Their legacy began in the early ‘80’s, stomping Bay Area stages and speakers with aggressive riffs and the imposing earth shaking roar of vocalist Chuck Billy, laying the groundwork with fellow forefathers Metallica, Slayer, Exodus, Death Angel and other hallowed company that would become thrash metal. When MTV was in the cradle and social media was tape trading and word of mouth, Testament cranked out three early classics, started the ‘90’s with Souls of Black, ending with The Gathering then smashed through the 2000’s and beyond with hard and heavy Damnation and Dark Roots bringing us Brotherhood in 2016.
Billy was inspired to write Brotherhood of the Snake by a TV show called Ancient Aliens making him dig deeper coming across the Anunnaki and the story about an ancient alien race that created man 6000 years ago to mine the Earth for resources for their planet Nibiru. “I think that’s what spawned it, really, kind of a fascination with it. I was raised Catholic as a kid, you know the stories of the Bible, and I was into this show and they pointed out how they’ve spotted flying objects or alien beings with big heads and arms and kind of made me realize how could the similarities in societies all be the same? Maybe they all did see the same thing, maybe there’s something to this, a connection, so it really opened my eyes to the possibilities that it could be true.” The Pale King is about the Alien King Anu who enslaved the humans.
“I found an article that the Brotherhood of the Snake was the first secret society that was formed over 6000 years ago. Their belief was that an alien being basically used the Earth to condemn people to work as slaves and mine for minerals and gold. It all kinda connected in my brain this would be good for the record. Brotherhood of the Snake was a good name for the society and made me think even more.” It made Billy think about all the stories and places we see a snake but take for granted like Adam and Eve, money and the medical sign. “Maybe there’s something to that secret society in everyday life but we just don’t see it.”
The Number Game was written with Exodus’s Steve “Zetro” Souza about a serial killer with a schedule. “When we were writing that song, I had the chorus; the 14 days and 14 lives part. I was stuck on that line and he said ‘let’s do something clever, take it as a serial killer going on a 14 day killing spree, and we count down the kills all the way to one’. We started writing it out and it just so happens when we counted down to one it was perfect for the length of the song. It was meant to be, the topic and the countdown were perfect.”
On what fans will hear on the coming tour, “It’s always difficult choosing between 130 songs or so to 15-16 tracks. We’re really trying to think, what can we play, you always have to play those classic songs, but there’s some we’ve played enough. Let’s pick some songs that we don’t play and haven’t played. So everybody’s compiling songs right now, we’re rehearsing in a few weeks. There’s gonna be some new songs, especially on the new record.” They’ll probably have four or five new songs in the set.
They’re also in the beginning stages of releasing The Official Illustrated History book. “We’re putting a website out, collecting interest. We’re just testing the water right now. A lot of people have come out of the woodwork with photos and stories. It’s something we haven’t ever done. Everyone knows what Alex wrote in his book. Maybe it’s time for everyone else to have their own version.”
Testament was the first metal band to win an award by the American Indian Film Institute for the Native Blood video filmed at the Hopland Indian Reservation in Northern California with the Pomo tribe. The whole community got involved watching as it filmed. Billy said the dance while filming turned into something much more spiritual than just part of the video. “That was quite an honor. I was very stoked about it. We didn’t try and get the video in the festival; they approached us. It was exciting and really cool. It was a strong video, the message was very powerful and all the Natives from our tribal council wanted it represented and submitted to the festival. It was a great thing.”
In 2010 Billy was featured in a Smithsonian exhibit Up Where We Belong, showcasing Native American achievement in pop culture and mainstream music.
“My grandmother actually has baskets from our tribe in the Smithsonian, so it’s cool having two generations of Billy’s in the Smithsonian for different things.”
He was also honored by the state of California for being a positive influence in the Native American community and public. “I did the Hard Rock Café. I was one of the first Native American’s to have a permanent display in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When I went for an autograph signing to open the display, attendance was overwhelming and it wasn’t just metal heads. It was grandmothers and people who didn’t listen to our music but were there supporting the cause, a Native American being recognized there, so that was cool.”
He appreciates being considered a thrash icon by fans and is very proud of Testament’s accomplishments. “We’ve put 30 years in this thrash scene, with Exodus and Metallica and everyone in the Bay Area. So, I’m proud of it and I’m proud that we were lucky enough to have been part of that movement and continue today to create the music that we started. It makes me very proud that we’re still standing strong, writing and doing records.”
They’re keeping busy this year, writing new material in the summer with the intent of making a two-year turn around instead of four.
Drummer Gene Hoglan stepped in to play hero for Brotherhood, “Gene’s parts were amazing when I listen to the record. I was captivated by his playing because it’s so busy and precise. I think you hear everything he’s doing. I’m happy, he’s happy with the production on it.”
Billy shares his memories of the early ‘90s Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth and Slayer, “Well there was a lot of Jägermeister on that tour. I remember me and the drummer from Suicidal were always on Jägermeister missions. We always played first, by the time Megadeth went on and Slayer, we were always sneaking around catering, searching for bottles. The catering traveled with the tour so we knew there were cases somewhere. Somehow we always found them, a lot of drunken arm in arm bottles in the air, front row for Slayer, just being fools. It was a fun tour.”
On the Dublin Death Patrol project with Zetro, “I would never say it’s over, it was only supposed to be the first record (DDP 4 Life) but ended up being two. We went to Europe and got to play in front of Heaven and Hell. We decided it can’t get better than this. Let’s just end right now on a good note. We decided it was gonna be our last show but who knows.”
On the historic Bay Area, L.A. rivalry Billy says in the early ‘80’s it was punk and glam before thrash invaded forcing many to relocate to L.A. but now the tensions faded. Though glam bands got signed, thrash was new with something to prove.
Billy would love to tour with Metallica, “It’s one band we’ve never toured with. They’re locals; I don’t know why we never got the opportunity to play with them. I think that would be the ultimate for us and an amazing show. Maybe James will read this, see this or hear about it, and someday invite us.”
Billy’s met most of his heros and idols including Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and Dio.
While a Metallica tour is top on the list, Billy’s proud that Testament’s stood the test of time from where they started, through the turbulent ‘90s, early 2000’s, his illness and getting a second chance to play metal and do records. “I’m so proud of what this band’s accomplished in 30 years. With the struggles and everything, what we went through and where we are today, I’m so glad we stuck in there.”
The final word, “This tour’s gonna be great with Sepultura and Prong. Affliction Clothing just came on as sponsors. We’re running some cool contests and discounts. Go to the Affliction site and get 25% off clothes and enter to win a $1000 shopping spree and a Testament signed guitar. It’s good to have people behind you with Nuclear Blast and it’s a pretty cool offer.”
They hope to have a new record out in 2018.