Currently destroying venues around Europe, the Bay Area thrashers from Testament are about to drop their new album. Fans could only hear two new tracks so far, and the anticipation levels are getting higher and higher, but I can already tell you that the new release was worth the wait. With slightly more variety this time in the song-writing department and the absolutely mind-blowing performances by all the members of this thrash dream-team, the album will surely end up on many "Best of 2020" lists. Before the band's Scottish gig I sat down with Testament's riff master Eric, to discuss their new work.
Your new album is out in a few weeks. I've noticed that the last four albums were released four years apart. Is it just a coincidence or are you working to a plan?
Well, the last album was out really late in the year, like October, November, so four years, it would be pushing a little bit, it's been more like three years. But yeah, we tour a lot more so I think that's a big part of it. It seems like we're always doing two years of the metal festivals, we do Europe like twice, and then we do America, and then we do Japan and we do South America and these things just kind of take time.
You guys said in an interview that the writing process for the new album was easier than for "The Brotherhood of the Snake." What do you mean by easier?
I didn't say that, I think maybe Chuck said that, maybe for him it was easier. To me it was kind of just the same, go through our process. It takes like six months to maybe find an idea and once you get the idea everything just starts coming along. I think what he meant was, he just maybe got into it more or something, I don't know. For me it was business as usual.
I've read that Alex, Steve and Gene were more involved in the in the song-writing process this time around?
Well, it was kind of like the last one, me and Chuck wrote like 90% of it. Alex wrote two songs for it, and for the last one, I think he wrote two and a half maybe. I think whoever said that, what they meant was, we jammed more as a band on this one. So on the last record, things were demoed up and then I would give everybody the demo and we didn't really jam on it until we got into the studio. But on this record, it was demoed up and then me and Gene got to jam and he put in more of his ideas on drumming and stuff and Steve kind of jammed with us a little bit. Alex never rehearsed with us, but we were able to go in the studio and do pre-production for like 18 days before we recorded and the previous records we just went in the studio and just winged it.
Gene's drumming has always been amazing, but on this album he managed to take it to a new level. Did you approach the writing of the drum tracks or the recording session differently this time?
Again, I think what it is, is Gene got to spend more time working with me. You know, he got the demo and learned it and then he played it, "OK, that's how it goes on this one." He'd come over and I'd jam with him, work everything out and then we'd go in the studio and jam some more and just throw ideas around. So I think it's just being more ready for the recording.
The first video you released was a lyric video for "Night of the Witch" and you sing the chorus lines in this tune. Whose idea was it?
So, there was a couple songs on the record where there were supposed to be vocals and I would point it out to Chuck like, "You're supposed to sing there," and he's like, "Whoa, I didn't hear anything there. Do you have any ideas?" So, I would go in the studio and just kind of do my thing, and I think a couple of times he tried to go in there and maybe do something like what I did, and then the producer's like, "Hmm, Eric, do that again," and I'd do it again and then Chuck's like, "You do it!" ha-ha! So, yeah, I mean like for "Night of the Witch", I always thought that song came out really good, but I always pictured it more of a deep cut, you know, like it's not going to be our first single. I never thought it was going to be the first single, it was going to be a great song on the record that we'd probably never play live, so I wasn't really worried about it. So when the label picked that song and a lot of people were like, "Night of the witch, night of the witch!" I was like, "Cool!" But then later I was like, "Oh shit, I gotta sing that every night and play guitar!" Because the riff is really weird compared to the vocal. I mean, I do sing and play guitar in another band so I got that a little bit, but I would never write a riff like that to sing it.
The first song you wrote was "Children of the Next Level". It also became the opener of the album and you did a lyric video for that one. Seems to be somehow special for you?
That one's just got everything and anything. It's got a lot of different time changes, it's kind of a little bit of a journey. I think that topic, talking about Heaven's Gate, the cult, is kind of interesting and it kind of mixes with metal, it's pretty cool. I think it's a good first song for people to trip on when they hear the record, different styles on there.
Are you planning to do a "proper" filmed video clip?
Yeah, "Children of the Next Level" is going to be our first video too. Well, the kind of videos we want to do probably cost way too much money for our budget, so we don't wanna really do a video, so it's actually gonna be an animated video, a cartoon. It's kind of goofy, but it's evil at the same time, because of what it's talking about. And we've got to see a couple clips so far and it's pretty cool, so I'm excited for it to come out. I mean, I know a lot of our audience is older and we also got younger fans, but you know, why not have a Saturday morning cartoon?
Quite a few songs on the album have a Middle-Eastern or Egyptian vibe to them and Chuck also wrote lyrics to match the music. It's almost like you had a concept album in mind but you abandoned the idea halfway through?
Well, there's one song that I wrote called "Gates of Ishtar" and we only called it that because when you listen to it, it just sounds like you're entering the gates of Ishtar. It's got that Babylonian thing to it. If it was a movie and you had the music it would totally make sense to the opening scene. And so, you know, we kind of talked about that, and then at the same time, we didn't know, Alex goes, "Hey, I wrote this song called "Code of Hammurabi," it's like the laws of the market place and it's on a big black stone and I was like, "Wow, that's cool." And then we were thinking like maybe we could talk about something like a concept, but they're like, "No, we've got this other song called "WWIII" and "Children of The Next Level", we're talking about a witch, so it's kind of like all over the place." But at the same time it's cool because you can go into different worlds, you know, it doesn't have to stick to that one thing.
Compared to the previous one, you seem to have a bit more variety on the new album. There's some heavy-hitting stuff there and on the other hand some clean vocals in "City of Angels". Did you try to broaden the spectrum consciously or is it just how the songs came out?
This is how the songs came out I think. I mean "City of Angels" was probably like the fourth song that I wrote and for me, that was my favourite, it is so different, it reminds me of Sabbath, it's really heavy. And when I get a song, I send it to Chuck and he was like, "I don't like it" and I sent it to Steve, and I'm, "What do you think?" and he's, "I like it, did you send it to Chuck?" So, the first four songs that I sent to Chuck I'm just waiting and then I get a text back, "It's a killer, write the whole record like this." But that one, he didn't say anything, so I just waited and waited and finally he goes, "I don't know man, I'm just not feeling that one, it's too weird." So that means, don't bring it up, just put it to the side, just keep writing the songs. I think that was the last song that he wrote lyrics to and he works with somebody that writes lyrics and he's like, "So is that it?" and Chuck's, "Well there's this one more, Eric really likes it, I don't like it." "Let me hear it," and he's all, "Wow. That's fucking cool! I got the best idea for this song." So they came up with that and then Chuck goes, "We wrote the last song" and then he read me the lyrics over the phone and I'm like, "Fuck, that's so evil, it's so cool." And then the other guy grabbed the phone and he goes, "That's the best song!" It was pretty funny. And it came out great. So yeah, the variety thing, you know, that's cool, because then there's also a song for everybody.
A question about the album title. Are you referring to yourselves as "titans of creation"?
Ha-ha! I guess you could say something like that. We are known for playing Thrash of the Titans or whatever, you know, we create music, but it's more spawned after, you see, we have a title for the record and then we get to the artist, and then he takes the title, and he draws something up. But this record he kept going, "What are the lyrics?" And I'm, "Well, I don't know, Chuck hasn't any lyrics yet," and I just kept playing him the music and he goes, "I'm just going to start fuckin' drawing something." Because I think he heard "Gates of Ishtar" and all these sounds that just have this kind of moody vibe and he sent the art to us, and we're like, "Wow, what are we gonna call it?" And when all the work was done and we had the song titles we were looking at each song, "No, that doesn't match, that doesn't match... Fuck, what are we gonna call the record?" So we had so many ideas of what we were gonna call it and one day I was just looking at all the titles, I wrote them all down and I saw somehow like three words, you know, like from different titles. I put it together, "Titans of Creation". It was "Gardens of Creation" or "Titans of the Universe", something stupid like that, but I put them together and I showed it to everybody and they're like, "Yeah!" And it matches the cover, it makes sense. So that was the weirdest way that we've done a record, you know, trying to name it, you know, "What is this album cover called?"
Many bands team-up with bands from other genres, to attract more fans to shows, but you put together a bill of tree Bay Area acts. Whose idea was it?
We've been trying to get something together like this for a long time. And I think it just happened to be. We had been on tour with Slayer, with Gary and we had mentioned, you know, "We've got a new record coming out next year, what do you think?" So, just everything kind of lined up. But I mean it's a challenge because it's brutal for the whole 5 hours that people are there. Because usually, when we have other bands maybe they're not as intense as us, our audience may be a little bit more crazier. So we really have to work harder, because I know they're tired, but it's good overall. I mean it's a night of metal for sure.
It must be like travelling with good friends, I mean you've known each other for over three decades?
Yeah, I mean, it's weird because these three bands played in you know, there's like a couple of clubs, before we were signed we played a lot at this place called Ruthie's Inn, which is kind of famous for our genre, I guess. Every week you could go see Death Angel, Exodus, we were called Legacy at the time and it's where we all hung out, you know? And then now, here we are 33-35 years later and the same bands are still together and doing pretty good and we're now touring the world. So it'd be weird to go back, "Yeah, when you guys are 50, you are going to fuckin' tour the world." I would be like, "No way!"
Why did you plan the tour before the album release date?
Well, that's a good question. The record was supposed to be out in January, and then February but the label wanted to wait to put the whole package together and the vinyl always takes longer to put together and we turned the record in in November, but then the record industry closes down in December and January, so usually it takes three months to set a record up, maybe four months, but then we lost December, January, so now it's really late. It's just weird timing, it's a weird time to put a record out. With our kind of music, they like to put out like a whole pack, the vinyl, the T-shirts, the cassettes and all that stuff so... But it worked out because we put out a couple of singles and I think that really hyped people up. And now it's like good promotion so it's working out pretty good.
You had a very adventurous ferry trip to Scandinavia a few weeks ago...
Yeah, in the morning when we were going on the ship, I was like, "Wow, what a big ship!" you know? It was like we were going on a cruise because I think it's like nine, ten hours long. I wouldn't call it a ferry, it was more of a cruise liner ship, I mean, it's huge, I had like an apartment. I'm in my room with the view, looking at the water and I fell asleep. I was supposed to go meet everybody to eat, but I'm like, "I'm just gonna lie down for five minutes." Then all of a sudden I woke up, I looked out, "Oh, it's a little windy out there." I took a shower and I do this thing right after I wash my hair, I lie in the bed for 5 minutes. And I'm just watching my t-shirt on the wall and I'm like, "What the hell!" and then everything's starting to move around. I got up, I look out and there's just water everywhere. And then there was this one point where I knew we were in shit. I felt the boat go like up and then after 10 seconds I felt it fall like "Booom!" and it was doing that all night. I mean a big ship like that, going like this, and then even sideways. You know, maybe an hour you'd be like "Fuck!", but eight hours, you know, that was pretty crazy. I've never been on something like that, I mean you've felt waves before but not like that, I thought we were going down because that's such a big ship to be being thrown around like that. It was pretty crazy.
I watched the "In His Element" videos with Steve and Alex, very cool. Who's next?
Me. Yeah, the last time we did something like that, each person is interviewed and we're in the studio, talking about our gear, our guitars, but it's been done so many times. So the label was like, "Maybe we'll just go to your house and do like, what do you do all day?" You know, what does Eric do, what does Steve do, what does Alex do? So chickens, photography, my element's fire. They're all different, which is cool. Mine's a lot of fun, I shoot guns and bow and arrows, so there's lots of cool stuff like that. I even cook some food, make some linguine and clams, you see me cutting it and I fed it to the camera people and they're like, "Fuck, this is good!" so that's pretty cool.
You've got tour dates scheduled until summer, covering Europe, Australia, Asia, the USA. What's next for Testament after that?
Well, we cancelled the Asia stuff because of the coronavirus. I mean, it's really not contained over there. We were supposed to do a show in Italy and the government closed down the country basically, so we're like "Wow, this is getting serious," you know? So we're going to cancel a lot more shows. We were doing some shows with Trivium and they cancelled and then some of the other bands cancelled... But yeah, anyway, after that we're going to do a States tour with Black Dahlia Murder and Municipal Waste and then summer festivals in Europe. Hopefully, it's contained by then because shit will start getting cancelled.