TESTAMENT frontman Chuck Billy is stoked to say the least on the year that went down in 2012 for the mighty San Francisco Bay Area metal legends; Dark Roots Of Earth received a plethora of international praise including Brave Pick Of The Year by the very site you are reading! Since their inception in 1983 in Berkeley, California, Testament has always been cited as one of the most trailblazing thrash metal groups of its time. With ten studio albums, four live discs and six compilation releases, the heavyweights have a lot to be proud of as they look back to one of their most productive years in 2012 and, for that matter, the early stages of 2013. It's been a long and pioneering ride for Testament since their legendary The Legacy album burst forth onto the scene to unsuspecting eardrums across the globe. For Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, Greg Christian, Alex Skolnick and Gene Hoglan - the the rest of 2013 will certainly find Testament blazing new territory as they hit the road with OVERKILL, FLOTSAM AND JETSAM and 4ARM across stages throughout the US. BraveWords correspondent Matthew O'Shaughnessy recently spoke with vocalist Chuck Billy about the aforementioned US trek and the whirlwind global success of Dark Roots Of Earth.
BraveWords: 2012 was a smashing year for Testament; Dark Roots Of Earth nailed the Billboard US Charts at a debut of number 12! It also picked up a lot of well- deserved citations and awards. It's got to make you feel awesome.
Chuck Billy: "Totally! I think we are proud of this record because of how we created these songs. When we wrote this album, we didn't have in the back of our mind any doubt or wondering what the fans or critics were going to say about songs such as 'Cold Embrace' or 'Dark Roots Of Earth' which are a little slowed down or ballady kind of tracks. All the songs we wrote on this record - none of that crossed our mind so by having the record perceived as it was it's almost like our gut feeling kind of paid off. Maybe we should have done it a little sooner."
BraveWords: You mentioned the track 'Cold Embrace', an excellent and unique track from Dark Roots Of Earth.
Chuck Billy: "It's one for me that I am especially proud of. It was definitely a challenge for me. It's always a challenge to put melody and hit those notes; it was actually a different tone of voice that I haven't really used before. So it was a challenge for me and now after listening back...I am very proud of what we accomplished on that song."
BraveWords: Testament also racked up an award in 2012 for Best Music Video at The American Indian Film Festival for your song 'Native Blood'.
Chuck Billy: "Yeah, that was pretty awesome! When we chose to do the video I had kind of the whole vision of doing it on the reservation and it actually became much more than a video shoot; a lot of the community got involved. I met cousins and family members I had never met before on the reservation. Everybody showed up those two days for the video shoot. The tribal council pitched in, the fire department was there, the police department. It was definitely much more than a video shoot for me. To actually have the Indian American Film Festival reach out to us and ask us to enter it in the film festival was awesome. To win and come out of there a winner just justified everything else that we put into that song."
BraveWords: When Testament was creating Dark Roots Of Earth in the studio, were you aware of the magnitude of what would become when the album finally did come out?
Chuck Billy: "Well, it's hard to say; I mean, I think when we were writing the tracks we knew that they were different songs than some of the other records but we knew they were good songs. You know, before we started writing this record we were writing songs and and hit a wall and dumped a lot of material and Eric (Peterson) kind of hit a writing block at one point, so we sent him off to producer Andy Sneap's place in England and he came back with ten skeleton tracks of the album and they were all the tracks we used on Dark Roots Of Earth. I give a lot of credit to Eric for delivering the goods for sure."
BraveWords: Testament has always been an echo-friendly band. And certainly Dark Roots Of Earth reflects that.
Chuck Billy: "Like you said, we've always been planet-conscious. And when Eric first came up with the idea the Dark Roots Of Earth, right away it caught my ear and I was really like, 'yeah I am totally down. I totally dig it.' I dig the art work which he had all laid out. And then you know, of course, in Testament fashion the songs we've created have to do with the human race and the planet. What we are doing to it as a human race. So, the theme really did carry out continuing off something like the New Order record - that vibe."
BraveWords: As you look back to the mayhem and legacy of the 1980's with Testament always being industry pioneers, what has kept the Testament mission banging ever forward? Your legacy so to speak?
Chuck Billy: "I think staying true to what we started with; I know throughout the 1990's a lot of metal bands kind of jumped ship and tried to change their music styles with the times. And it didn't really work or the fans didn't buy into it. So, I think we've always stuck to what we love to do and we kind of survived that whole wave of non-metal in the 1990's. We just stuck with what we believed and here we are today. I think the last three records we wrote were probably the best material we ever wrote and it's just gotten better and better."
BraveWords: Your hammering it out on the road with Overkill, Flotsam And Jetsam and 4Arm. With a new and award-winning album in Dark Roots Of Earth and a classic back catalogue, how will the band comprise the set-list on this formidable tour?
Chuck Billy: "We did three American legs with Anthrax and Death Angel; So we really wanted to change the show. We've got about five tracks from the new album, about two or three from The Gathering and a couple off The Formation Of Damnation. So, alot of the set is really more of the last current records since we re-united. A lot of that material was based on the classic stuff that we all had written together. It's been five years since the reunion so it's about time now to focus on what we are doing today and who we are today. There's a new generation of younger fans that are probably more up on our current stuff, so it's time to add in and be who we are today."
BraveWords: According to a statement by the band: "This is a great tour that brings together three different metal bands from three different regions; West Coast, East Coast and Southwest. All three bands sound very different from one another yet are highly compatible. All have been around the block and all have managed to keep a sound that feels current."
Chuck Billy: "We are very stoked for this tour; Overkill has been doing it and touring just as long as we have and putting out good music. Flotsam And Jetsam has a new record coming out and 4Arm - these young kids have some pretty good music and have something going too. I think this tour will give thrash metal fans definitely a taste of that genre for sure. I would also like to say thanks so much for believing in the band and for picking up the new record. I look forward to seeing everybody at the shows on this tour. We do have a really good set for everybody coming up; It's a must see tour and a must see show by Testament on this round!"