On Tuesday, influential metallers Testament released their ninth studio LP, The Formation of Damnation, the band's first collection of fresh material since 1999's The Gathering. The album is the result of years of hard work — as well as years of conflict resolution — and it marks several firsts for the thrash icons.
For starters, it's the first record since 1992's The Ritual to feature original guitarist Alex Skolnick, and the first to include the efforts of founding bassist Greg Christian since 1994's Low. It's also Testament's first album for Nuclear Blast Records, which signed the band back in September.
Skolnick told Metal File earlier this week that The Formation of Damnation is one of Testament's finest achievements and sounds just as "the band always should have." But even he admits that the reunion of the band's original lineup — sans drummer Louie Clemente — isn't as stable as you'd imagine. "God willing, we'll continue," he said, with a chuckle.
"We went about it in a good way, which is partly why this is working," he added. "There were no expectations at all, and I think it's a good way to approach a lot of different types of relationships: Just go in, and [don't] get your hopes up too high. We talked a lot beforehand, and we all had small goals. The goals were to do a few shows, and just have some fun with it, see how it went. That was it. I really wasn't expecting the band to become a bigger part of my life, the way it is now. I'd been making a living as a session and touring musician, so, to me, it was just another gig. But it went well enough to keep doing shows."
That was back in 2005, he said, and over the course of the next year, the band just gained more and more momentum.
"The audiences kept getting bigger, and they kept getting younger," he explained. "We realized we were getting along, and having fun, and we really took it one baby step at a time. We talked about making a record, but we never set any solid goals, which I think helped. We went one step at a time, and by 2007, we knew we had to do a record. When people hear this album, they're going to hear a band that sounds fresh and current, and basically, they'll see we didn't miss a beat."
And given the times we live in, it should come as little surprise that The Formation of Damnation is a rather political offering from Testament — more so than usual, at least. Skolnick credits frontman Chuck Billy for the shift.
"I think Chuck's gained more confidence as a lyricist, and he's more in tune with political ideas," the guitarist said. "I think it definitely comes with getting older, and there's definitely been a lot of positive feedback about the direction we took with this record. In the past, when we'd get political, it would often be this kind of doomsday scenario, that was sort of sci-fi inspired. But what's going on now, for real — 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Catholic Church, the war in Iraq — with all these things, we don't have to make stuff up anymore, because there's plenty of inspiration out there."
The record was written and recorded here and there over the course of a couple of years. Much of the disc, though, was recorded without Skolnick, who'd been keeping himself busy with his Alex Skolnick Trio and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. During the Orchestra's most recent tour, Skolnick had a few days off in Albany, New York, and so guitarist Eric Peterson and the album's engineer, Vincent Wojno, flew out so that they could book a local studio and track Skolnick's guitar parts.
"Albany seemed as good a place as any to record, and so we found a studio on the Internet, and made arrangements to go into the studio," Skolnick recalled. "We get there, and it turns out it's some guy's house — this 50-something guy who collects audio gear, and he actually had some really good gear but didn't know how to use it."
The boys spent all day trying to get the equipment — located in the man's basement — to work, to no avail. That's when things started getting weird.
"Finally, we gave up and didn't record anything there," he said. "It just felt so weird, because, it wasn't a studio — it was a house. We'd been duped! If you're going to go into the studio, make sure you do some research on it first. And this guy was so excited to have us there. He was star-struck. He couldn't believe it, and he was taking pictures — it was innocent enough, but it was just ... it didn't feel right when the superfan in him came out."
This summer, Testament will head out with Judas Priest, Heaven and Hell, and Motörhead, for a tour that launches August 6 in Camden, New Jersey, and runs through August 31 in Mountain View, California. "It's the metal tour of the summer, and it kind of works out that Ozzfest is only doing a couple of shows this year," he said. "That means this tour's the one."
Testament will also be appearing July 26 in Calgary, Alberta, as part of [article id="1585580"]Ozzy's Monsters of Rock[/article] event, which will also feature Judas Priest, System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian, Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Priestess, the Cavalera Conspiracy, Voivod, 3 Inches of Blood and Zimmers Hole.
But have Testament been approached for Ozzfest?
"I guess I can't talk about it," said Skolnick.
The rest of the week's metal news:
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