After a long list of line-up changes, albums, a break up and a new forth coming album, Testament are as relevant and interesting as ever.
When you’ve been playing for over 30 years remaining interesting and relevant is a hell of a challenge. Since the 2000s the metal scene has become swamped with genre upon genre, from Parkway Drive to Cannibal Corpse metal has grown exponentially in style, ability and tone. But despite the constantly evolving competition and more line-up changes than you’d care to count Testament are drawing crowds of older fans and of younger ones.
What’s allowed the band to drive forward on their seemingly endless march is the talent of guitarist Eric Peterson. He’s the man that does a majority of the writing and he’s also the man that knows exactly where to take Testament in 2014.
Vocalist Chuck Billy says Peterson is the “identity of the band” and now that they’re writing a new record Peterson is going to be as important as ever.
According to Billy the album is in the early stages and they’re taking time away from it to play Soundwave this month.
In regards to how it may span out Billy is tightly guarded but does say “It’s all up to Eric…he’s never let us down before and he isn’t going to this time.”
And it’s Peterson’s track record that has let the band continue to sound, as Billy puts it, “[not] like a 30 year old band. We still sound current and fresh.”
The initial plan for 2014 was to not tour and to write and record but when Soundwave came up they seized the opportunity to return to Australia.
“We thought ‘we’ve gotta do Soundwave!’ because we haven’t been down to Australia in so long.”
As masters of live shows and touring veterans playing shows, as you can probably imagine, loses its shine after years on the road. Billy says that as you get older, the tours get harder.
“When you’re touring you get tired and worn down or you get sick and you don’t feel it.”
The “it” being the passion and the energy that comes with playing live. Billy describes it as “cruise control”.
“When I go out on stage I do what I have to do. I’ve been doing it so long that it comes naturally.”
That doesn’t mean there’s no fire in the performance and to add to it, the Soundwave setlist is looking explosive. While there are no song titles thrown around in the interview past tours have helped shaped what’s coming.
“At Soundwave we’ll playing some of the current songs and a few of the classic thrash songs.”
After the reunion the consensus was to play the older material – the band wanted only to play the songs they’d recorded on – but after last year’s headliner that changed.
“We thought ‘hey, we’ve got to play some of the current songs’ because that’s what the band is about now and it’s not just what we’ve been about.”
Dark Roots of Earth, The Formation Of Damnation and The Gathering albums are seeing the most action in the live shows and it’s safe to say we can expect a handful of those songs to make an appearance at Soundwave.
From this point in their career Testament have seen the rise and fall of dozens of bands and new wave after new wave of metal.
“There are a lot more bands now and there are a lot more genres of metal. There were only a handful of bands playing thrash when we started out.”
And as the waves have come and gone Testament have also come along way from their beginning.
Songwriting at the start was “heavy metal cliche” but these days. “As we’ve grown up it’s become more mature and we write more about life and what’s going on in the world.”
As a vocalist Billy says he connects more with what’s closer to reality than with the cliche and it makes for a more impassioned performance.
To remain passionate about your art, and your band, after such a legacy is impressive. Billy says that’s not just one thing that draws him to thrash metal and hastens to add that thrash isn’t all that they do.
“It’s something to do with the tempo of it. We don’t just play thrash and we have some songs that aren’t thrash at all and that gives us variety.”
While variety is important in any band, angst can be a hard thing to shake.
“There’s something about aggressive music and it flicks a switch and when it’s on hard and fast, it takes you over.”
It’s that aggression that Testament will be bringing to Soundwave and Billy says that being on the Soundwave stage means “you’re ready to go and you play to your fullest potential.”
He leaves, to begin a conversation with a shop assistant (of all people), with a parting promise.