Despite the horrible news that Testament frontman Chuck Billy, his wife Tiffany and some crew tested positive to COVID-19 things are now looking up for them!
To keep the good news rolling, the time has arrived for TESTAMENT to unleash new thunder to the masses and reveal their thirteenth studio album: Titans OF Creation available since Friday 3rd April 2020. Just as the elements of this planet thrive within all living creatures, each musician in TESTAMENT represents a necessary component of this latest musical endeavour. Still filled with a massive and unstoppable energy since their last release, TESTAMENT has taken their style to the next level and present an album that is loyal to the roots of traditional thrash metal while still bringing alluring, brilliant, and progressive ingredients to the table. Bass is showcased, new vocals are introduced, and as expected, the guitarwork of Peterson and Skolnick is greatly complex and mesmerizing.
Eliran Kantor stepped up once again to create a new piece of artwork for the cover of this release. His classic, almost Renaissance style of painting melds beautifully with the ancient, psychological, and enlightened subject matter of the songs. Three monstrous titans stand in the place where the planets are formed. One pours molding liquid which the others hammer into human DNA, twisting and turning into the ring of a newborn planet. Each titan has the flame of a dying star burning in their chest; the origin of the atoms making up the bodies that are bubbling and boiling on the curves of the spiralling helix.
Titans OF Creation has many moods and material contained within; all of which somehow tie into a common philosophy of creation and its necessary counterpart: destruction. “Children Of The Next Level” smashes through the gates as the opening track with a flood of sound that prepares the listener for an abundance of violent thrash. Meanwhile, the lyrics rage about the outrageous philosophies of the Heaven’s Gate cult (founded in 1974).
Songs like “Dream Deceiver” carry more old school sound that will tickle the senses of any commonTESTAMENT fan. The lyrics describe being trapped in a dream by an otherworldly female force who is slowly working to degrade the mind.
Dreams are part of existence, but when we are asleep, we are entirely vulnerable; one of the many mysteries of being human. “Someone’s haunting you and won’t leave you alone; the only time they pick at you is at night when they can control the way you sleep,” describes vocalist Chuck Billy.
“Night of the Witch” features frightening and captivating vocals from Eric Peterson. Carrying a vibe far more akin to Black Metal, Peterson swoops in with a power that melds perfectly with Billy’s ground shaking, guttural growls. Taking some influence from Robert Egger’s 2015 horror masterpiece “The VVitch: A New England Folktale,” the song carries with it a magical quality that directly reflects the mood of the film. At the very end of the track, a theremin howls through the air much like witches rising towards the moon; setting the final tone. “The album has a lot about it that’s fresh to the ear,” explains Peterson.
Written by guitarist Alex Skolnick, “Symptoms” is filled with detailed with intricate guitar work that well represents the complicated and spellbinding journey that comes along with handling depression, mood swings, and a countless list of mental health frustrations. The lyrics in this song discuss a sad truth: that mental illness is more common than we all think, than many of us are willing to acknowledge. On a lighter note, a vibrant track entitled “The Healers” swings back and forth between waves of death and thrash, heavy and melodic, light and dark. The words are spiritual, and extremely personal. They describe Billy’s own experience dealing with all-natural medicine men; the elders of the earth, and how they managed to help him pinpoint and heal his past illness. “City Of Angels” comes bearing an entirely new sound for TESTAMENT. The creeping sludgieness and slow, stalking tempo, walk hand in hand with the almost unbelievably gruesome tale of the Nightstalker Richard Ramierz, all combining to form another stand-out track on the record.
In 2020 the days of writing an album all together in one room are far gone, but to be able to take advantage of technology allows for TESTAMENT to go about a very similar writing process to what they always have. Basic songs are molded, structures are added by everyone in the group, instrumentals are highlighted, and finally the lyrics and vocals are created to finalize the sonic story. Facetime and human on human contact still remain crucial elements to TESTAMENT’s song writing process and at some point, throughout, every member physically interacts and writes with one another. In between writing this album, the band toured relentlessly which allowed for less stress, more time in between, and greater inspiration for this album cycle. There was also plenty of anxiety-free and level-headed time for pre-production and the initial recording process with Juan Urteaga of Trident Studios. Andy Sneap was then able to tweak, mix, and master this album to his usual perfection.
TESTAMENT’s process of creation has evolved and progressed, yet they’ve remained steadfast over the course of literal decades. While always managing to present the genuine aspects of thrash metal that solidify their existence, they spread into unique horizons through developing crisp and fascinating sounds.
Chuck Billy | vocals
Eric Peterson | guitars
Alex Skolnick | guitars
Steve DiGiorgio | bass
Gene Hoglan | drums
Chris Symes interviews Chuck Billy!
It was Good Friday and boy, was it good. I got the chance to speak to an absolute legend of the Thrash Metal scene – Testament’s Chuck Billy.
Best known for his vocal prowess as lead singer of one of the original and great thrash metals bands, (the afore mentioned Testament), Billy’s enormous vocal range and style seems to have only grown with age – possibly peaking with Testaments newly released album, Titans of Creation (2020).
Speaking to Billy just after the new album dropped, I was excited to chat to the hero, and find out more about how at 13 albums deep, he’s still discovering new vocals and exploring unchartered territory in the thrash scene.
At the time of speaking to me, Billy was in fact on the mend in his Californian home. Fresh off a European tour with fellow Bay Area thrash groups Exodus and Death Angel, Billy, along with his wife and some crew members were diagnosed with the infamous Covid-19. They thankfully managed to ride out that storm, but their North American tour (scheduled for late April 2020) however, became yet another unfortunate casualty of the music world, at the hands of the pandemic.
Chris: Hey mate! How are feeling? What are you doing at present?
Chuck Billy: I’m doing good – just chilling at home, hiding from the world.
Chris: Aren’t we all! I know you’re probably sick of everyone asking, but how are you feeling after getting Covid-19?
Chuck: Well I am feeling much better.
We were wiped out for two weeks but much, much better now. Last week I finally got rid of the headaches and body aches, now I am getting some energy moving. I’ve started to walk and get some exercise, just trying to feel normal again.
Chris: That’s good to hear. Man, that was a rough one, it seemed to knock a few of the guys out from Exodus and Death Angel too from what I had read.
The bands were touring Europe for The Bay Strikes Back 2020 and returned home March 11 after cancelling their final show in Hannover, Germany due to the spread of coronavirus. Within days of returning home some of the band and crew members of Testament, Exodus and Death Angel began showing symptoms, with several (Billy included) testing positive for the virus. This was later confirmed in a statement Billy released to the media.
Chuck: Yeah it was pretty brutal!
Chris: How are you keeping busy now that you’re on the mend?
Chuck: We’re doing good you know. We’re staying home just because we don’t know- they’re not retesting us. Just still hiding out you know.
Testament’s latest album, Titans of creation dropped April 3rd and it feels like a real rarity. It’s a killer record and great listening experience – you immediately want to go back for more. It’s a record that deserves to be listened to from front to back without skipping a track (looking at you Spotify listeners).
The sound and feel has an element of classic, old-school Testament and the tracks are well written and composed, but there’s also something unique in there that sets it apart from the group’s other records.
Chuck appeases my curiosity and gives us some insight into what went into the making of Testaments 13th album.
Chris: I would love to talk about the new album Titans of Creation. Mate, it’s a wicked album, I really love the songs!
Chris: I feel it’s a bit of a throw-back to the good old days. How are you feeling about it?
Chuck: We’re feeling pretty good about it.
I mean you’re always trying to top your last record and go from record to record. I know this record was unique in the sense that a lot of the songs really had their own identity, their own moods and flavor, and this made for a dynamic record.
It also made for a challenging record for me vocally. Eric (Peterson) chose to play some not so typical chords and like I said, built in some different feelings. It made me step into an uncomfortable zone where I guess I pushed myself a little bit – It made me experiment and find new things.
Songs like City of Angels where I found a new textural voice I’d never really used on a song in the studio. I also did a few harmony vocals in there and it ended up developing into something cool – but it was also like wow, after 13 records finding something new and different.
Trying something new and different was a cool feeling you know.
Chris: It’s amazing that you’ve recently just found these extra vocal strengths. Is it something that you’ll try and experiment with on other releases, and even live?
Chuck: I think that I found the new textural voice because it is song to song. I mean because I approach every song individually as it makes me feel. That’s what I mean that these songs were unique enough to do that. I wrote it and we went and recorded it in like two days. Until we rehearsed for it, it was new I had never sung it before. Finding my way with a new voice or new texture in my voice that I hadn’t really tried before was unique but that’s what it called for.
Chris: How has the creative process changed between your early releases and now? Do you guys still all go to the studio at the same time and record together?
Chuck: No, not anymore. Me and Eric write a lot of the riffs, and Gene got to write riffs with Eric on this record. But we take all of that and compile all the riffs and vocals and go into the studio and put it together and arrange it and come up with a final dit and arrangements. And then start really arranging.
We kind of just go in the studio and let the tape roll. We mumble our way through and find some cool hooks and cool words here and there that we built songs around, and you know it was just a different process. But it was still kind of the same as the last record, where we went in prepared to do a demo and everything. Something about that just kind of leads you to making your first impression based on gut instinct and it doesn’t really give you a chance to over think it.
Chris: I love the fact that you have put out the limited-edition vinyl, the air and fire pressings. As a record collector I think there should be more of these put out. Did you draw on any particular influences for the new album?
Chuck: Well I don’t know a lot about influence. We did the elements that was just because you know, I think Nuclear Blast get creative – they are always very good at putting different versions of vinyl out. A picture disk, a blood splatter, a green a blue record or whatever, that’s always great. When they came up with the four elements for this record with all the different promotions, I thought that was pretty cool.
Chris: Just for something different, I have the Murder in the Front Row photography book of the thrash scene in the Bay Area in front of me. Have you had a chance to see the movie?
Chuck: Yeah, I saw it at the premiere in San Francisco. I could have watched it for another hour, it was great. We watched it up in the Bay Area with a bunch of people, friends and stuff. It was pretty awesome to watch, and it told the story really well.
Chris: I love the book; I’m holding out that maybe we could get a Bay Area tour here in Australia with all you guys coming.
Chuck: Oh that would be awesome!
Chris: Once the Apocalypse is over do you feel like you’ll be heading over at some point soon?
Chuck: Well the plans would be with whatever download reschedules. I’m sure we’ll get back over there. If there’s another promoter over there who wants to bring us over earlier, we’d be down for that too!
Chris: What music are you currently listening to at the moment?
Chuck: Nothing lately – we finished the record and then went on tour and we just continue to tour. We’ve just been kind of focused on the record since we’ve been working on it. I haven’t found myself listening to anything new, just listening to what’s on Sirius radio – that’s probably about it.
Chris: I`m usually a concert photographer, so I have to ask – are there any good stories of any major douche bag photographers you’ve encountered?
Chuck: HAHA ah yeah. He’ll think it’s funny, but Harold O who wrote Murder in the Front row. Hahaha he’s the biggest douche-bag photographer. He’s also the funniest douche-bag photographer.
He always comes down to take photos in the front row. He’s always there, next thing you know he will pull out this polaroid camera or like his old 110 camera. To take the next picture you have to wind up the camera with your thumb. I`m like for fuck sake Harold you’re a professional photographer. Why are all these classic shots on all these fucked up cameras hahaha.
Chris: That’s awesome! Obviously, there’s not many negative guys you’ve encountered trying to get on stage for a shot and push you around on stage?
Chuck: Nooo nothing like that ever. I can handle myself pretty good onstage so there’s not many photographers that I’ll let get under my skin like that.
Chris: Last one – when I was flicking through Murder in the Front Row, there’s a picture of you guys and you all have matching tattoos. Have you still got them? No cover ups?
Chuck: Nope we still have em. They are still all in their original forms!
Chris: Great to hear and thanks Chuck!
Chuck: Alright, thanks man. Hopefully we’ll see you at Download next year!
Chris: Hopefully Chuck, and thanks for your time; it’s been great to have a chat with you.
Here’s hoping we see Testament grace our shores again once the music industry returns to some sense of normality. And in the meantime, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a copy of Titans of Creation – you won’t be disappointed.