Testament’s Chuck Billy Talks Brotherhood, End Of An Era
For heavy metal fans, when the conversation comes up of some of the best in the genre, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax will always rise to the top. Following them, a select few are mentioned consistently as one of the best of their game. Testament has stood the test of time to achieve that status.
Since the band’s arrival on the San Francisco Bay metal scene in 1986, Testament has been one of the cream of the crop. Singer, Chuck Billy, has been a staple in the classic lineup for all of that time.
In October 2016, Testament released their 11th album, “Brotherhood of the Snake,” and the story behind the concept album is based in some rather esoteric and ancient lore, steeped in areas that most casual listeners may not expect.
“The Brotherhood of the Snake was a secret society based in ancient Egypt,” Billy said about the story. “The story ties into the idea that aliens created mankind, humans, to mine for gold and other minerals. The theory says that these ancient aliens placed the species on the planet and, due to conditions here, it evolved and here we are.”
Billy said that the timing was perfect. He said he was sitting with Eric Peterson, the band’s guitarist, and they started to talk about the concept.
“I think it’s a pretty cool thing to think about,” Billy said. “I am a big fan of the television show, Ancient Aliens. If you take a look at what’s presented there, it is really interesting to see all of these writings from ancient cultures that portray similar objects traveling through the sky, star people as some call them.”
The album, other than having a concept around mystical and the ancient esoteric, is a return to the thrash metal roots that Testament grew from, Billy said. The band that has been around for three decades still looks to be fresh.
“I am very proud of what we did on this album,” he said. “We don’t want to be that 30-year old band. We want to be fresh and current with every track. We want to be current but not lose what we are about as a band.
“This album is a step above ‘The Gathering,'” Billy continued. “That was when we were testing the elements of thrash and playing with a new tool to us, the blast beat. It really added another aspect to Testament and was met with some good praise in the music world.”
“Brotherhood of the Snake” was a challenge for Billy and Peterson to actually get into final version. The process felt a bit different for him.
“We went into recording and I really didn’t have songs finished yet,” he said. “Eric and I just dove in and went over what we had and put it together. Gene (Hogland, on drums) and Steve (Di Giorgio, on bass) really crushed it as well.
“We went into the studio with an energy and some anger,” Billy continued. “First, there were no demos of the songs. That had me frustrated and angry. That had Gene playing some angry drum lines as well. It set the tone and pace of this album. I guess not being prepared actually worked in our favor.”
Fans looking to hear a bit of Testament live can catch them at Darien Lake on Aug. 3 as they play in support of Slayer. This is being billed as the end of the road for Slayer. Billy was able to impart a bit of eye-witness reaction to the early part of the tour’s first leg.
“You know, it is really awesome and a real treat to be a part of,” he said. “These guys (Slayer) are handling this tour way different than they have in the past. They are taking it in stride and taking care of business. Tom (Araya, bass and vocals for Slayer) is smiling and having fun. It’s really cool the way it is all going down.”
The early stages of that first leg had the tour stopping in Chicago. Billy said there were 25,000 people that came out to see the end of an era.
The music world is one that takes its toll on artists. They all need to recharge and get a grasp on life again.
When asked what it is that Billy does to relax, and what is on the music player when he listens, it is clear how a thrash metal staple unwinds and finds his center.
“Well, there are really a couple things,” he said. “We are water people. We love to be out on the boat and I love the golf course. I am out there whenever I can be. After beating cancer in 2001 I live life every day the best I can. I really enjoy my time.
“With the music, I like to listen to the stuff I grew up with,” he continued. “I love to listen to classic rock. It really takes me back. When I am golfing, I found that I really like to listen to Blues. I like to listen to John Bonamassa, Government Mule, you know, moody music.”
When pushed for that Chuck Billy blues album, he did hint that he has thought about it previously and it might happen someday.
Testament guitarist, Alex Skolnick, who has also played with Savatage and Trans Siberian Railroad, also does some side work with a jazz trio.
Testament will play in support of Slayer on their final tour stop at Darien Lake’s Performing Arts Center on Aug. 3 with Anthrax, Lamb of God and Napalm Death.