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 Ozzy's Monsters of Rock 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:
Though Metallica's publicist assures Metal File that the band's forthcoming album is still being worked on, this week Amazon.com posted a release date of October 28 for the LP. And while rumors regarding Ozzfest have been picking up steam this week, it would seem that, in addition to Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica have been booked for this year's two-day installment, which, according to some reports, will be staged in Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas (just outside of Dallas), on August 9 and 10. Again, none of this speculation has been confirmed by the Ozzfest camp, but earlier this week, reactivated thrash metal outfit Rigor Mortis announced on their MySpace page that they would be playing the event. That's good enough for us, especially considering this message we received from Rigor Mortis: "We were told yesterday by the promoters of the Dallas show that we could announce we would be on the Dallas Ozzfest. [Certain Web sites] got wind and posted about it and added some information that we didn't mention or even know about. The Ozzfest folks weren't too happy about that. So, we were asked to take down anything about it." ...
Yep, it's true. Divine Heresy are without a frontman, having parted ways with Tommy Cummings recently. According to the band's publicist, the boys are now looking for his replacement. MTV's Headbangers Blog first broke the story, reporting that the decision followed a physical spat during the metallers' April 26 gig in Poughkeepsie, New York. Guitarist Dina Cazares said the incident "was the final straw in a relationship that had grown increasingly strained over time." ...
Full Blown Chaos, Shai Hulud, Elysia and Woe of Tyrants will be teaming up this summer for a U.S. jaunt, which kicks off in Poughkeepsie, New York, on July 14. Dates are booked through August 8 in San Diego. ...
Wolves in the Throne Room have been forced to pull out of their previously announced U.S. summer tour with Boris and Torche. The band has simply cited "personal reasons" for the withdrawal. ...
Initial dates for this year's Infliktour have been revealed. The trek will feature the Cavalera Conspiracy, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Throwdown, Bury Your Dead and Incite. The tour will get underway June 17 in Philadelphia, and more dates are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. ...
Swedish metallers Amon Amarth entered the recording studio on Thursday to start tracking their forthcoming seventh album. "We have 10 killer songs, some classic Amon Amarth tunes, some really epic moments and some of the most brutal stuff we've ever written," the band wrote in a statement. "We are confident that this will be our best and most diverse album to date." Look for the effort to land in stores later this year. ...
On June 17, the Number Twelve Looks Like You will release their new DVD/ CD set, called Here at The End of All Things. The DVD portion will include a full, live set shot during one of the band's gigs five months ago. The CD boasts nine live and remixed tracks, including "Jay Walking Backwards," "Don't Get Blood on My Prada Shoes" and "The Proud Parents Convention Held in the ER." ...
The Red Death, Catalepsy and Left to Vanish will be touring together this month. The first date of their run is set for May 9 in Newport News, Virginia, and 18 more dates have been confirmed, through May 30 in Jacksonville, North Carolina.