Formed in the Bay Area of Northern California in 1983 under the moniker of Legacy (the change to Testament came when Billy arrived to take over from Steve Souza on vocals and Derrick Ramirez was replaced by Skolnick), Testament grew up at the same time as Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth, being one of the five bands forming the core of what would become the world famous thrash metal scene. But from the beginning Testament trod a unique path, making sure that their extraordinary musicianship and intuitive feel for harmonies amidst the savagery established itself as a stand alone sound.
1987's debut release "The Legacy" threw down a marker, and by the time Testament were about to release 1988's "The New Order" their legend was already hitting enormous popularity. However, their extreme talent got muddied and compromised by the weight of expectation, and while albums like 1989's "Practice What You Preach" and 1990's "Souls Of Black" continued to open the same creative doors for a slew of bands which Testament have always done, their level of recognition was perhaps not commensurate with their influence over an entire genre. Talent + personalities can equal problems, and thus it was that after 1992's "The Ritual", Clemente left and Skolnick decided it was high-time to essentially find himself and reclaim a few of the teenage years he lost.
"I was in high school, 11th grade, when I joined this band," laughs Skolnick, "so I really needed to go away and grow as a person, as a musician and get the necessary confidence to enjoy this and gather the strength to make things happen and fight for changes. When I left Testament I still felt like the shy, annoying brother in the room; when I came back, I felt like a respected, professional musician."
And so it was that for many years, the core creators behind Testament's music remained separate. Friendships were maintained and good times still had, but musically, matters remained separate as Skolnick explored jazzier rock climbs, Christian engaged in his own projects whilst Billy and Peterson kept Testament alive with a series of different musicians coming in and out. Bostaph had his first short stint with the band in 1992 (in the midst of joining Slayer), while White Zombie and Anthrax drummer John Tempesta came in with death metal guitarist James Murphy to play on 1994's "Low" album, perhaps Testament's most progressive in terms of material range.
Peterson and Billy continued to fly the Testament flag, releasing the decidedly deathier tones of "Demonic" in 1997, while 1999 saw Murphy again on guitar with Slayer's Dave Lombardo on drums for "The Gathering." Arguably the album which led Testament back onto their path after a little radical experimentation in the recent past, "The Gathering" became a meeting point for dozens of hungry young metal acts looking for a new metal God. But Murphy was diagnosed with a brain tumor from which he did eventually recover, and in 2001, Billy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. It was to prove a life-affirming, as well as life-changing, event.
"I'm a big believer that things happen for a reason," says Billy. "We never split on bad terms, we always kept in good contact, we saw them on the east coast, we always supported Alex when he came through town, and we never discussed getting back together, we'd just hang out. But when I got sick and there was Thrash Of The Titans concert, that was the first time a reunion of any sort happened. It broke the ice, Greg (Christian) put some stuff behind him with Eric and I to get up there, I performed a song with everyone and that was the start of it all coming together again."
From that came the deeper realization that with a fair few years between them (not to mention oceans under bridges) it was time to jump to the next level and simply get creative with each other again.
No grandiose plans.
Just pure powerful playing, which is why 2005's 10 date European reunion tour (featuring all the original members) ended up spurring studio work.
"We didn't ever plan this," affirms Skolnick, "the reunion show in 2002 at the Dynamo was the catalyst, we never made any plans, we just enjoyed that show and then ended up doing a few more, which proved to us that now we're older and more mature we can all enjoy being in this band. And once we'd done some extra shows in 2005, once we'd seen the reactions, once we'd seen a new audience mixing with the old, we just took things to the next logical progression."
It is the journey to "The Formation Of Damnation" and the affirmation of the quintet's chemistry which is one of the album's strongest elements.
"Sometimes you can have a lot of ideas but keep on clashing with the people you work with," says Peterson, "and that's what's happened to us in the past. But with this album, we really do just appreciate what we have."
"There's been such a growth in our maturity and comfort with each other," furthers Billy. "Eric's developed into such a great rhythm player and Alex really acknowledged that as well as his creativity. Those two really gelled, and Alex also had a lot of input with arrangements, he really did fine-tune a lot of the songs.
"In some sense I took a step back from the writing this time because through it all, whatever differences we may have had, Chuck and Eric have kept Testament going," explains Skolnick, "I knew they had a way of working together, so a lot of my work was assisting with their writing process. In some ways it was like a production role, and I'd never say I was a producer here because the album was in it's early stages, and for the most part I really enjoyed the role."
"It felt quite natural, especially as I know Eric's writing so well," adds Christian. "I know he had this vision in his head for the songs so I just did my best to help pull them out, and because we understand what each other are saying we can work really quickly. The chemistry between Eric, Alex, Chuck and myself is amazing, and it's amazing how well Paul Bostaph has fit in, really, on every level it's been such a positive experience."
"This is like family," says Bostaph. "I've known all these guys for over 20 years, we've played together, bands I've been in have toured with them and I am a huge Testament fan, so joining this time was a huge no-brainer. And again, as Greg said, for me it was a case of giving myself to what this Testament album needed, and that was my only focus, making sure that the band got exactly what it needed from its drummer."
In closing, take a moment to consider the following.
In 1988, Testament spoke of a new order and here, in 2008, Testament speak of the formation of damnation.
"It's of our time right now," concludes Peterson, "the world we live in is rife with aggravation, politics is forever more about money rather than doing what's right, we all keep taking from mother earth. human beings are basically done! We're setting ourselves up big-time for damnation, and that's what these songs talk about, from love to politics to holy wars, it's all there, it's all written about."
You probably don't want to hazard a guess as to what Testament, the true societal prophets of rage, will be speaking of in 2028.