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California’s Testament have enjoyed a long and storied career. Thirty years after emerging from the same scene that gave birth to fellow thrash legends Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, the band have played all over the world and are now preparing to unleash their eleventh album. “We grew up in the 80s and in the Bay Area, which at the time was more glam metal and punk rock,” recalls Testament’s front-man Chuck Billy. “When the thrash metal by Exodus and Metallica really started to make some noise, a lot more bands – Death Angel, Forbidden, Testament – started popping up. And I actually think we drove the glam bands out of the Bay Area, and that’s how it started to become known for the thrash metal. But we didn’t realise what was going on; we just all came from that punk scene, but were a little more aggressive with long hair and leather jackets instead of skinheads and mohawks. “So it was something new and it had a new vibe, a lot of the same people and fans and friends and bands all went to the same shows and hung out at the same venues and went to the same parties. Sometimes we all ended up at the Metallica house or [then-Exodus vocalist] Paul Baloff had a party at his place. We didn’t realise how special it was, but now looking back, it was actually that time that was really making a mark on history for this style of music. We’re honoured to have been there, at the beginning of all of that.” A great deal of metalheads view San Francisco’s Bay Area with rose-tinted glasses, hailing it as the birthplace of extreme metal but, according to Chuck, “There isn’t a scene like there was.” “There’s not as many clubs to play: there’s a small handful. Back then you used to be able to go to [local venue] the Stone and watch the first band on, then go across the street to Mabuhay Gardens and watch the band going on in the middle, and then go up the stairs to Rock on Broadway and catch the headliner. You could literally go to four shows on the same street. It’s just not like that anymore. And back when the music was growing, we had MTV and even FM radio was playing heavy metal during drive-time traffic. “There’s none of that, there’s no radio playing metal anymore, no MTV, so it’s definitely changed. It’s harder to get exposure, unless you just get out there on the road. “But the internet did pick up the slack, I believe. Most bands that are lacking in exposure now have the internet and YouTube: you can really create something on your own. “There’s not a lot of bands that go platinum anymore, unless you’re Adele. People bought more physical records back then and now, everything’s done through download. I just think there’s something that’s missing; growing up in my era, I had vinyl. I sat back with the record, put it on, looked at the cool art and read the lyrics, and it’s just not as fun doing that with a CD. It’s so small, you can barely read the print, the graphics aren’t as good… we lost something. “Unfortunately, the new generation doesn’t know that. All they know now is the download era, and maybe they’re younger and don’t have room for a big collection like we did. “But I actually went to see Metallica performing at the Record Store Day in Berkeley a few weeks ago, which was wonderful. And it’s good that they have that and that people are starting to recognise and push vinyl. More labels are putting out vinyl for every audience now, when it used to be just a specialty for a band to release a record, but now it’s standard.” Thirty years down the line, Testament are now getting set to release their eleventh studio album, which Chuck confirmed will “definitely” be entitled Brotherhood of the Snake. “The Brotherhood of the Snake was actually a society about 6,000 years ago that debarred all religions. It was just a fascinating topic that caught our eye and attention and spawned a lot of songs. We’re going with that vibe. “There will be some songs that deviate, but the majority will be around that and aliens and religion. Then I’ll probably tap into my native heritage and write some songs about that. It’s not just going to be one concept, but there is some interesting stuff that we’re finding to write about.”
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