Testament’s Eric Peterson on playing old songs live for the first time, seeing My Chemical Romance at Download + the meaning behind their new album

When you’ve been playing music for 37 years and have 12 studio albums to your name like Testament, there’s bound to be tracks that never made the cut for a live show.  They’re the B-sides; the non-singles; the stuff never played on radio.  For groups like the Bay Area thrashers, that means fans aren’t content with just the classics and new material – they also want the deep cuts.  It’s a good problem to have, and one that Testament guitarist and sole remaining founder Eric Peterson has been exploring with his bandmates.

So, with Peterson, Chuck Billy (vocals), Alex Skolnick (guitar), Steve Di Giorgio (bass) and Gene Hoglan (drums) currently making their way around Europe with Exodus and Death Angel, followed by Download Festival Australia in March, what material will they dig up for fans?  “We’re trying to switch up the set a lot and we’re learning to do older songs that we’ve never played before,” Peterson says.  “We have a lot of new stuff that we seem to pick.  I mean, you have to do the classics: Over the Wall, The New Order, Practice What You Preach, but we’re really trying to get some of the deeper cuts, so The Persecuted Won’t Forget, Greenhouse Effect – which we haven’t played in forever.  Greenhouse Effect – we only did that when that record came out.  Practice What You Preach – we haven’t played that song in forever and it sounds super heavy, so we’re excited to play it.  Songs like Last Stand Before Independence – we haven’t played that for a long time.”  Peterson pauses for a moment.  “I don’t think we’ve ever played that one.”

While fans may not have forgotten the ins and outs of the Testament discography, it’s different for Peterson, who actually has to remember how to play them.  “A lot of times I’m like, ‘Wait. What did I do?’ he laughs.  “The rehearsals have just been brutal.  We’re learning five or six songs and it’s like learning brand new songs.” Looking to Download Australia, it’s a familiar response to the ‘setlist question’, but with something new up their sleeves.  “(We’ll) probably do a little bit of everything.  We haven’t been to Australia in a while. (We’ll) definitely be introducing a new song.  That would be cool.  At that point we’ll be playing the singles that are out.”  The song or songs he is referring to are from upcoming twelfth album ‘Titans of Creation’, which is out April 3.  The first and only single at the time of writing is Night of the Witch.

Testament’s last Australian shows were in 2014. Check out how many of those bands are releasing records and touring in 2020!

In addition to welding deep cuts with brand-new material, Peterson is excited to see the main headliner.  Many never envisaged an emo band sitting above a thrash band on a line up as big as this, but heavy music has changed, and Peterson is down with that.  “I really want to see My Chemical Romance.  They hung it up kinda soon there, so I’m excited to see them.  It’s kinda cool that we’re going to be playing with them.  I would never imagine us playing with a band like that.  I’m sure there are other bands I want to see, but right now I’m excited to see that.”  Peterson caught MCR on their ‘final’ tour in 2012.

But that’s enough about old songs and old tours – Peterson is pumped for Titans Of Creation to come out. This one is supposed to be dark, groovy and heavy.  “We’ve always been kind of dark but this is a really dark record in a cool way.  It’s got a lot of groove.  It’s real heavy.  I don’t want to sound stereotypical like, ‘Yeah it’s our best record.  It’s really heavy,’ you know, but it really is,” he laughs.  “There’s a lot of cool different styles on there.  All circling around what we’re about but still kind of having a fresh take on everything.  It sounds like Testament.”

The 12-track recording has many moods and material contained within; all of which somehow tie into a common philosophy of creation and its necessary counterpart: destruction.  “We’re more talking about history or present-day things that are going on already.  And we’ve always kind of done that with Testament.  We have songs which are political but it’s things that have happened already.  It’s not like forcing our issue or whatever.”

Peterson is cautious not to give too much away about individual songs, but a bit of internet sleuthing reveals details on six of their songs.  “We have a song about a witch which was influenced from the movie, The VVitch. It’s on the fantasy side but it’s still very real.  There are some historical events that have happened that are on the record.  Some dark things that have happened.  I won’t reveal too much.”  According to the band, Night of the Witch carries a vibe far more akin to black metal, with Peterson providing vocals which meld with Billy’s guttural growls. Taking some influence from Robert Egger’s 2015 horror movie The VVitch: A New England Folktale, the song carries with it a magical quality that directly reflects the mood of the film.

On Children Of The Next Level, the lyrics rage about the outrageous philosophies of the Heaven’s Gate cult founded in 1974.  Dream Deceiver describes being trapped in a dream by an otherworldly female force who is slowly working to degrade the mind. According to the band: “Dreams are part of existence, but when we are asleep, we are entirely vulnerable; one of the many mysteries of being human.”  Written by guitarist Alex Skolnick, Symptoms is filled with intricate guitar work that represents the complicated and spellbinding journey that comes along with handling depression, mood swings, and a countless list of mental health frustrations. The lyrics in this song discuss a sad truth: that mental illness is more common than we all think, and more common than many of us are willing to acknowledge.

Eliran Kantor stepped up once again to create the cover artwork. Three monstrous titans stand in the place where the planets are formed. One pours moulding liquid which the others hammer into human DNA, twisting and turning into the ring of a newborn planet. Each titan has the flame of a dying star burning in their chest; the origin of the atoms making up the bodies that are bubbling and boiling on the curves of the spiralling helix.

On a lighter note, a vibrant track entitled The Healers swings back and forth between waves of death and thrash, heavy and melodic, light and dark. The words are spiritual, and extremely personal. They describe Billy’s own experience dealing with all-natural medicine men; the elders of the Earth, and how they managed to help him pinpoint and heal his past illness.  City Of Angels comes bearing an entirely new sound for Testament. The creeping sludge-iness and slow, stalking tempo walk hand in hand with the gruesome tale of “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez.

So with all of that in mind, let’s see what deep cuts and new songs they play for audiences when they hit Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane next month. If the old material will sound new, what will the new material sound like? “There’s definitely some old school kind of feeling but it sounds new,” Peterson says. “It sounds weird but that’s what I’ve been told by people that have heard it.  They’re like, ‘It sounds old school, but it sounds fresh’.  Nothing rehashed. Just doing what we do.”

Testament play Download Melbourne on March 20 and Sydney on March 21.  They also play The Triffid in Brisbane on March 22.

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