LORDS OF CREATION
Guitar World|September 2020
TESTAMENT bring the metal to the masses with Titans of Creation, the 13th chapter in their canon of symphonic savagery. Guitar World checks in with guitarists ERIC PETERSON and ALEX SKOLNICK and gets a glimpse inside the making of the legendary group’s latest thrashterpiece.
JEFF KITTS

2020 STARTED OFF WELL ENOUGH, BUT IT UNRAVELED SEEMINGLY overnight — by early spring, we found ourselves crushed under the weight of unprecedented distress and uncertainty, trapped in a world fraught with as much disease as dis-ease. By the time April came limping into view, there wasn’t much anyone could put their faith into — that is, unless you’re a fan of classic American thrash metal. When Testament unleashed its 13th studio album, Titans of Creation, on April 3, it gave Gen-X metalheads a reason to rejoice — a reason to celebrate during a time of great discomfort. It also served as a bludgeoning reminder that Testament is still at the top of its game 33 years after the release of its debut album, The Legacy.

And that’s really what the metal community has come to expect from Testament through all these years — that the thrash veterans from Berkeley, California, will be there when they need it most, no matter what. Since first emerging from the Bay Area in the midEighties, Testament have been through an abundance of turmoil and disruption, including a dizzying number of lineup changes and singer Chuck Billy’s bout with cancer in 2001 — yet here in 2020, the band sounds better than ever.

“Our dark times were definitely dark,” says guitarist Eric Peterson, “but through ruin comes creation. Somehow we’ve always been able to keep it going.”

Titans of Creation is the sound of a band in peak form. Songs like the album opener “Children of the Next Level,” “Night of the Witch” and “Code of Hammurabi,” one of two tracks written by lead guitarist Alex Skolnick, showcase the immense talents of each member of Testament. Peterson’s riffage is relentless and inspired, Skolnick’s soloing is majestic and soaring, Gene Hoglan’s drumming is everything you’d expect from the legendary skinsman, Billy’s vocals have a refreshingly classic quality and bassist Steve DiGiorgio takes advantage of a few moments in the spotlight to remind everyone why he has been considered one of the best in the business since his turn of-the-Nineties days with Sadus, Autopsy and Death.

Skolnick attributes the high level of quality achieved on Titans of Creation to the fact that the band took its time putting the album’s pieces together. “The previous record [2016’s Brotherhood of the Snake] I feel was a very rushed process,” says the guitarist. “With that record, it was like we were in the middle of touring, then all of a sudden there was a sense that we were really behind in terms of making a new record. Like all of a sudden, it was crunch time. This time, we talked about it while we were on tour and said, let’s not have that happen again — let’s at least discuss a rough game plan for the record. We made sure that we had more time together to play and for all of us to make suggestions, because on the last record Eric became more of the decision-maker and there just wasn’t enough time for everyone else to weigh in.”

As Titans of Creation was making its way into the hands and hearts of clamoring, quarantined Testament fans all over the world, Guitar World caught up with Skolnick and Peterson to discuss the making of the record and look back at some of the pivotal moments in the group’s stormy yet successful 33-year history.

In the 33 years since Testament released its debut album, The Legacy, the band’s sound has undergone some fairly dramatic changes in tone and style, creating a distinct difference between, so to speak, old Testament and new Testament. When you look back at the group’s evolution, where would you say that shift began to take place?

ERIC PETERSON I would say it was after our fifth record, The Ritual [1992]. We did five records in five years, and I think by our fourth album, Souls of Black, there was some good stuff on there, but it wasn’t groundbreaking like the first three. And a lot of our fans were starting to turn their backs on us because music was changing, we were changing, grunge had come in and just sideswiped metal and alternative was getting big. With The Ritual, I think we were trying to be more heavy metal as opposed to thrash, and I wasn’t that happy going in that direction. Songs like “Electric Crown” and “Return to Serenity” are great songs, but we couldn’t get any stronger than that — it just felt like our feet were in the mud. Around that time in the early Nineties you had albums like Sepultura’s Arise and Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, and I was like, “That’s where I want to be,” but it didn’t happen with The Ritual. After Alex left in 1992, we came out with Low [1994], and that was more like it — that was like a new beginning for us. We brought in James Murphy on guitar for that record, and it was great to have someone who could play like Alex but who also loved that kind of music — the truth is, Alex was never really into the heavier stuff like that; things like Cannibal Corpse and Death and other bands like that at the time. He just needed to get out and do his own thing. So it was around that time that we took on this new sound, and that went from Low into Demonic [1997] into The Gathering [1999]. By the time The Gathering came around we had already been through a bunch of lineup changes and we had gotten stronger because of it. The years leading up to that had been so weird with all the changes in the band and changes in the music scene, and by the time we did The Gathering we had built ourselves back up again and people were getting excited about our music again.

Eric, you’ve been the musical leader of this band since the very beginning. What would you say was perhaps the darkest period for Testament?

PETERSON It was probably around the time of The Ritual. I remember Atlantic Records telling us that we had only sold around 250,000 records that year — which would be amazing now [Laughs] — and we were down about that. We lost our management around that time, Alex told us that this was going to be his last tour with Testament, and Lou [drummer Louie Clemente] left — so everything was kind of falling apart around then, but we were still hopeful. So we changed some things around, changed how we did business and formed our own record company and things like that — and just when it seemed that we had gotten a hold of things again, that was when Chuck got sick [In 2001, lead singer Chuck Billy was diagnosed with a cancerous condition known as germ cell seminoma].

But even after all that, we kept it going, and we got heavy again, and I think that was the start of the new Testament. We developed a more modern sound and had more of a black and death metal influence, even though we were still very much a thrash band. We just weren’t trying to be politically correct with our lyrics and all that — I mean, come on, we put out a record called Demonic. [Laughs]

By that point, we had gone through a couple of different guitar players, a lot of drummers, we were having problems with our original bass player [Greg Christian] — and we weren’t really sure what we were going to do. So we ended up doing a record called First Strike Still Deadly [2001], which contained re-recorded versions of some of our older songs. When I go back and listen to The Legacy or The New Order [1988], I’m not blown away by the production, but the songs sound modern when we play them today — they sound great, and that was what we were going for with First Strike Still Deadly.

Titans of Creation is the band’s 12th studio album of new material. When did the record first begin to take shape?

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM GUITAR WORLDView All

MIDNIGHT MADNESS

Foo Fighters’ guitar triumvirate DAVE GROHL, CHRIS SHIFLETT & PAT SMEAR unleash their inner early-Eighties David Bowie (and SRV), bust out the ABBA beats and get decidedly “weird” — just in time for their 10th album, Medicine at Midnight

10+ mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Remembering Leslie West

THE BIG MAN WHOSE BIG GUITAR SOUND HELPED LAUNCH HEAVY METAL

5 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Intervals

WHY NO PEDALS OR AMPS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF CANADIAN PROG-METALLER AARON MARSHALL’S AGGRESSIVE NEW RECORD

2 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

The Commander in Chief

THIS SEDULOUS SEVEN-STRINGER PUTS A COMPLETELY NEW SPIN ON CLASSICAL-INSPIRED GUITAR MUSIC

2 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Relentless Reckless Forever

GW PAYS TRIBUTE TO ALEXI LAIHO, THE LONG-TIME CHILDREN OF BODOM GUITARIST WHO REVOLUTIONIZED DEMONIC SHRED IN THE NINETIES AND 2000S AND EMBRACED A HARD-PARTYING LIFESTYLE WORTHY OF HIS “WILDCHILD” NICKNAME

9 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

LARKIN POE

Six-string sisters REBECCA and MEGAN LOVELL talk us through the tones that grace their new covers record — Kindred SpiritS — and the musical telepathy that comes with growing up together OVER THE LAST 10 or so years, sibling duo Larkin Poe have become one of the most exciting prospects in guitar music, thanks to their tasteful musicianship and heavenly harmonies. Latest release Kindred Spirits sees them return to the “covers” format that originally got them noticed, giving us their take on classic hits by Elton John, Neil Young and Elvis Presley, as well as more contemporary cuts by Lenny Kravitz and Post Malone.

10+ mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Fleshgod Apocalypse

Francesco Paoli lifts the lid on the symphonic death metal masters’ most vicious and vivacious cycle of songs thus far

3 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Meet Me @ The Altar

Guitarist Téa Campbell marries her pop-punk and emo influences

2 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Jan Akkerman – “Hocus Pocus”

Focus | Moving Waves, 1971 | Guitarist: Jan Akkerman

3 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021

Plini – Voices in The Sky

PLINI — the guy Steve Vai once called “the future of exceptional guitar playing” — discusses the perils of “guitar fame,” the challenges of a modern prog-rocker and his breathtaking new album, Impulse Voices

9 mins read
Guitar World
April 2021
RELATED STORIES

One Woman Show, GENERAL HOSPITAL

GH’s excellent, Alexisfocused episode was a gift to longtime fans, highlighting the rich history and relationships she’s enjoyed since Nancy Lee Grahn’s 1996 debut while illuminating the buried childhood trauma subconsciously driving the character’s notoriously questionable life choices, romantic and otherwise.

4 mins read
Soap Opera Digest
May 10, 2021

A-ROD'S REVENGE!

Tells pals J.Lo strikes out in bed - SOURCES

2 mins read
National Enquirer
May 10, 2021

J.LO PLAYS HARDBALL WITH A-ROD!

FUMING Jennifer Lopez is keeping Alex Rodriguez on the hot seat as payback for the retired slugger’s wandering eye — and the steamed superstar is now balking at their future, sources spilled.

2 mins read
National Enquirer
May 03, 2021

THE GREATEST INFLUENCER

PC gaming would look very different without CIVILIZATION.

3 mins read
PC Gamer US Edition
April 2021

‘TANTALIZING' RESULTS OF 2 EXPERIMENTS DEFY PHYSICS RULEBOOK

Preliminary results from two experiments suggest something could be wrong with the basic way physicists think the universe works, a prospect that has the field of particle physics both baffled and thrilled.

4 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #493

Keanu & Alexandra's - EXCELLENT DOUBLE DATE!

Whoa! Keanu Reeves’ girlfriend Alexandra Grant has a fan in his Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure costar Alex Winter.

1 min read
Star
April 05, 2021

ARod's - PROMISE TO JLO

After Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez dialed back news of a split, the baseball great, dogged by rumors of a fling with reality star Madison LeCroy, was ready to grovel.

1 min read
Star
April 05, 2021

The Internet Doesn't Have To Be Awful

The civic habits necessary for a functioning republic have been killed off by an internet kleptocracy that profits from disinformation, polarization, and rage. Here’s how to fix that.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
April 2021

GH: ALEXIS FACES THE MUSIC

Tensions are running high for Alexis and her loved ones when the disgraced and disbarred attorney, who is facing charges of attempted murder for her stabbing of Dante, arrives for her sentencing.

2 mins read
Soap Opera Digest
April 05, 2021

Sony WH-1000XM4 $348

AT FIRST GLANCE, you might not get the sense that these headphones contain some serious power under the hood, as this power is hidden under an elegant and sleek body. Its smooth matte monocolored finish pushes the idea that Sony wanted sophistication with substance.

1 min read
Maximum PC
April 2021