With a new album due for release and a successful bout of touring just completed, things should be fantastic in the world of Testament. World events however, have conspired to place the band right in the middle of the current COVID-19 crisis, and as we sat down to talk to Eric Peterson, the horrors of the current situation were only beginning to manifest themselves. “It’s kind of followed us around”, says the guitarist as we begin our chat on the band’s tour bus ahead of their 4th March show in Dublin. ‘Titians of Creation’, the band’s rebirth and rise, and why the next Testament album will feature a ballad, Eric talks to Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Eric, how are you today?
I’m good. I just had a lunch at Arthur’s Bar. It’s great to be back in Ireland. I love it.
It’s been a few years since you’ve been here. What have you been up to since then?
Well, I put out my own record with Dragonlord called ‘Dominion’ , then we did some more touring, started doing some writing, did some more touring, then finished up the record. Now we’re out here with Testament, Exodus and Death Angel, and we have a new record coming out on April 3rd.
‘Titans of Creation’ follows in the tradition of other great Testament titles like ‘Souls of Black’, ‘The Formation of Damnation’, and ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’; is that a formula you like? Who comes up with these?
We all like them. I think Chuck came up with ‘Brotherhood’, ‘Formation of Damnation’ was in the lyrics to one of the songs, ‘Souls of Black’, I think I came up with that one. Yeah, we just kind of mess around with them. This one, I came up with ‘Titians of Creation’, but it was a take on words. We all had all these different titles and I was just looking at them going; “I don’t like any of them, but I like the words”. So I kind of just started putting the pieces together, and it made sense for the cover. It was going to be called ‘Gardens of Creation’… ‘Titians of the something’… I don’t know, and it just kind of worked together, and I like that; ‘Titians of Creation’. It’s cool.
It’s a more rounded album than the last few Testament releases, which have been really in your face.
Yeah, there’s more melody for sure; it’s still got the heaviness, but the melody can trick you sometimes. The melody makes you start singing; it’s not like a bunch of ‘The Curse of Osiris’ songs, which is the second to last track. I think it’s cool to have melody. It’s something that you remember and you hum. But it’s still pretty heavy, but it has the melody, which is great, especially for a band like Testament. We thrive on the melody, I think.
Drummer Gene Hoglan’s contribution to the album is immense; it sounds like you really locked in on ‘Titans of Creation’.
Yeah, we worked really together on this one. He came to my house a lot and helped me demo up a lot of the ideas that I had, and it was cool because there was more preproduction on this one than any of the other records that I’ve jammed with him on.
Was that in reaction to ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’, which Chuck Billy confessed was a very difficult album to make?
For him, it was. To me, it was kind of the same business as this one. It was just a different effort last time. I had worked with Alex Bent from Trivium, last time. He had just finished working with me on the new Dragonlord, so he lived like an hour away - Gene was busy doing some other stuff - so instead of using a drum machine, Alex would come over and we’d just jam. All the other stuff, it is what it was. But for me, it kind of was the same business. This one just, for everybody, felt better, I think.
Going back a few years, and as a guitarist, how important was it to have Alex Skolnick back in the band?
Well, for him to leave [in 1992] was a good time, because where we were at as a team was, he wasn’t liking heavy stuff due to that he was really into his jazz, and he really wanted to do that. And we were touring a lot. We were doing record / tour / record / tour, and we were so young, it seemed like, not ‘caged’, but I guess for him it felt like; “I can’t do all this other stuff that I’m really getting into”. And you know, for both of us, because I wanted to play real fast picking stuff, and he wanted to play more melodic, and he got to do what he wanted to do when he left, and I got to make the band heavier. Hence came ‘Dog Faced Gods’, and the era of more modern Testament. We had ‘Low’ , we had ‘Demonic’ , and that record really secured us in the underground again. And then ‘The Gathering’  just put us right back up there.
‘The Gathering’ is an album that Chuck Billy regularly names as one of his favourites.
That’s when [Steve] Di Giorgio came on board, and it had Dave Lombardo playing his killer chops again, and it was just a brutal record. It really came full circle with us, as far as from ‘The Legacy’, which are they’re totally different records.
But yeah, I think when Alex left and he did what he did, and he came back and jammed with us and seen the crowd and the reaction, and I think he respected us getting heavy again.
‘Low’ came out during the grunge era, and the title track saw the birth of that modern era Testament; was it important to you to make a statement with it?
It was our first record for Atlantic. Yeah, the label sent the A&R guy out in a suit saying “we need to make an alternative record”. And we’re like; “okay”, and we did! Alternative means ‘different’, and we weren’t going to jump on the bandwagon with everybody doing something that was different that is not different anymore. So, we gave them ‘Dog Faced Gods’, and that’s more alternative than anything at that time. So, yeah, it was a great record. It was the first time that we worked with [mixer] Michael Wagner, and [recording engineer] Bill Kennedy, and [producer] GGGarth, and we really got to work in some really killer studios, and it was great. It was cool meeting Michael Wagner because he did ‘Master of Puppets’, and that’s one of my favourite sounding records. Michael just brought a new thinking process. Previous to that, ‘The Ritual’ was a great sounding record too. That was mixed by Nigel Green, who was one of the prodigies of Mutt Lange.
Going back to what you were saying about melody, and prior to the period we’ve just discussed, Testament had some fantastic ballads; are they now lost in Testament history?
Well, we’ll bring them back. We had a ballad for this record, but it just wasn’t ready, and it was too good of a melody to just throw it together. So, we’ll save it for the next record and it’ll be even better because it’ll be ready. So, I’m excited about that one.
In terms of the set list that you’re currently playing, do you enjoy bringing out the deeper cuts?
Yeah, we have some songs that we haven’t played in a long time, or songs that we’ve never played. We did have ‘Greenhouse Effect’ on the set list, but took that one out. There’s something in the middle; something’s going on like, we were younger, so I don’t know why we would drag some of those parts out. But yeah, for the most part we’ve got a lot of new stuff we’re playing that we’ve never played before, and it’s cool to play some of these deeper tracks that we always knew were great songs; we just never played them. It might have been too hard or too fast, but now we’re just pushing ourselves to really play them.
Since the reunion in 2005, you must be happy with where Testament have come to be.
Yeah, definitely. It was like our second wind, second chance, and I think on the second time around, we’re doing everything right. The first time, I think, we made a lot of mistakes, just making our records, how they sounded. Even though they’re classics, it’s just they could sound how these ones sound. I mean, there’s albums back then that sounded like ours’ right now. I don’t know what happened; we just didn’t care, we were too young, I don’t know.
If you had to name your top 3 Testament albums, what would they be?
Well, ‘The Legacy’ because it was our debut and there’s some classic stuff on there, and ‘The Gathering’; that’s one’s just kind of like full circle, getting it right, and that was our first record with [producer] Andy Sneap, and we’ve been with him ever since - 20 years we’ve been working with him now. And then, I don’t know man, this new one’s pretty good, so maybe those. But then again; how’s this record better? That’s what bands strive for; you always try to make each record, you want to beat your last stuff. Or, you know, you just want to make a great record.
You’ve been with Testament since the beginning; has any other band ever approached you to work with them?
No, I mean, I think people have always recognised me with Testament, rather than me doing other projects or as a solo artist. I think that they’ve always thought I’ve been the backbone, so I’ve never really been approached, as far as being in another band. I mean, I’ve jammed with other people, and Dragonlord was kind of like my other little thing, but not really. I think Chuck got offered to be in Sepultura, and he tried out. He thought maybe that would be a better place, I don’t know, but it didn’t work out, and I don’t know, here we are!
How have you enjoyed the ‘Bay Strikes Back’ tour?
We’ve totally enjoyed this tour. I would say that the whole tour’s pretty much been sold out. Officially, it’s a little over a third. But yeah it’s been great, all the bands have been really good, and the crowds have been awesome. After this we are continuing and we’re going to Australia to do the Download Festivals [*Note: These festivals have been subsequently cancelled in the wake of the global COVID-19 crisis], and that should be pretty cool. Then we’re going to start an American tour with our new label finally being out, and it’ll be Testament, The Black Dahlia Murder, and Municipal Waste. Then it’s summer festivals, and then in the fall we come back and do leg two with Death Angel and Exodus in Europe again, but different places. And then we’re supposed to do the States as well, so we’ll see what happens; maybe we’ll take it to Japan, but we’ll see what happens with the virus going around right now.
The tour was affected by the virus, wasn’t it?
Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of followed us around, and one show got cancelled in Italy. The government shut down everything, and Paris got shut down the day of our show, but we still got to play, and that was a sold out show. The guitarist from Madonna came down because their show got cancelled, so that was kind of cool.
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'Titans of Creation' is available now, via Nuclear Blast Records.