Testament: The Road to Damnation
“It’s kind of amazing,” Skolnick says, “but I listen to this record and it sounds like a modern band to me. And that’s the way it should be. With other groups that were our peers back in the day, I hear their new music I go, ‘Wow, this really takes me back.’ But I think what we’re doing fits in with where some younger acts are at. It doesn’t sound dated, and that was important for me to be able to come back.”
For Skolnick, returning to the band with which he made his name as a young gunslinger— he was just 19 when The Legacy was released—was a particularly loaded proposition. In the years since his 1992 exit from Testament, the guitarist has taken on a variety of gigs. He joined the power metal band Savatage for an album and tour, played with Ozzy Osbourne’s band for a brief moment and, a few years back, signed on as a member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a collective best known for their symphonic metal interpretations of traditional Christmas songs.
He has also made a name for himself as a respected jazz guitarist and composer. In 2001, Skolnick received a BFA in jazz from the New School in New York City. Soon after, he formed the Alex Skolnick Trio, with which he has recorded three albums that feature both original compositions as well as jazzy interpretations of classic metal songs like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” the Scorpions’ “No One Like You” and Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye” (their most recent release, Last Day in Paradise, even features a Latin-tinged version of Testament’s “Practice What You Preach”).
Skolnick’s continuing work with Trans- Siberian Orchestra and his own Trio was a determining factor in his decision to play once again with Testament. “Knowing I have these other outlets made it easier to go back to the band,” he says. “The first time around, I started to feel musically stifled by playing only metal. But now I’m happy to do it, because it’s not all I do. But when I’m there, I’m 100 percent committed."
The flipside, of course, is that he’s not there 100 percent of the time. Case in point: The basic tracks for The Formation of Damnation were cut last fall, at Testament’s own Driftwood Studios in Oakland, California, at the same time that Skolnick was on a holiday season tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. As a result, Peterson played all of the rhythm guitar parts on the album. While this was mostly out of necessity, it also reflected the way the guitarists often worked in the early days of the band.
“On some of the old records, like The Legacy and Practice What You Preach, we both played the rhythms,” Skolnick says. “But The New Order and [1990’s] Souls of Black were definitely all Eric. He’s always had his rhythm playing really together, and sometimes it just made sense to have one guy do all the parts in order to keep things tight.”
“For the new record we decided to go back to that way of doing things because I’m really picky, and I guess a little bit of a control freak,” Peterson says, with a laugh. “Plus, Alex’s schedule didn’t permit him to be able to learn every nook and cranny of the songs. I got it done so we could move on.” Peterson’s main guitar for his parts on The Formation of Damnation was a black Dean MS V. “I actually have two of them,” he says. “One is fitted with EMG pickups, which give me areal tight crunch with a lot of low end, and the other has DiMarzio Super Distortions, which provide a little more midrange bite. I switched between the two guitars depending on what the song called for.” His amplifier remained constant throughout the sessions. “I used the new Fender EVH 5150 III on everything,” he says. “A friend of mine who works at Guitar Center turned me on to it. It’s weird, because I never liked the Peavey 5150, but my friend was like, ‘Dude, you have to try this amp out.’ I plugged in and hit one chord and was like, ‘Whoa!’ It was warm, crisp, had great presence and incredible saturation. I bought it right there, and the cabinet, too. And that’s all I played on the album.”
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