Interview: Testament on 'The Dark Roots of Earth'

I hate it when my bandmates won’t try new ideas,” says Eric Peterson, Testament’s longtime rhythm guitarist and principal songwriter. “I’ve tried putting slower songs on every record, and usually Chuck [Billy, frontman] isn’t feeling it. He’s insecure about singing on quieter songs. But this time around, he’d say no and then turn around and go, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.’ ”

Billy’s openness allowed Testament to record the quasi-ballad “Cold Embrace” for their new album, Dark Roots of the Earth. His change of heart also seems to have influenced the rest of the band’s members—Dark Roots of the Earth highlights Testament’s heavy side as much as the melodic bent that set them apart from their peers in the late Eighties. “I think there’s more variety on this record,” says lead guitarist Alex Skolnick. “We jammed a lot more than usual when we were writing this time, and a lot of cool stuff came from that.”

The group began writing the new album in June 2011, but drummer Paul Bostaph was forced to bow out of the band after he suffered an unspecified injury. Testament, who have endured countless lineup changes in their 26-year history (every drummer who has played in Slayer has also played in Testament), simply carried on without him. “We ended up working a lot without drums,” Skolnick says. “I feel you can play any good song on just a guitar.”

Eventually, the band rehired former drummer Gene Hoglan, also of Death and Fear Factory fame. “Gene told us, ‘I want to be your drum machine. Anything you’re thinking, I want to try it,’ ” Peterson recalls. “We recorded everything in 10 days. With Gene, it came together really quickly.” The group would also go on to draft Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler to play on a few bonus cuts, which include covers of Queen’s “Dragon Attack,” Scorpions’ “Animal Magnetism” and Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave.”

With the drum stool filled, the guitarists explored new terrain of their own. “Alex is not just a shredder anymore, and I’m not just a rhythm guy,” Peterson says. “We’re both dabbling in each other’s areas, and it’s made us more rounded as guitar players.” With this new confidence, he stepped into the spotlight for lengthy leads on the new cuts “True American Hate” and “Throne of Thorns.” In turn, Skolnick found himself sprucing up some of Peterson’s riffs. “The song ‘Dark Roots of the Earth’ was originally a tough sell to Chuck, maybe because it was a slow tune,” Skolnick says. “I added in the pre-chorus in a different key, and that kicked the song into another gear. Chuck liked that.”

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