TESTAMENT – Succumb Unto Your Fate

November 1, 2016, a year ago

Aaron Small

feature heavy metal testament

TESTAMENT – Succumb Unto Your Fate

“Secret society and big business, political power and abuse of the earth,” says Testament vocalist Chuck Billy in regard to the subject matter that dominates his band’s phenomenal new album Brotherhood Of The Snake, released October 28th via Nuclear Blast.  
 
Brotherhood Of The Snake is sort of a concept record in that half of the songs are about the mythical Sumerian race which spawned the title. The connection between the alien world and religion, dating back 6,000 years. Chuck’s muse for this reptilian shape-shifting story came courtesy of an American television series that aired on the History Channel called Ancient Aliens. “Yeah, it had a lot of references that were pointed out about aliens and religions in different cultures that had the same sightings documented around the world thousands of years ago; either in caves or books, whatever. It was always the alien being with long arms and a big head, flying objects through the sky. It was fascinating to me! Maybe there is something to this? Maybe there are aliens? It opened my mind to the possibilities.” On a personal level, Chuck is undecided as to whether aliens exist or not. “Well, I was born and raised Catholic and taught certain stories about our religion. Now that I’m grown up and have my own opinions, my mind is open to the possibilities.”
 
Highly detailed and intriguing artwork adorns Brotherhood Of The Snake, tying in with the serpent society concept. Created by Eliran Kantor, who also provided the artwork for Testament’s previous two albums, Dark Roots Of Earth, and The Formation Of Damnation, Chuck elaborates upon the extent of creative freedom Kantor was granted. “We gave him the title, and he came up with it. I think Eric (Peterson, guitarist) pays closer attention to what the artist is creating, but Eliran knows what we like cause he’s involved with our backdrops and all that stuff. Of course, the image and the way it’s going to be presented is a big thing. When I first saw it, right away I liked it.”
 

Somewhat surprisingly, the other half of Brotherhood Of The Snake does not pertain to the aforementioned concept. For example, “Black Jack” deals with gambling; in fact, Sin City, meaning Las Vegas, is name checked. “It’s basically a metaphor using gambling. Everything we do today in our lives, everywhere we travel and go, everything is unpredictable and a risk,” explains Chuck. “Your life is on the line. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking out your front door, or going to Israel. That was one of the hardest songs on the record. I wrote that song four different times; four different melodies, four different sets of lyrics. That was a tough one. When you get a fast paced song, your instinct would be to sing fast; just follow the bouncing ball, which is almost what I did. And that made it boring to me when I listened back to it. I needed to find something that went across the grain.”
 
“Black Jack” is followed by “Canna Business” which is an obvious reference to cannabis – marijuana. The legalization of which is a huge topic in both Canada and The United States currently. “Oh yeah, it’s big. I’ve always been a cannabis supporter. I actually got my medical marijuana card over a year and a half ago. All my buddies who have cards were telling me, ‘Go on your phone, everything’s got an app these days.’ There’s a thing called Weedmaps; it’s basically like Uber. You open it up and see all the people who deliver that are close to you. Hit the menu, order what you want, and they’re at your house within an hour.” Chuck is completely in favour of the legalization of cannabis across America. “Oh yeah! Look at Colorado and how well that state is doing. If every other state across the US did the same, shit we wouldn’t have a deficit.”
 
For “The Number Game”, Chuck teamed up with his old buddy Steve “Zetro” Souza from Exodus for a fictional story about a serial killer. “I actually had that hook on the song – 14 days, 14 lives – that was the first line I wrote for the song and I was kind of stuck with it. The riff is kind of repetitive so when me and Zet got together, we counted back from 14 days, all the way down as a serial killer on a killing spree; taking a victim every single day for 14 days. It just worked.”
 

Exit Chuck, enter Testament guitarist Eric Peterson – yes, BraveWords.com spoke with two members of legendary thrash band Testament, prior to the new album’s release. It might surprise fans to learn that Eric wrote all of the music heard on Brotherhood Of The Snake. “Pretty much,” confirms Peterson. “There’s a couple little riffs I gave Alex (Skolnick, guitarist) credit for, a couple chord progressions. But 99.5% yeah. I demoed eight songs. There’s two that didn’t make it on the record, and I pulled one out of my ass; that was ‘Seven Seals’ because one of them didn’t work, they said it sounded like Dio too much. It’s a killer song, I’m going to use it at some point; but it was too soon for it. I had the riff for ‘Seven Seals’ and it changed; that song has been edited so many times to get it to where it’s at now. Basically that’s what you do when you rehearse as a band. You try making a section longer or adding something; luckily we had all the parts. But the rest of them, the guys definitely heard what was going on, but we didn’t get to rehearse it as a band though. Gene (Hoglan, drummer) came in and he knew – I didn’t have to sit down and teach him stuff. He had a demo of everything that was going to happen, except for ‘Seven Seals’. It was a crazy record to make, but it came out great. We’re all pretty proud of it.”
 
Producer Juan Urteaga (Exodus, Machine Head) was a very welcome helping hand when it came to Testament obtaining the sound heard on Brotherhood Of The Snake, as Eric attests to. “Juan worked with us on Formation as an engineer, and he worked with us on Dark Roots. On this record, it’s not so much a producing role; that falls more on me and Chuck. Juan was more of the recorder, the engineer on this record. I did all the guitars at my house. You’ve got the Internet and file sharing… it’s crazy how that all works now. Before you’d have tapes that you were sending FedEx. I think the record was all sent through DropBox.” Broken down, that means the five members of Testament were not together in the studio at the same time. “Except for when Chuck did his vocals, I was there with him, and I was with Gene when he did the drums. But the bass and guitars were done separately. Alex (Skolnick) did all his solos in New York, I did all the rhythms and my solos at my house (in Sacramento). DiGiorgio (bassist) started following my lead by doing stuff at home. But he ended up going to Juan’s and redoing a lot of stuff there. There was a technical issue on some of the recordings I think. But it was good cause he was four songs in and we had to redo some stuff; it ended up being better cause he knew the songs better.”
 
Bassist Steve DiGiorgio was previously in Testament from 1998 to 2004, rejoining in 2014. However, Brotherhood Of The Snake is the first studio album he’s played on since The Gathering, which was released in 1999. Eric comments on the reinstating of DiGiorgio, “Personally, it’s awesome cause Steve’s my buddy. He’s the one guy in the band I click with, we do stuff together. Musician-wise, it’s really killer. I would say he’s more of a standout bass player, as opposed to a low key bass player – which gets competitive with the guitars, but we keep it in check and the results are on the new record.”
 

Despite the fact that “Return To Serenity” from The Ritual (1992) is still one of Testament’s most recognized songs, Eric and co. chose not to include a ballad on Brotherhood Of The Snake. “I had one, we just didn’t have the time for it. The time frame that I chose to do this was really crazy. When I found out everybody’s schedules, no one was around when we were recording, except Gene. And I had a really small window with Gene; we didn’t even really get to rehearse the songs. He had to come in and know the songs from the demos. I had maybe a couple days with Steve to go over things. Alex - I just showed him where the parts were at and in my own subtle way, gave him a little idea. Of course he does what he does, and it all came back killer.”
 
Long-labelled the fifth member of The Big 4, Testament has a three-week head start against Metallica and the release of their new album. Brotherhood Of The Snake was issued October 28th, and Hardwired… To Self-Destruct comes out November 18th. Eric offers up the following, “I think we’re so fucked, and shit out of luck.” After the laughter subsides, Peterson serves the entree. “If you had to compare them, ours is more kind of artsy and in-depth. Theirs is kind of like a pulled pork sandwich – eat it. Ours is like garlic spinach with the lamb shank. I think it’s going to do well, I think people are going to dig it. When I heard (the new Metallica), I didn’t go ‘aw, man.’ I was like ‘oh, cool.’ It’s really of our time, for Americans with our President Nominees and stuff.”
 
It’s hard to believe that four years have passed between the release of Testament’s previous album Dark Roots Of Earth, and new offering Brotherhood Of The Snake. Admittedly, that time span was punctuated by the Dark Roots Of Thrash live release. “On our first three records, The Legacy (1987), The New Order (1988), and Practice What You Preach (1989), Chuck was pointing out to me that we did a record every year. That’s cause we did Europe, America, came home and wrote a record. Now we’re going to Asia, Russia, China, Canada – we’re going all over the place. Now we’ve got kids and family, we’ve got to mow the fucking lawn. Back then, we didn’t want to go live with our Moms – fuck that!”
 
In closing, Testament’s label Nuclear Blast is known for putting out special editions with deluxe packaging and bonus content; Dark Roots Of Earth featured a making-of DVD. For Brotherhood Of The Snake, “We have a really cool 7” set with one song per side; it’s a five-record, 18 gram set. And it comes with a cool poster of the album cover. And it’s got a little booklet in it; this time around we had artwork done for every song. There’s different bundles you can get – one has a shirt in it. But we took advantage of the artwork and really applied it, and put it all together with some cool merchandise.”    
 
(All photos by Gene Ambo)

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