Testament is an American thrash metal band created in 1983 in Berkeley, California. It was one of the founders of the “Bay Area” thrash metal movement in San Francisco alongside others such as Metallica, Megadeth, Forbidden, Exodus, among others. Currently the band consists of vocalist Chuck Billy, guitarists Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick, bassist Steve DiGiorgio and drummer Gene Hoglan. Peterson and Billy are the only members who have participated in all of the group’s recordings.
After more than thirty years of career and releasing ten studio albums, four live albums, six compilations to several singles, Testament reached the mark of 14 million albums sold worldwide in 2012.
Beginning and first albums (1983-1993)
Formed in 1983 by guitarists Eric Peterson and Derrick Ramirez and drummer Louie Clemente originally under the name The Legacy. Joining the band were bassist Greg Christian, and vocalist Steve Souza. Derrick Ramirez was replaced by Alex Skolnick, who studied guitar with legendary guitarist Joe Satriani. In 1984 the band releases a demo titled First Strike is Deadly with Steve Souza on vocals. After Steve Souza left to join Exodus the band incorporated vocalist Chuck Billy.
In 1987 while recording their first album in Ithaca, New York the band was forced to change its name to Testament (name given by Billy Milano, lead singer of the hardcore band M.O.D. and also of the crossover band S.O.D.), because another band had the copyright of the name The Legacy.
The first album released by the band in 1987 was The Legacy for Megaforce Records. This is considered until today a classic album by thrash metal lovers: at this time Testament got immediate fame in the thrash scene. The band improved its promotion by touring the USA and Europe with Anthrax, who at the time were promoting Among the Living album. The EP Live at Eindhoven was recorded on this tour at the “Dynamo Festival” in the Netherlands.
Greg Christian, the group’s original bassist.
Released in 1988, the album The New Order, was a continuation of the previous work. That same year the band makes its first appearance at the Monsters of Rock festival in England.
After another world tour the band went into the studio to record the album Practice What You Preach. Released in 1989, this album has lyrics that focus more on issues such as politics and corruption instead of talking about occult and dark themes like on the first two albums. On the tour for this album the band shared the stage with the bands Savatage and Wrathchild America. This album was very popular at the time, reaching the 400,000 copies sold mark, and ended up being noticed by the American MTV that played the title track’s videoclip a lot in a program called Headbangers Ball.
In 1990 Souls of Black was released and at this same time the band participated in the “Clash Of The Titans” festival alongside Slayer, Megadeth and Suicidal Tendencies. In 1991 the video “Seen Beetween the Lines” was released.
In 1992 Alex Skolnick steps away from the band temporarily to tour with jazz bassist Stuart Hamm, but returns and begins writing songs for a new album that would be released in 1992. This new album would be called The Ritual, a very different album from the previous ones and with less thrash metal influence.
Alex Skolnick, was frustrated by the band’s limitations and left the band to form his own band called Exhibit-A. He later joins Savatage. Drummer Louie Clemente soon quit the band to settle into a more stable non-musical career, meanwhile Eric Peterson and Chuck Billy wanted Testament to get a more thrash metal sound again.
In 1993 Alex Skolnick and Louie Clemente were temporarily replaced respectively by Glen Alvelais and Paul Bostaph, both from the band Forbidden. This line-up released the live EP “Return to the Apocalyptic City”. Soon after this release Glen Alvelais left the band and Paul Bostaph joined Slayer.
In 1994, the album Low was released, which featured John Tempesta on drums and James Murphy (ex-Disincarnate, Death, Cancer, Obituary) on guitar.
“Low” is an album that blends heavier influences (groove metal), and is also quite different from all the previous ones. After the 1994-1995 tour, Greg Christian and James Murphy leave the band. John Tempesta also leaves the band to join White Zombie, and is replaced by John Dette. The live album “Live at the Fillmore” is released in 1995, and then John Dette leaves Testament in 1996 to join Slayer. The Best of Testament album is released in 1996.
In mid-1996 Chuck Billy announces that he, Eric Peterson and Greg Christian together with drummer Chris Kontos (from Machine Head) would change the band’s name to “Dog Faced Gods”. The idea didn’t work out, the band kept calling themselves Testament and recorded the album Demonic.
Eric Peterson at Tuska Open Air 2013
In the album Demonic, from 1997, Testament gains a sound much closer to death metal. In this album Eric Peterson plays both guitars, Derrick Ramirez comes back to the band to play bass and Gene Hoglan joins the band to play drums (Glen Alvelais participates as a guitarist). This album is considered by many to be the heaviest of the band’s entire career. Signs of Chaos, a compilation with two more bonus tracks, was released in 1997.
In 1999, Gene Hoglan leaves and James Murphy returns for the release of The Gathering, which included heavy names in its execution, such as bassist Steve DiGiorgio (former member of Death and Sadus) and Dave Lombardo (the original Slayer drummer).
Soon after the release of “The Gathering”, guitarist James Murphy was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Through several campaigns to raise money, James Murphy was able to have surgery and made a full recovery.
In March 2001, after the “Riding The Snake” world tour where Steve Smyth replaced James Murphy, lead singer Chuck Billy was diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer that spread to his chest and heart. Even with the difficulties of the cancer treatment, singer Chuck Billy managed to lend his voice to re-record several Testament classics (from the first two albums), releasing the album First Strike Still Deadly. This album featured Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, Steve DiGiorgio, Alex Skolnick on guitar and John Tempesta on drums. Steve Souza, the group’s original vocalist, also sings on two tracks on the album.
In 2003, with Chuck Billy’s health fully restored, the band returned to playing live with a new drummer, Jon Allen from Sadus. In 2004, the band changed its line-up again and John Allen was replaced by Paul Bostaph. Guitarist Steve Smyth also left the band to join Nevermore and was replaced by “Metal” Mike Chlasciak, former guitarist for Halford. Soon after Steve Smyth’s departure, Eric Peterson fell off a ladder and fractured his leg in three places during the band’s tour in Slovakia, preventing him from continuing his participation in the tour. The group still performed that night only with “Metal” Mike Chlasciak on guitars. Eric Peterson was taken to the hospital and had some pins put in his leg. He was temporarily replaced by Steve Smyth on this tour.
Reunion and new records (2005-present)
In May 2005 it was announced that Testament would do a reunion tour only in Europe with the original line-up counting on Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian, with the drums being split between John Tempesta and Louie Clemente. Louie played the older songs (according to him, his technique has declined over the years away from the stage) and John played the rest of the songs.
Gene Hoglan during a concert with the band.
After the success of the first concerts Testament announced more dates in the USA, Europe and Japan with the classic line-up.
In the beginning of 2008 Testament released the album “The Formation of Damnation”, with Chuck Billy, Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick, Greg Christian and Paul Bostaph. The album is a summary of the whole career of the band, mixing the classic thrash metal of the first records with the death metal of the Demonic phase, and some new elements, like some complex bars.
On December 1st 2011, Paul Bostaph announced his departure from the group, being replaced by Gene Hoglan (ex-Death and Dark Angel).
In July 2012, Testament released their 10th studio album, Dark Roots of Earth, which was very well received by fans and critics. To promote the new material, the band went on tour with Anthrax and Death Angel. On May 15th 2013 Testament played a sold out show in Brazil, sharing the night with Anthrax at HSBC Music Hall, in memorable concerts.
The band announced, at the time of Dark Roots of Earth’s release, that if the album was well-received they would surely start a new recording of an 11th album.
As a result of the tour, the band released in October 2013 a DVD entitled Dark Roots of Thrash featuring a performance held in New York City.
In January 2014 it was announced that Greg Christian left Testament again. Steve DiGiorgio returns to the group to replace him and will be involved in recording the band’s next album.
During an interview in April 2015, Eric Peterson talked about Testament’s plans and said that after finishing the tour in June, the band was supposed to enter the studios in September. However, the members carried out the recording of the new album between April and June 2016. In August, it was announced that the Americans’ eleventh studio album would be titled Brotherhood of the Snake, and was released in October 2016.