TESTAMENT On Titans Of Creation - "Every Song Pummels"

April 3, 2020, 9 months ago

By Aaron Small

feature heavy metal testament

TESTAMENT On Titans Of Creation - "Every Song Pummels"

“The record reminds me a lot of The Gathering (released in 1999), every song pummels,” says Testament guitarist Eric Peterson, talking about his band’s brand new album, Titans Of Creation. “Although, it sounds better than The Gathering. But The Gathering had this girth and this heaviness to it, which this one has.” 

If that description doesn’t whet your appetite to hear the 13th studio album from the Bay Area thrash masters, the first two singles “Night Of The Witch” and “Children Of The Next Level” would surely intensify a craving. Titans Of Creation is a heaping platter of musical dexterity; 12 songs spanning 59 minutes. In fact, the last time Testament had an album with 12 songs on it was Low (released in 1994). “The first two songs are a good taste of it, but there’s so much variety on the record, yet it doesn’t stray too far. We had a ballad too,” reveals Eric. “It was like seven minutes; like ‘Sign Of The Southern Cross’ (by Black Sabbath). It’s slow, then gets heavy… but we decided it wasn’t quite ready yet. Alex (Skolnick, guitarist) wanted to put it on there as an instrumental. It was like Pink Floyd shit, we’ll put it on the next record. We’ll let it simmer, we’re not going to serve any wine before its time.”

Titans Of Creation presents a new element of Testament, namely guitarist Eric Peterson singing alongside vocalist Chuck Billy on two tracks: the first single “Night Of The Witch”, and “Curse Of Osiris”. Both songs incorporate black metal elements, similar to those found in Eric’s side band Dragonlord. “Yeah, it’s also got the Testament feel to it,” clarifies Peterson. “Chuck was doing some stuff over it, something else. I was describing it to him, and he said, ‘Well, show me.’ So, I went in there and did it. Juan (Urteaga, producer) and Chuck were like, ‘You just do it.’ I’m like, alright. ‘Night Of The Witch’, it’s a really good song, but I always thought it was going to be a deep cut. You know, a good song on a record that we don’t play. There’s a lot of songs on our records that we don’t play that are amazing to me. When that was picked as the first single, I was like, gulp! We’re going on tour; we’ve got to play it. Oh man, I’ve got to sing that part now, fuck. It turned out good though.”

An incredible painting by highly revered artist Eliran Kantor (The Formation Of Damnation, Dark Roots Of Earth, Brotherhood Of The Snake) adorns the cover of Titans Of Creation. However, there isn’t a song with that name. “It just describes us creating music. Titans has been thrown around Testament with different tours and whatnot.” In the fall of 1990, Testament went on a three-week European run with Slayer, Megadeth, and Suicidal Tendencies, dubbed the Clash Of The Titans Tour. “It just reflects on us a little bit. Mostly, it was the name of the album. The song titles… usually we have a title and Eliran goes off that. The music was done, but there was no lyrics yet; they were slowly coming in. He already had this idea, so he did it. At that point, none of the song titles really matched the art, so that was kind of different. But it’s cool to have an album title that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the songs.” A prime example would be Appetite For Destruction by Guns N’ Roses. “There you go. It’s describing the record. Titans Of Creation is our creation of music, and it represents verbally what the cover looks like.” So, there wasn’t any inter-band crisis trying to write a song called “Titans Of Creation”? “Now that you’ve said that, I guess we could have. But we pretty much had everything in place; we were just trying to name the cover. It got to the point where nothing sounded good.”

Looking back at the writing and recording of Titans Of Creation, “It was a lot like the last one (Brotherhood Of The Snake), but a little bit less pressure,” assesses Eric. “We kind of did things the same way. The things that were different… Gene (Hoglan, drummer) actually got to; Gene was home and not doing other projects. That’s the first thing I do, is work with the drummer on my riffs and ideas and put it together. I can do the drum machine thing, but I kind of get burnt out programming. Regarding how long it took, probably like three or four months, jamming every other weekend. Gene would come up and get another two or three songs done. Once they were all done, we did pre-production for 18 days in the studio, with me, Gene, and Steve (DiGiorgio, bassist). Alex came out later; Alex came out a couple times too and jammed with me, just going over riffs, trying stuff out. It was kind of the same way, but everybody was a little bit more involved in jamming on the stuff, which made for a better record I think. Being a fan of this style of music, it’s not like, ‘Ok, I’ve got to write a record. Here’s our formula, make it work.’ There’s a lot more love and care put into it. When I write a song, or when any of us write a song, it’s something that we would want to listen to. I’m pretty picky, I’m probably the pickiest one out of the band.”

Brilliant guitar solos are plentiful on Titans Of Creation, one that stands out in particular can be heard in “WW III”. “That’s Alex on that one. Although, I do pretty much half the solos on this record, for the first time,” admits Eric. “On the other ones, I kind of crept in, a little here and there. We do a lot of back to back stuff like ‘Dream Deceiver’, ‘City Of Angels’, ‘Gates Of Ishtar’ I have a couple of songs where I just do the solo myself, ‘The Healers’ and ‘Curse Of Osiris’.” “Dream Deceiver” is a little more melodic, there’s a bit of an uplift in the chorus on that song. “Yeah, that’s one of my favourites. It’s still really heavy, but it’s more of a singalong. Chuck sounds really good on that one.”

The aforementioned “City Of Angels” is the longest song on the album at 6:43. This is the point where Titans Of Creation begins to get a little more experimental. Steve’s bass plays a more prominent role, and coming out of the guitar solo, that wah-wah section is a wonderful surprise. “When I wrote that one, I was just in a Sabbath vibe, really doomy,” recalls Peterson. “You can almost hear Ozzy (Osbourne) singing over that. That was the last track written. Chuck didn’t really like that one; it was always on the back burner. It came to life right at the end. Chuck works with Del James on lyrics sometimes. The story goes… Del asks, ‘Is that it?’ Chuck’s all, ‘Yea, well there’s this other one, I don’t really like it.’ He played it for Del, and Del loved it; he had an idea right away. When they read me the lyrics over the phone, I was just like, fuck! That totally fits the song. It’s one of my favourites cause it’s so different. At first, it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen, but it did and it’s cool!”

Lyrically, “City Of Angels” stands apart from the rest of the songs, due to the fact that it’s written about serial killer Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as The Night Stalker. “Well, Del’s kind of an author too, I think it’s something he had laying around as a story idea. When he heard it, he looked at Chuck and said, ‘Dude, I’ve got the song already.’ They put it together and, wow!”

Eric worked with Del on the lyrics for Dragonlord, yet his assistance with words on Titans Of Creation was minimal. “Pattern-wise, I always help Chuck with patterns. He ends up doing his thing, I guess I’m more like his cheerleader. He’ll do stuff and I’m like, no. He’ll get mad at me, but he knows I want it to be killer, killer. It’s like, dude, I’m your biggest fan. I’m going to be the most brutally honest with you. There’s stuff he’ll do and say, ‘That’s cool.’ I’m like, no it’s not. I know he hates me at those points, but I think deep down inside he realizes quality control. Then when the record comes out, people go, ‘Oh my God! Chuck sounds amazing!’ But he does, it’s Chuck. He pushes me too on the riffs. We both push each other, and that’s kind of what makes it. Sometimes I’ll do something, and he won’t like it. He doesn’t like anything at first, but it makes me question – what can I do to make it better?”

Some of the other lyrical topics on Titans Of Creation include religious cults, ancient Babylon, and Egyptian Gods. Perhaps Chuck should be called “The Professor” from now on; it’s like a history lesson on this album. “Yeah, it’s really cool. It matches the music, and that’s a big thing too. If it goes hand in hand, then you’ve got something killer. We always look at it like, what’s the music trying to say? What vibe would go well over this song? I think Chuck and Del are a good team, they really pinpoint the ideas. Our special edition vinyl boxset, which comes with a CD, has a really cool booklet the size of the LP. Jacqueline Dusza, who works at Nuclear Blast, she got the lyrics, and she did her homework! She wrote a paragraph describing what the lyrics are about, and then she wrote about the music. It’s so literal, it made me go, ‘Oh, that’s what it’s about.’ It’s so cool because it gives you a whole different perspective on the history of what each song’s about. The way she describes it makes the songs that much more interesting.” 

The final track “Catacombs” is another surprise, presenting a very cinematic ending to the album, as if Titans Of Creation was a movie. You can picture the credits rolling as the music plays. “I wrote that for the beginning of Brotherhood Of The Snake. That was our live intro worldwide, that’s what we opened up with for the last two and a half years. We re-recorded it (for Titans Of Creation), cause we just made it really quick and called it a day (initially). That thing just grew on me, and the reaction of the fans when it came on was cool. I wanted to open the record with it and Chuck’s like nah, nah. So, we ended up putting it at the end, which is cool cause like you said, it’s like the outro.”

(Photos by Stephanie Cabral)

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