Testament Preaches the Metal Gospel
San Francisco Thrashers Perform Saturday at Atlantic City House of Blues.
San Francisco thrash masters Testament is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with the release of the band’s 10th studio album, “Dark Roots of Earth.”
“Dark Roots of Earth,” which hit stores in July, is Testament’s second disc since mainstays guitarist Eric Peterson and singer Chuck Billy reunited with original guitarist Alex Skolnick and bassist Greg Christian in 2005. The band – rounded out by drummer Gene Hoglan – opens for Anthrax on Saturday at the Atlantic City House of Blues.
The record is a monstrous slab of razor-sharp guitar riffs and head-spinning solos, thunderous drums and bass, and Billy’s powerful, at turns melodic and growled vocals. The record bookends nicely with the band’s 1987 debut thrashfest, “The Legacy.”
“We’re very comfortable with the music we’re playing,” Peterson said. “We’re mixing up our older and newer sounds, so you get all the best styles of Testament. It takes all the experience that we have, without rehashing or repeating anything.
“We’re really happy with how everything came out,” Peterson said, “from the mix and the songs to the album cover and the support of the record label [Nuclear Blast]. We’re playing four songs from the record on this tour. I wish we could play the whole record.”
The album hit No. 12 on the Billboard Charts, Testament’s highest chart position in its career. The strong showing is an indication of the band’s loyal fan base. Testament rewarded its fans by releasing a standard version of “Dark Roots of Earth” as well as a bonus CD/DVD edition that includes three cover tracks, a making of the album documentary and live footage.
While some bands wait a year or two to re-release a new album with bonus material, Peterson said that’s not fair to fans. “As a fan you’re like, ‘I just bought this and now I have to buy it again to hear three songs,’” Peterson said. “Give people a choice up front.”
The bonus version of “Dark Roots of Earth” features Testament’s takes on Queen’s “Dragon Attack,” Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” and The Scorpions’ “Animal Magnetism.”
‘“Animal Magnetism’ is just a really doomy, sludgy kind of song,” Peterson said. “It’s definitely a kind of song I would probably write. Even [Scorpions guitarist] Rudolph Schenker told us it was a good choice.”
Peterson said Testament gave Iron Maiden’s 1984 classic, “Powerslave,” a modern treatment. “It doesn’t sound like karaoke,” he said. “If you never heard the song you might not think it’s a cover.”
Though he was ambivalent at first about covering a Queen song– Billy suggested “Dragon Attack” – Peterson quickly embraced the challenge of transforming a classic rock track into a metal masterpiece.
Peterson, who co-founded Testament, and Billy have been the constants in a band that has weathered numerous lineup changes and stayed true to its heavy metal roots when the genre fell out of favor for most of the 1990s.
Testament burst onto the metal scene in the late 1980s and quickly became one of the burgeoning thrash movement’s most popular bands. Early favorites include “The New Order” (1988) and “Practice What You Preach” (1989). But by the mid-1990s Skolnick, Christian and original drummer Louie Clemente had departed and metal took a backseat to grunge.
Peterson and Billy soldiered on, never giving up on the metal cause even when faced with constant turnover and diminished audiences. From 1992 to 2005, Billy and Peterson recorded and toured with nearly 20 musicians.
Now the band has come full circle and is enjoying renewed success and popularity. Peterson’s hard work is being rewarded.
Ironically, Testament opened for Anthrax on its first tour 25 years ago. Testament’s fellow San Franciscans, Death Angel, open the show on Saturday.
“We’ve had a great time playing with Anthrax and Death Angel on this tour,” Peterson said. “It’s three great thrash bands and a great tour for the fans.”
IF YOU GO: Testament, Anthrax, Death Angel, 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6. Atlantic City House of Blues, 801 Boardwalk. Tickets are $28.50 and $37.50 and available at www.ticketmaster.com or the House of Blues box office. Call 609-236-2583 or visit www.houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/atlanticcity.