Sunday Old School: Testament
Band Photo: Testament (?)
Today sees Sunday Old School reach it's 100th article. You might say reaching this milestone is a true testament to how high heavy metal fans regard the old school. Or you might say that the previous sentence was just a bad pun to lead into this week's band. Either way, this week Sunday Old School will be looking at Testament, one of the most popular bands to emerge from the Bay Area thrash metal scene.
Testament was originally founded under the name Legacy in 1983 by guitarist Eric Peterson, along with his cousin Derrick Ramirez. The band took a significant step when Ramirez was replaced by guitarist Alex Skolnick and singer Steve "Zetro" Souza. The band were late comers of sorts to the Bay Area thrash scene, with such other bands as Metallica, Slayer and Exodus pre-dating them, which perhaps might have been a key factor in Souza deciding to leave the band to join Exodus after they fired singer Paul Baloff. Despite his resignation, Souza suggested that the band attempt to recruit Chuck Billy to replace him behind the microphone, a move which proved highly successful.
After finding out that the name The Legacy was already trademarked by a jazz band, the group changed their name to Testament on Stormtroopers Of Death frontman Billy Milano's suggestion. They remained close to their Legacy moniker though, and after signing with Megaforce Records, used the title "The Legacy" as the name of their debut album. The record was a success, earning the band favourable comparisons to Metallica and containing several songs that remain in the band's setlist to this day, including "Over The Wall" and "First Strike Is Deadly." Testament supported the album by supporting Anthrax on their "Among The Living" tour, which helped to make a household name out of Anthrax and thus garnered Testament much attention. Thrash fans remained enamoured with the band when they released their second album, "The New Order," which followed in the same vein as "The Legacy" both lyrically and musically. This second album also contained future fan favourites such like "Trial By Fire" and "Into The Pit," the latter becoming something of an anthem.
Although they never set out to achieve mainstream success, they soon found it when the band released their third album "Practice What You Preach" in 1989. The title track spawned a music video that received heavy rotation on MTV, which back then played music, as did another song from the album, "The Ballad." "Practice..." was notable for discarding the occult inspired lyrics of the previous two albums and focusing more on real life problems faced by mankind such as global warming. A fourth album, "Souls Of Black," was released the next year but despite reaching the number 77 spot on the Billboard album charts, was considered something of a commerical failure due to slow sales and a small but noticable change in direction musically, which led to it being regarded as inferior to the band's other albums. The musical shift continued with Testament's fifth album, "The Ritual," which was considered a more commercial attempt from the band, not least for the song, "Return To Serenity," which was able to achieve radio play, though it still featured heavy work from the group.
The band was dealt significant blows after "The Ritual's" release, losing long time members Alex Skolnick and drummer Louie Clemente, triggering what would prove to be a revolving door of new guitarists and drummers. The new addition of former Forbidden members Glen Alvelais and Paul Bostaph (guitar and drums respectively) proved to be short lived, spawning only a live record, "Return To Apocalyptic City" before Bostaph accepted an invitation to join Slayer and Avelaid also quit. The band released their next album, "Low" in the midst of their turmoil, which saw them dabble in death metal, before expanding on this direction on their subsequent record, "Demonic." Although these albums received praise from both critics and fans, they did little to expand their fanbase and thus the death metal influence was toned down for their eighth studio album, "The Gathering." "The Gathering" was considered something of a return to form for the band, with some fans today going so far as to declare it to be their favourite Testament album. It featured the highly respected rhythm section of Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and Steve DiGorgio (Sadus/Death.)
Health soon became a major issue for Testament, with guitarist James Murphy leaving the band after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was able to afford surgery and make a complete recovery with the help of fundraising concerts, but soon afterwards, frontman Chuck Billy would also receive the grim news that he had been found to have germ cell seminoma, a rare form of cancer which affected his lungs and heart. Thankfully, Billy was also able to make a complete recovery and was well enough to come on stage for a Legacy reunion at Thrash Of The Titans, a benefit show which featured the reformations of many of the Bay Area's biggest names in thrash with the aim of providing money for Billy and Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner, who was also battling cancer (though tragically his fight struggle proved to be an unsuccessful one.) Testament soldiered on once Billy felt well enough to return full time, once again struggling with lineup problems.
In 2005 however, Testament once again grabbed the attention of metal fans by announcing that the original lineup would be reuniting, for what was initially intended to be only ten shows in Europe. The trek proved to be a massive success and, with the exception of drummer, Louie Clemente, the reformation was turned into a permanent move. Peterson and Skolnick began writing together for the first time in fifteen years and eventually, the group released, "The Formation Of Damnation" in 2008, their first studio album in nine years. The record was a success of gargantuan proportions, reaching Number 55 in the Billboard album charts and earning rave reviews from critics everywhere, as well as clinching the award for Best Album at Britain's Golden Gods Awards. Since then, the band have continued to ride high on a wave of renewed interest. They have won over a legion of young fans with their phenomenal comeback and re-assured old fans that their brand of aggression hasn't left them, a promise which is sure to be kept once again when the band release their next album, "The Dark Roots Of Earth" in October of this year.
Testament - "Over The Wall"
Testament - "Disciples Of The Watch"
Testament - "Electric Crown"
Testament - "D.N.R."
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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