Laughs] well, when you pass out that’s a pretty good night’s sleep too”. [Laughs]  

Now the new album, dropping late October and titled ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ and as much as I hate the tedious ‘artwork’ questions asked – I am in love with this cover, who is responsible for this? “His name is Eliran Kantor – he’s worked with us on probably the last three records now, he’s done some backdrops and t-shirts over the years. Eliran and Eric [Peterson - Guitar] kind of work hand in hand with the album cover; the art and the concepts involved and yeah he did a great job once again. When I first saw it, straight away I had no complaints. It looked like a Testament record”. [Laughs] The album title has also intrigued me, which trickles down through the material within it – so what was the lyrical direction for the album this time around? “Well, at first we weren’t really sure where we were going conceptually with the lyrics yet because in the past we have written about more personal issues that have happened in our lives and in our world; real things and I know Eric wanted to write less about reality this time and not be so personal – lets come up with something where we can create an image in the story and build something from it, so I was up for it. At the time I was really fascinated by a show I’d been watching on aliens and how they have been documented around the world thousands of years ago and it really struck me - how much evidence there was thousands of years ago and I thought, wow maybe there is something to all this, maybe we are being watched [Laughs] so it opened my mind to the possibilities and when I found the Brotherhood of the Snake story it tied it all in. The Brotherhood of the Snake was a secret society that was formed 6,000 years ago and basically this brotherhood was out on a mission to put down all other religions and their belief was that an alien leader created mankind to serve as a slave to mine for the golden minerals of the earth. This all tied in with reflections on past and current political and corporate power and the topics we like to write about and it’s the launching plate for where we’re going. Eric mentioned that the Brotherhood of the Snake made for a great album title and I thought well yeah, we’re a brotherhood at this point too and it made sense so we started rolling right there”.

It was mentioned that the album was one of the most difficult albums you have ever done “Oh yeah” can you take us through what happened? “It was a very painful process, at least for me. We tried to start getting the record out a couple of years ago, to really get the ball rolling. Along the way we had tours offers, so went on tour, we got home and just couldn’t get the songs finished - we had lots of ideas, a lot of melodies, riffs, vocals lines; the works but they just weren’t all put together yet, so from sitting on it for so long it started building frustration and anger and we were asking ourselves; why can’t we get these damn songs finished, we need to get a record out this year, let’s go, what’s up! So we jumped into the studio for the first time ever without rehearsing without any demos but we had no choice because we knew we wanted a record this year and we knew we were leaving by June 15th so we had to have a recording done, we saw some dates – we booked them in, we’ll get in and sort it out in the studio. We all went in a little blind that the songs weren’t finished – they did though come together a lot in the studio, a lot of vocal parts were made there; made on the spot. It all came together and started working, it was really gruelling though. It was a nice feeling once June 15th came around; it was a sigh of relief because it was brutal – that Slayer tour was one of the happiest tours I’ve ever been on”. [Laughs]

Hopefully the next album isn’t as stressful. Challenges and difficulties aside – when did you notice the album was reaching its full potential knowing that this was not the traditional way you guys operate? “Well once all of the pieces started coming together and in the mixing process of course that’s when everyone was like wow, this is killer and we were so happy because we never had a chance to second guess anything, the songs weren’t over polished we couldn’t think about it much so it’s very raw and in your face and there is something to that; whatever hoops we had to jump through to get to the end product - maybe that’s just what we had to do for this record because you’re always trying to outdo yourself but I don’t know how we could have done it other than this way [Laughs] its happened for a reason, I am a big believer in that”. It’s interesting because the tracks on the album; I mean you guys had your feet on the gas pedal, the amount of energy on this album is absolutely relentless. Including Gene Hoglan’s fastest blast beat... well EVER! Knowing that you were all under the pump and a little scattered about its creation, it still contains a lot of ferocity “We knew that we wanted to write faster, so the tempos for the tracks were really laid down from the beginning. But they were only ‘parts’.... and that’s what the scary thing was, I’m sure Gene especially first recording session ‘So where’s the songs?’ ‘Yeah so ah, just go in and learn this and play that’ [Laughs] no lyrics, no leads, nothing.... Blind. I’m sure it was a little frustrating and the question would have announced itself, geez, what’s this record going to be like but at the end it all just came together; we were on the road listening to the mixes on the bus and we’re all like woooah that came out really good! [Laughs]

Now Testament is heading out with Amon Amarth this month through Europe – are you ready to unleash the new material to the fans? “For sure! The record comes out the first day of the tour so people are going to get a taste of the new two pre-releases. We’ll be learning as the tour gets going but we can’t wait to play the tracks because these tracks in particular are really geared up for the live performance, they have a lot of aggression in them. We’re on the tour for five weeks and we’re looking forward to it”. Can Australia look forward to seeing Testament in 2017 perhaps? “For sure, I know we’re working with our agents on some dates in Japan and Japan and Australia generally goes hand in hand so hopefully that all comes together around February and we’ll get down there”.