Testament: The Road to Damnation
Skolnick added his guitar tracks to The Formation of Damnation during two sessions, one in New York in December 2007, and another at Driftwood in early January. “The guys met me in Albany during a break from the Trans- Siberian tour, and I did about half of my leads at a studio up there,” Skolnick says. “Then I did the rest in Oakland after the tour ended.”
His main guitar was a Heritage H-150, which he says is “similar to a Les Paul. In fact,” he adds, “the Heritage factory is the old Gibson plant in Kalamazoo [Michigan], and the company was started by a bunch of former Gibson guitar builders. So there’s a great lineage, and I just love the H-150. In addition to that guitar I also had my 1960 Les Paul Gold Top reissue, and I switched off between the two.” Though Skolnick says his amplifier of choice for live work has of late been the Marshall Mode Four, on The Formation of Damnation he stuck primarily to a Marshall JCM2000 DSL. “It gave me the best sound in the studio,” he says. “I just threw an Ibanez Tube Screamer—which I’ve been using forever— in front of the amp, and that was it.”
Skolnick says he refrained from composing his solos in advance of going into the studio. “For the most part, I just worked out a basic form for my leads,” he says. “I’d figure out where I wanted to be on the neck at a certain point in the solo, or maybe where I wanted to do a fast run, or an arpeggio or a slow, screaming bend. But I left a lot of room for improvisation.”
His approach was partly inspired by his time spent studying jazz. “Even though jazz is such a different style of music than metal, I incorporated ideas from that world into my playing on the new album. For example, when you’re soloing over a form in jazz improv, it’s great to work out a lead and then forget it. That way, you have it in the back of your head when you’re playing, but you don’t regurgitate it note-for-note. As a result, you’re essentially improvising over a structured idea. That’s what I did on Formation. I had a concept for what I wanted to do on a given song but then ‘forgot’ it and just played whatever came naturally.”
Peterson contributed a number of solos to the album as well. “I probably did about 20 percent of them,” he says. “There’s one on ‘Afterlife,’ another on the title track, and on ‘More Than Meets the Eye,’ Alex and I are trading off leads, going head-to-head.” This, however, was hardly standard procedure during Skolnick’s initial tenure in the band. “Back then it was like, ‘I’m the rhythm guy, you’re the lead guy,’ ” Peterson says. “We were young and that’s just the way it was.“
“But once Alex was gone I started taking on more of the lead playing, and I also had to always teach the new guys who were coming into the band the parts to the old songs. As a result I became a more well-rounded player over the years. So this time I was like, ‘Hey Alex, I know you’re the lead guy, but I definitely want to do some solos.’ And he was like, ‘Cool, yeah. Do it!’ So everything worked out.” Things were not always so easygoing.
Ironically, it was at the time when Testament were experiencing their greatest success, with mainstream-leaning albums like Souls of Black and 1992’s The Ritual, that relations between the two guitarists, and the band members in general, were at their worst.
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