Legendary San Francisco Bay area thrash metal giants Testament are getting ready to unleash their devastating new studio album, Brotherhood Of The Snake.
Testament will follow up the release of their latest offering with a return to the UK and a tour alongside Amon Amarth and Grand Magus.
National Rock Review caught up with Testament frontman Chuck Billy at the end of the band’s recent festival stint in Europe to talk about their latest studio album, his thirty-year year career with Testament and the band’s touring plans for the rest of this year.
NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it. So you’ve been out on tour across Europe, you’ve been on the festival circuit recently, obviously, you played the likes of Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany. I was just wondering how have the shows been going out here?
Chuck: They’ve been going well. Usually pretty hectic, but this year we decided that we were gonna split the festival season up in three different legs instead of staying here for two months, well three months it would have been June, July and August. So we split it up and it worked out real well for us, we had some great shows and I think taking the break and splitting it up, we got to go home and recharge the batteries, let the voice rest and come back with better performances because of that.
NRR: Obviously you are getting ready to release your new album Brotherhood Of The Snake on the 28th October via Nuclear Blast. I was just wondering could you tell us a little bit about the album and the inspiration behind it?
Chuck: Yeah, well the inspiration for the Brotherhood Of The Snake kind of spawned from the interest between aliens and religion, that kind of got the ball rolling where we were going lyrically with it. Musically, we knew that we wanted to have the tempos faster than the last record and we knew we wanted the drum sound to be bigger. We needed the rhythm guitars to be tighter and a little dryer and from doing the last record my vocals were pretty dry on the Dark Roots record. You know I think just having the confidence going into this one I knew that’s probably the way we should go with it and by doing so, it really opened up a lot of room for the bass and the drums to really be heard. So we are very happy because we got what we set out to get, you know as far as the sound of the record.
NRR: This album also marks Testament’s fifth collaboration with Andy Sneep who I know has mixed and engineered all of your albums since The Gathering in 1999 and he produced Dark Roots of Earth also. You’ve obviously got a great relationship with Andy and I was just wondering what’s it like working with him and what does he bring to the table?
Chuck: He’s got a great ear, he doesn’t miss much and when he hears it, I’m like how did you hear that with everything going on? Andy, he gets us, he knows what we want. We worked with him before where me and Eric were mixing records with him, I’m driving him crazy. Last year we actually let him have at it by himself and he really came close to the mixes just on his own right away, so we knew going into this one that he’s the guy. He knows us, he knows what we want and he did it. I think actually this is probably his best mix that he did for us.
NRR: The album artwork was created by Eliran Kantor, who I know also did the artwork for The Dark Roots of Earth. I was just wondering how much input and involvement did you have in the design for the artwork for the album?
Chuck: I didn’t have it, Eric did. Eric’s always been the one involved in creating the artwork with Eliran, so I kind of let him run with it, once we had the title he just kind of ran with it.
NRR: Following the departure of Greg Christian, this album is also the band’s first studio recording with Steve DiGiorgio since the First Strike Still Deadly in 2001. I was just wondering what’s it like to have Steve back in the studio with the band again?
Chuck: Oh it’s great. Steve is very talented and not just in the studio and in the band live, but just his personality as a friend it’s pretty strong. We’ve stayed in touch and I kind of felt bad that he wasn’t with us through those years, but we were doing the reunion thing. So you know it all worked out for the better, I think we are a stronger unit as a band right now.
NRR: Testament were one of the first thrash metal bands to emerge from the San Francisco Bay Area in the 80s and it’s clear that as a band you’ve continued to be one of the most uncompromising of them all whilst continuing to push thrash and metal in such a positive way. When the media came up with the term “The Big Four” did you feel that Testament should have been included in that group?
Chuck: Not at all. I mean the way they came up with the title says it all, but it is those four bands you’ve mentioned were rightfully so “The Big Four”. At that time when metal was at it’s strongest and we were coming up on the scene, all those bands were Gold and Platinum acts, we were just on our way to reaching that goal until the crash of the metal market as you would say when Nirvana and Pearl Jam and that stuff kind of came about.
NRR: Out of your thirty-year career what would you say has been your major highlight. Has there been any one particular defining moment that you look back on?
Chuck: Yeah, definitely in 1988 we did the Monsters of Rock Festival and we got to play with Iron Maiden, Kiss and David Lee Roth. That was only our second record, our second year in the business and we were touring with some of our heroes. So that was one that really stood out.
NRR: Having had a thirty-year career with Testament, looking back at that time with the benefit of hindsight is there anything you would have done differently?
Chuck: Well, only personally because you know when I was younger, I was really focused on what it was to be in a band … sex, drugs and rock and roll. It wasn’t necessarily about the show, it was about the party. I think looking back and hearing old recordings, they probably weren’t the best performances. So I think maybe I would have tried to clean my act up a little more (laughing).
NRR: What’s your favourite track to perform live and why?
Chuck: Right now it’s probably “Three Days in Darkness”, it’s just so heavy the riff and the ending of it. Something about it, it just has a good groove as well.
NRR: Obviously, Testament has influenced a lot of artists over the years, but in terms of your own personal influences what’s the one album in your own personal record collection that you couldn’t live without?
Chuck: Probably, Metallica “Kill Em’ All”.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year?
Chuck: Well this year right now we’ve just finished the summer season of touring and we are gonna take some time off right now and promote the record and then we don’t do anything until we come back with the Amon Amarth tour starting in October.
NRR: That all sounds great and hopefully we will catch you out on the road with Amon Amarth and like I said thank you so much for taking the time to speak us, we really appreciate it and thanks for supporting National Rock Review as well, both here and in the US. All the best with the album release, I can’t wait to hear it.
Chuck: Thank you man, I think you will enjoy it.
Testament’s new record, Brotherhood Of The Snake (Amazon)
, comes out 28 October via Nuclear Blast. They will be touring the UK in October and November alongside Amon Amarth and Grand Magus.
Testament UK Tour Dates (w. Amon Amarth & Grand Magus):
Check for tickets
31 Oct – Manchester – Academy
01 Nov – Glasgow – O2 ABC
02 Nov â€“ Dublin – Vicar Street
04 Nov â€“ London – Roundhouse
05 Nov â€“ Birmingham – O2 Academy
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