Testament: The Road to Damnation
“Overall there was a lot of tension,” Skolnick says. “As for me, the other guys didn’t understand where I was coming from when I started getting into jazz. They didn’t get how I could be all excited about this other kind of music that wasn’t Testament. But it just sort of happened. I had been a closet jazz fan, and then all of a sudden it overtook me. I became obsessed with it.”
“It just seemed like ‘metal’ became a dirty word to Alex,” Peterson says. “All of a sudden, he couldn’t sit down with us, have a beer and crank some Slayer. He’d go drink tea and listen to jazz in the back of the bus.” Peterson was also finding that, despite being a founder of the band and a main song-writer, he was often being overshadowed by his fleet-fingered counterpart. “When you have a two-guitar team, it should be a team,” he says. “And it wasn’t Alex’s fault, but I think that the press built him up like he was this superhero. I remember one time in the early Nineties, he and I did a photo shoot for a guitar magazine, and I sat there for five hours while they took photos of Alex and his instrument. I never even got called in. And I just felt like a fucking piece of shit.”
“Testament had experienced a certain amount of success, but we weren’t really where we thought we should be,” Skolnick says. “So everybody started pointing fingers, and it just became a bad scene. There were problems in the band, problems with management, problems with the label. It was just too much.”
Skolnick quit the band following their tour in support of The Ritual, and within a short time Clemente and Christian left as well. Peterson and Billy soldiered on, taking Testament in a heavier direction on albums such as 1997’s Demonic (on which Peterson handled all rhythm and lead guitars) and 1999’s The Gathering. Skolnick and the band began to heal their rift in 2001, after Billy’s cancer diagnosis. That August, he and Christian joined their former bandmates at Thrash of the Titans, a benefit concert for Billy and Death frontman Chuck Schuldiner, who was at the time battling a brain tumor. “We had begun to resolve our issues at that point,” Skolnick says, “and then when I found out Chuck was sick, of course I had to be there for him.” Later that year the guitarist also joined the band in the studio for First Strike Still Deadly, an album of re-recorded Testament classics.
It wasn’t until 2005, however, that Testament truly reunited, with a series of European shows dubbed the 10 Days in May tour. “That led to a few more shows, another tour and then us just getting to a point where we were like, ‘This feels good, let’s go forward with it,” Skolnick says.
And they are. Testament will be touring The Formation of Damnation for the remainder of the year (though day jobs and other responsibilities, particularly Skolnick’s various musical projects, rule out any extended jaunts). A for the future, the band is leaving things wide open. “It’s funny,” Skolnick says. “It sorta feels like that scene in The Godfather: Part III where [Al Pacino] says, ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!’ But I’m happy to be here again, and it feels right to me.”
“Chuck and I took the band as far as we could on our own,” Peterson says, “and I think the albums we did over the last 15 years or so had some really good music. But Alex and Greg are O.G. players, and it’s great to have them back. We’ve been through all the bullshit, all the guilt trips, all the pettiness, and we’ve left it all in the past.
“So it’s been really cool to just enjoy the music, enjoy playing together, and enjoy feeling like a band again. At one point, that was hard to do. But now, it’s more than enough.”
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