Interview: Testament’s Chuck Billy is ready for fans to join “The Brotherhood of the Snake”

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Although the members of thrash legends Testament began writing songs for their newest burst of power, “The Brotherhood of the Snake” seemingly ages ago, actually getting the band into the studio to record the album proved to be a challenge.

“We’ve been working on this record for a year and a half,” vocalist/lyricist Chuck Billy said during an interview in early August. “In the middle of the writing process, we had two tour offers (that delayed the project). It was a long process to get the record done.”

Testament are one of the Bay Area thrash bands that rightfully get mentioned in the same breath with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. The band released several solid thrash mini-classics like “The Legacy,” “The New Order” and “Practice What You Preach” in the ’80s and early ’90s — but the band achieved brilliance with “The Formation of Damnation” in 2008 and again in 2012 with the searing “Dark Roots of Earth”.

A band that releases an album once every four years would seem to have plenty of time to hone songs to perfection. But Testament’s busy touring schedule kept them even from finishing some of the songs destined for “Brotherhood of the Snake” before the band entered the studio earlier this year, Billy said.

“There was a lot of emotion, and anger, to get (the album) done,” Billy said.

Call it grace under pressure, then, because instead of being dissatisfied, Billy said the final tracks for “Brotherhood” are the best of the band’s career.

“The frustration and all the (pressure) to get it done came out in the music, and it really made the songs stand out,” Billy said. “I believe the songwriting on this record is beyond what we’ve done. ”

Going into it, we had heard some of the demo songs … but didn’t have a vision of the final record,” Billy said. When the band heard the final mixes for the disc, “we were saying, ‘holy sh*t, these are some good songs … I would say, in my opinion, it tops the catalog.”

Lyrically, the title track deals with religion and power, and was inspired by a creation story that hypothesizes humans were initially molded not as pure images of goodness, but as crude slave labor for an alien race that wanted to mine the earth’s gold.

But, as the story goes, humanity escaped that fate. Like Prometheus with the gift of fire, a sympathetic alien informed humans of their origins, and that they have spirits that reincarnate after death — a revelation that caused the humans to revolt.

“”It’s all about pure political power,” Billy said of the title track.

But other songs are firmly rooted in the present, taking on topics such as the legalization of marijuana, Billy said. And while the band addressed the 2001 terrorist attacks on “Formation of Damnation” with “The Evil Has Landed,” the band closes the loop on “Brotherhood” with “Neptune Spear,” a story about the Seal Team Six raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

“Some of the songs I’d written in 2014, and a lot of the songs went through four rewrites,” Billy said. Some of the lyrics were still being reviews “until I went into the studio,” he said.

While Billy is pleased with the end result, “I don’t ever want to do it that way again,” he said.

With “Brotherhood” scheduled to get the streets in late October, the band is preparing to play a number of European dates just prior to the release, before coming back to the states for a U.S. tour.

“I’d say, right now, Testament is a fine-tuned machine,” Billy said. Over the years, the band members have learned how to tour in a way that doesn’t leave them worn-out wrecks, which shows in the power of their live shows, Billy said.

“If you’re not comfortable, it comes across in your performance,” Billy said. Now, the band works to take care of themselves on the road.

“When you’re feeling good, it definitely helps your show,” Billy said.

Testament’s “Brotherhood of the Snake” is scheduled for release on Oct. 28

 

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