The roots of thrash metal began with the likes of Exodus, Sepultura and The Big 4, but its ‘dark roots’ were arguably founded and executed by Californian heavyweights Testament, who have been keeping the genre vigorous and lively since 1983.
With their eleventh full-length record Brotherhood of the Snake set to be released in late October, we had a chat with founding member and guitarist Eric Peterson about the struggle and process the band undertook during the making of their latest recorded achievement.
“We were trying a lot [to get a new record done], but we were getting one to two month breaks here and there,” Peterson begins. “Between those breaks we were doing a lot of tours, so it was stop and go, stop and go. When it came time to really put the pedal to the metal, Chuck (Billy) was moving, and moving is a nightmare — especially when you’re writing a record and you have a tour coming up. As a band, we weren’t really rehearsing these [new] songs.”
“I was doing more of the writing role and I had a ghost drummer I was working with to help me put the stuff together,” he continues. “I also worked with Gene (Hoglan) when he was available, because he does a lot of other projects. Everybody was kind of doing different things, so Chuck and I were the only ones with blood on our hands, so to speak. For me, I had a great time because I have a new man cave with new programs and mini kits. So I’ve got a pretty good system to jam and stuff.”
Moving forward into that topic, according to Peterson, vocalist Chuck Billy endured the most stressful moments:
“There’s a lot of riffing going on, so it’s definitely not written super easy. It’s a lot more involved to get up to par — probably for Chuck to find his niche or what he needed to do. But, if we rewind back before he found his niche, there were definitely some stressful times for him on finding what he needed to do. With a little bit of direction, his confidence went through the riff and it was all downhill from that.”
“In all fairness, I could see where Chuck was having a difficult time. But when people were hearing about all that, like I tell all our people that are in our camp: just wait until the record is done, and [then] see what’s up. Then, lord and behold, Brotherhood of the Snake is alive and well.”
With the entire progression of Brotherhood of the Snake being a rocky road for Testament, it became a new experience in which the band discovered new things they conjured up in the midst of the making of the album. Two examples would be where Billy eventually stumbled upon a new style and movement, along with Peterson executing fresh and diverse riffs that helped shape the record in a unique way.
“That was a difficult part too. Being a stickler on stuff, it’s not easy to argue with Chuck. I did a lot of that, and probably pissed him off a lot, but I think it made him re-evaluate what he was doing. Even with some of my stuff, he was like ‘I’m not feeling that, dude’, so it was like ‘Oh, fuck’, you know? With that being the case, I think we really tried to make each other happy, but at the same time, holding our own.”
“There were certain things where I was like, ‘No, this is killer. You just gotta trust me, and you’re gonna find something for it’. Born In the Rut was one where Chuck was like ‘It’s just a riff, Eric. I don’t understand it. How do you sing over that?’ So I would give him ideas and even if he didn’t like the ideas, he would correct them and make it better.”
“There wasn’t a lot of time where we could write something else. We had to do with what we had and not second guess anything. And we didn’t have to compromise everyone in the band; we just really made this happen. It wasn’t the easiest record to make, but it’s definitely one of the best we’ve made.”
Moving onto the meaning behind the album title, Peterson reveals that The Brotherhood of the Snake is a real theme. Peterson describes it as something that’s real, but still quite unknown.
“It’s a brotherhood of secrecy and covenant that goes back about 6,000 years. Secrets that have been passed down and what roles the Brotherhood have played in the world, like politics and wars. There are even theories of mutation of man and all sorts of crazy stuff out there. All of that stuff is super intriguing to us, and we found a lot of that information we were looking for that represented the music.”
Peterson also notes that the Brotherhood of the Snake tackles the theme of what may be perceived as the truth or fiction. With the development of the internet, Peterson feels that it’s impossible to hide from all the lies that have been exposed on the web.
“We were able to come up with an abstract version of the Brotherhood of the Snake without any consequences. It’s based on realism but abstract in the way of science-fiction. There is a bit of truth to some of this stuff, and maybe I don’t even know what the truth is. But when you read stuff like that, you can kind of see a clear picture, and you look at the world and make your own perception of what’s going. Especially with the internet. It’s hard to hide from lies now, because there’s the ‘All Seeing Eye’ right now, and it’s crazy.”
“We stuck to that theme for probably the first four or five songs. There’s a lot of it that has to do with how the world is being run, and the new zodiac sign. There’s always these new, interesting things that are being revealed in our lives and the universe is expanding. So we tried to put that all into a nutshell.”
Written by Callum Doig